7 Indian Saltwater Fish And The Dishes That Define Their Regions

The ocean's vast waters have long drawn humankind with their mystery and bounty. For coastal communities across India, the sea is more than a source of sustenance - it's a core part of cultural identity and cuisine. Each fish swims with its own story, reflecting its native waters from the Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean. 

Take the surmai, revered along Mangalore's coast for its silvery skin and robust flavour in local preparations. Or the versatile basha, taking on new personalities in dishes stretching from Maharashtra to West Bengal. Bengalis know the catla for its tender white flesh in immersed in delicious curries. Mumbaikars can't imagine their city without bombil, or Bombay Duck, in spite of its misleading name. Goans craft the barramundi into curries to remember. King mackerel's bold stripes and flavours are often elegantly crusted in semolina. Along India's western shores, the vivid red snapper takes on new life as an innovative canvas in dishes like Malvani curry. Its hues reflect the region's vibrant culture and cuisine.

Each fish is more than just sustenance - it's a story reflecting the land and people who know it best. Through the skills of local chefs, their tales are reimagined into something truly delicious on our plates. This exploration offers a glimpse into some of India's culinary ocean gems and the diverse coastal communities they sustain.

1.    Surmai or Neymeen: Indian Ocean’s Gem

Scientific Name: Scomberomorus guttatus

Meet the surmai, known as neymeen in Kerala, a fish with a striking presence both in appearance and taste. Its shimmering silver skin hides flesh that's robust in flavour and texture. Found along the Indian coastline, this fish takes centre stage in a variety of coastal dishes. From the fragrant Mangalorean Fish Curry to the fiery Kerala-style Neymeen: Neymeen Pollichathu en Pollichathu, this fish lends its character to an array of regional delicacies.

Try this Recipe Idea: Neymeen Pollichathu

This classic Kerala dish encapsulates the essence of the neymeen. Marinated in a blend of spices, wrapped in banana leaves, and roasted to perfection, Neymeen Pollichathu offers a medley of flavours that dance on your palate.

Image Credit: Licious

2.    Basha: A Delicacy of the West Coast

Scientific Name: Harpadon nehereus

Venture into the waters of the East Coast, and you'll encounter the basha, a fish that has become synonymous with the cuisine of West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and the Western Coast of Maharashtra. With its laterally flattened body and distinctively sharp teeth, basha’s versatility finds itself in many fish-based dishes, especially in fillet form.

Try this Recipe Idea: Grilled Basha Fish

Elevate the taste of basha fish with this grilled version of the saltwater fish. Marinated in aromatic spices and expertly grilled, the basha's tender meat absorbs smoky flavours while retaining its natural taste. A Konkan delicacy that captures the essence of coastal indulgence in every succulent bite.

3.    Catla: The Freshwater Giant in Coastal Delights

Scientific Name: Catla catla

Catla, a freshwater fish often found in brackish waters along the coast, is a prized catch that has made its way into the hearts of seafood enthusiasts across India. Its tender flesh and subtle taste make it an ideal canvas for a multitude of culinary creations.

Try this Recipe Idea: Catla Macher Kalia

A delicious Bengali dish of marinated catla fish cooked in a spicy gravy, featuring green chilies, turmeric and ginger-garlic paste and a lot of other spices. The gravy has a thin consistency, a trademark of the macher jhol of Bengal with fried potatoes giving it more texture and taste. Macher kalia is best enjoyed with steamed rice to soak up every last bit of the flavourful gravy.

4.    Bombay Duck: A Quirkily Named Delight

Scientific Name: Harpadon nehereus

Despite its misleading name, Bombay Duck is not a duck at all but the charming Bombil fish that holds a special place in the hearts of Mumbaikars. Its slender shape and delicate taste have earned it a spot on the must-try list of seafood aficionados.

Try this Recipe Idea: Masala-fried Bombay Duck

Transform the Bombay Duck into a crispy delight with the Masala-fried Bombay Duck. The gentle spicing enhances the fish's natural flavours, creating a crunchy exterior that gives way to melt-in-the-mouth goodness.

5.    Barramundi: A Taste of the Tropics

Scientific Name: Lates calcarifer

Hailing from the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the barramundi is a fish that boasts both elegance and versatility. Its firm, white flesh and mild flavour have made it a beloved choice in Indian seafood cookery.

Try this Recipe Idea: Goan Barramundi Curry

Indulge in the velvety richness of Goan Barramundi Curry. This dish showcases the fish's adaptability, as it absorbs the spicy coconut-infused flavours of the curry to create a rich taste that lingers on your palate.

6.    King Mackerel: Fit for Royalty

Scientific Name: Scomberomorus commerson

The regal king mackerel is a true testament to the wonders of the ocean. With its distinctive stripes and robust taste, this fish is a gem in the crown of Indian seafood offerings.

Try this Recipe Idea: King Mackerel Rava Fry

Elevate the king mackerel to new heights with the King Mackerel Rava Fry. Coated in a golden, crispy layer of semolina, this dish perfectly complements the fish's bold flavours, delivering a delightful crunch in every bite.

7.    Red Snapper: A Medley of Colours and Flavours

Scientific Name: Lutjanus campechanus

Admire the vivid hues of the red snapper as you embark on a culinary journey that celebrates both tradition and innovation. Found in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, this fish is a canvas for culinary creativity.

Try this Recipe Idea: Malvani Red Snapper Curry

Let the Malvani Red Snapper Curry take your taste buds on a rollercoaster of flavours. The fish's tender meat soaks up the vibrant spices of the curry that features kokum, offering a tangy taste that is deeply rooted in this distinctive coastal culture.

The diverse fish species found along India's coastline each tell their own story, connecting us to the richness of the oceans. Whether it's the neymeen or the regal red snapper, these seafood selections give us the taste of the very waters they came from. As you traverse the classic coastal recipes featuring these fish, you will gain an appreciation not just for the flavours but also for the cultural heritage that shaped regional cuisines.