Patra Ni Machchi (Fish wrapped in banana leaves)

Do you know why being home is so awesome? Because my mum makes the world’s best seafood. We went all out last Friday evening, with a seafood meal and some cocktails.

The monsoons got here on June 1st and it has been raining (cats, dogs, entire farms!) at least once every day. We set out to buy the fish at about 4:30 in the evening, because that’s when it comes in fresh. I was pretty stoked about taking pictures of the fish market, in Khadki.

When it was time to leave, a mild drizzle had begun. Two minutes into the ride home, all hell broke loose. And smart as my mum and I are, we were on the bike. I wasn’t going to stop. Not for the rains. I rode home. In the rains. After three years. Any body who might have been able to see through the torrents and take a look at my face would have deemed me mentally unstable. I was grinning end to end, the entire twenty minutes of the ride.

My dad had been out of town on work all day and we he got home in the evening, he was a hungry man. He was thrilled when we told him there was Patra Ni Machchi. He loves it.

A little bit of background:
My father isn’t fond of food that is extremely spicy. My mum and I, on the other hand are.
This recipe is the perfect blend of food that is spicy and sweet at the same time. Something that we’ve all come to love.

Patra, in Gujarati means leaves
Machchi is fish.

Patra Ni Machchi, therefore, literally means fish from leaves. It is called so because fillets of fish are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. It is a traditional Parsi (Zoroastrian) dish. I grew up eating Patra Ni Machchi because I grew up around a bunch of Parsi kids. And every time one of them had their Navjote (a close Hindu equivalent would be the thread ceremony), my parents and I drove to the agiari (The Parsi Fire Temple) in Bombay with good wishes and empty stomachs. Of course, as non-Parsis, we weren’t allowed to be part of the religious ceremony, but the dinner that followed was marvellous. Always.

Rows of long tables set up and hundreds of people seated behind them. And then came them catering folks. First, a banana leaf would be laid in front of us. The plate. And then came the food. Patra ni machchi. There was salli boti, which is essentially a spicy mutton (boti) stew served with crispy potato fries (salli) or salli murgh (a similar preparation, but with chicken). There’s a delicious pickle they make with carrots. There’s the most wonderful yogurt in the universe, usually served in a little earthen pot – thick, creamy, plain. There is kachumber, which is a salad made with finely chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumber, cilantro, some salt and a dash of lemon (also a very important element in most Gujarati meals, as the regular kachumber and in Maharashtrian meals as koshimbir). There is basmati rice, mildly flavoured whole spices and caramelized onions. That is usually served with dhan sak – the most awesome combination of lentils and meat that one can ever have.

I have a dhansak recipe that I used to make for G, when in USA. Surprisingly, I’ve never uploaded it. May be I should. Back to the food.

Yes, dhansak. Veggies are also served, of course. But when Parsis cook the most divine meat recipes, who would want veggies?

Dessert is sev (vermicelli) cooked in sugar and milk and served with dried fruits.

I can go on about Parsi food and more on why I like it. But I must get to the recipe.

Ingredients:

For the marinade:
1. Juice of 1 lemons
2. 2-3 teaspoons of turmeric powder

For the chutney:
4. 2 (fully packed) cups coriander leaves
5. 1 cup coconut, grated
6. 8-10 green chillies, or as spicy as you would like the fish to be
7. 8-10 cloves of garlic
8. 8-10 dates, de-seeded
9. 1 tablespoon cumin powder
10. Juice of 1 lemons (alternately, you could use some vinegar)
11. salt, to taste

Fish:
10. An even number of palm sized fillets of your choice of fish. I used pomfret, because that’s what tastes best with this preparation. I used 7 pairs of fish.
11. Banana leaves to wrap the fish in

Method:
1. Marinate the fillets of fish in turmeric and the juice from one lemon and leave aside for about an hour.

The turmeric + lemon marinade

2. Grind all the other ingredients, to make the chutney, to a fine paste.
3. Coat the fish with the chutney and arrange in pairs.
4. Cut the banana leaf into manageable pieces, large enough to wrap the fish.
5. Warm this piece of the leaf gently over the flame for a few seconds and wrap the fish in it. Tie the packet up with some string.

Heating the banana leaves just a bit
The pairs of fish with chutney, set out on the banana leaves
Making the packets
Tying them up....

6. In a large pot, bring some water to boil. Add a couple of springs of coriander and some vinegar to it.
7. Place the packets of fish in a container and let them in over the water bath.
8. The fish will cook in about 10-15 minutes.
9. To know whether the fish is done, make sure that the banana leaves have sufficiently dulled in colour.

The cooked fish (note how the banana leaf is now a fairly dull green)
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