Eat: A Spicy, Crunchy Indian Fish Fry the Way Her Grandmother Liked ItOn May 16, 2018 by Margot
Using her grandmother’s notes, consulting with her mother and aunts, Pidathala pieced together new English recipes for gram stew, stuffed eggplant and meatball biryani, as well as her grandmother’s favorite coffee-custard pudding. Just like her grandmother, Pidathala found her own collaborators and self-published the collection. Chinmayie Bhat, a former food blogger in Bangalore, photographed the dishes in Pidathala’s small apartment using natural light and all her own pots and pans. And Sonya Balsubramanyam, a baker and former journalist, edited the recipes.
It was a time-consuming side hustle as Pidathala worked a full-time job as a product manager and raised her son, Arjun. The book took nearly a decade. By the time it was done, Pidathala was no longer a novice. She was an expert in her family’s regional cuisine and the author of “Five Morsels of Love,” an adaptation of her grandmother’s cookbook, now sold around the world.
One of the first dishes Pidathala mastered was chepa vepudu, a simple fish fry. Back home in Kurnool, her family would eat it when there was a fresh catch of murrel available, sometimes called bull’s-eye snakehead, and known as korameenu in Telugu. A delicious freshwater fish, it is slick and muddy-colored, about the length of a forearm. Sliced, marinated quickly and shallow-fried, the fish becomes golden and crisp all over, and its savory white meat takes on the flavors of caramelized ginger and garlic, browned coriander seeds and red chile.
“We grew up eating everything in the thali, all in one go, and it was always an explosion of textures,” Pidathala said. Back then, the vepudu brought an element of crunch to the table. “The beauty,” she said, “is that it could go with a proper meal, or it could go alone, with a bottle of cold beer.” But in Bangalore, where Pidathala has lived for the last 17 years, that korameenu is hard to find. She uses all kinds of other fish instead — pomfret, pearl spot, mackerel or kingfish. And she has found that they all work, that vepudu is a dish with many variants. What never changes is the way the fish is cut: perpendicular to the spine, into small steaks, the skin left on, just as Pidathala’s grandmother liked it.
Recipe: Fish Fry (Chepa Vepudu)