One of the most amazing meals in all of India is a Kerala-style Curry Fish Fry.
When you visit Kerala, this meal of seafood will make your entire trip worthwhile – you need to visit the restaurant ‘Amma Hotel,’ which you’ll find in the town of Khozikode.
Location, price, and hours down below, for now let’s get right to the food!
Amma Hotel serves incredible amounts of Kerala’s best seafood daily, and with each fish that you order comes a ton of side dishes, curries, and chutneys, which they will serve you on a wonderful banana leaf table top spread.
The entire lunch meal is wonderful, but when it comes to eating Kerala-style Fish Fry, they may have one of the single most tasty versions I’ve ever had in my life.
What to Order
The food you have to eat here is ‘Meen Porichathu,’ this is the Kerala-style Fish Curry. If its not clear to all by now, this is a dish so good it may be worth a trip to Khozikode just to eat.
Arriving today at Amma Hotel, let me first warn you that entering this restaurant carries a risk.
You’re in real danger of rearranging your list of ‘All-Time Favorite Indian Foods’ after lunch today – this Kerala Fish Curry at Amma just may take the top spot.
Lunchtime in Khozikode
We’re arriving at Amma’s just before they open (at noon), for the chance to witness some of the magic behind the scenes – I can’t wait to show you their kitchen set-up.
It can get pretty busy at Amma Hotel for lunch, you may want to get there early – the restaurant is only open for 4 hours each day (and they close on Sunday).
Curry, Fish, Coconut Oil (Repeat)
Walk through the restaurant’s front entrance, and make your way to the kitchen. The amount of flavor they’re working with here is unreal – you may have to look twice before you’ll believe your eyes.
The chefs are literally sloshing, dumping, just pouring pure flavor into cooking pans – the gallon-size jugs that you see chefs pouring into the pans, all full of locally-made Kerala coconut oil.
To say that the state of Kerala loves coconut is an understatement – similar, yet so different from what you’ll eat in Northern India, there are very few recipes in all of Kerala that don’t include either coconut oil, coconut flesh, coconut milk, or all 3!
At Amma Hotel, its the oil they’re using to fry all these fish, and its also a key ingredient in many of their curry recipes as well.
Let the fish frying begin.
Watch a Video of this meal!
Heavenly food flavors in Kerala start with local coconut oil, see a full meal at Amma Hotel seafood restaurant right now (Mark Wiens on YouTube).
Lava Fish Fry, at Amma Hotel in Khozikode
In Kerala, Malayalam is the official language by the way, and the photos (and video) you can see from our meal are full of trays of both ‘Avoli,’ – Silver Pomfret in English – and ‘Aiykoora‘ – which is Kingfish.
Don’t ask us to choose, and we won’t ask it of you – its quite an impossible decision. Thankfully you can eat your fill of both at Amma Hotel, now lets get back to that amazing kitchen scene.
The Fish Fry Technique
The chefs are working quickly, a small team is necessary to get all the steps just right, the process goes something like this:
Taking a clean fish from below the workspace, the first chef makes several scoring slices on the fish’s flesh, vertical cuts on each side.
This allows for maximal curry paste absorption, both before and after the coconut-oil jacuzzi time.
The chef uses a huge mixing bowl of curry paste not only to fry the fish though, first using it as a marinade, before finally moving each fish to the frying tray (next photo).
Curry Sauce, or Marinade, or Both!
After rubbing each fish down from nose to tail, the chef then takes a moment to add additional handfuls of paste (because its already in her hands from rubbing the fish) directly into the huge frying pan in front.
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Instead of taking time to wipe extra curry paste off her hands, she just adds that paste directly into the main pan!
Each step is therefore efficient – minimizing motion while maximizing flavor – and they can cook, coat, and begin to fry about a dozen fish like this at a time.
Marinating in and scooping out curry paste, then bathing all the fish in oil, the master chef now has several rows of fish out swimming in the pan before her.
To use the word ‘pan’ is polite, from right here, the pan looks more like a miniature field of lava.
A Mini-Jacuzzi of Coconut Oil
This is one volcano eruption I don’t mind seeing up close… the colors here are just glorious!
The glowing ‘rocks’ form the most friendly type of lava here, where each hot nuggets is actually an entire filet of fish instead.
Now it’s time for more coconut oil, and I love the way they do things here – precise additions, but so totally cooking on feel as well, now is when our feelings of hunger are reaching fairly incredible levels.
Approximate Ratio – 2 Gallons per Hour
I guess they’re using about 1 gallon jug per half hour of cooking, so just try to imagine the texture that’s at work here.
The thick red curry paste and silvery shimmering coconut oil creates literally a quivering of all stomach’s excitement, let’s move on now to Step 2.
Her pan is massive, the fire unbelievably hot, and a distinct jacuzzi sensation is building.
Recipes that use the words ‘generous amount’ come nowhere even close to what this masterful version of fish curry requires.
They’re creating what you might consider to be a miniature bathtub of local Kerala coconut oil. Each fish in the pan gets this covering for a second time, and you have to see these awesome spatula skills at work!
Lava Fish Fry, in Kerala
I am thankful to be able to watch the video replay just to see, and further appreciate, her technique, her confidence and skill as she cooks (see the YouTube video of this meal here (link)).
She wastes no time, no movement is extra, and the time finally comes for entire branches full of fresh curry leaves.
Expertly stripping off every leaf, before the branches are even discarded she’s already reaching to finish this step with another helping of coconut oil. Slightly smaller this last time, from her magical plastic jug comes another cup or two of coconut oil into the pan.
Its a beautiful process to watch, this constant motion creation of flavor. If you weren’t made so undeniably hungry be witnessing this whole scene, I think any Kerala food lover could sit here and watch for hours.
By this time she is ready to flip the first row of fish down further in towards the center of the pan, each fish getting a little flick to resettle it, and a second flick to re-cover it in coconut oil, and then she drops the ladle to go back for the next round of fish.
When that first row of fish has finally made its way, swam across this tiny ocean of coconut oil, curry paste, and curry leaves, the final step is to place them all in a banana leaf, covering a dozen or so fish, and send them out into the cafe area.
Everyone is waiting for these fish, and each batch is gone pretty much as quickly as they are serving it.
Traditional Lunch at Amma Hotel
Although this meal is one worth traveling to eat, its downtown location makes Amma Hotel very popular with local people working in Khozikode.
If you arrive during work-day lunchtime hours, not only is it going to be tough to get a table, this will also show you how great the pricing is for a full lunch at Amma Hotel as well.
For a full and traditional meal of Kerala’s best seafood here, I’ll give you a small list of how the steps of your lunch might take place:
Appetizers – Starters and Sides
The waiting staff will start you off with a small spread of the following foods, spooning each of them out onto your banana leaf. All of these items are foods you can refill for free, and soon you will recognize which serving vessels contain which combinations of food.
Usually in this order, you will have:
– White rice (a single spoon, which you’ll soak with curry, so they will bring fresh rice many times)
– Yellow dal (chick peas) with mustard seeds and curry leaves
– A slightly mushy pile of green beans, awesomely full of ginger flavor.
– A mild curry sauce which drops right in the middle of your rice pile (use your hand, and poke a hole in your rice first, the server will know what to do).
– Several samplings of chutney (get as much and as many as you can!). These will vary from being sour, sour and sweet, slightly bitter and/or salty, all of them powerful, and always amazing to every tastebud you’ve got.
– ‘Papaddum’ (or just ‘Papad’), a crunchy, crispy, airy disc of rice bread, which you crush with your hand and mix into your rice.*
*This gives you a bit of texture behind the bites of rice, as well as adding salt (some recipes may not include salt, instead you can add your own amounts as you like with your papad).
Round 2, Sort of…
By the time you finish about half of your meal, the waiter serving your table may already see which dish is your favorite, and they may already be refilling your banana tray.
This might be seconds for one dish (or thirds and fourths, again these are free refills) before you are done with ‘firsts’ of another item… in India, its ok, and totally perfect in fact!
Main Course – The Fish Fry
Eat as much as you want of the starters, but remember that your fish is on its way!
Finally, the main course arrives, and it is added alongside (or directly on top) of whatever rice you have remaining in the middle of your banana leaf placemat-plate.
If you didn’t choose to take a second portion of rice by now, then now is the time to get a refill – a new mound of white rice for this fish is the way to go, like an artist’s clean brush, ready for new curry flavor to brighten your food world.
Pro Tip*: You are going to want to experience every bit of the flavor that resides in our mother-chef master’s fish-bathtub frying tray – so be ready! You might ask nicely, and smile broadly, but be sure to do whatever you can to get your table’s waiter to scrape an entire spoon of the leftover curry paste from their large serving tray, directly onto your own banana leaf plate.
Bonus Menu – Rasam
There is one item on the menu that doesn’t go onto your tray, but goes directly into your hand instead!
You have to try the Rasam, a classic flavor of Indian cuisine, a sour and flavorful soup. They’ll serve to you from a pitcher, and not the curry-ladle tray, so be sure to not wave the waiter away when you think they’re refilling your water cup.
While the modern way is to have it in a second drinking cup for sipping (same cup as your water cup), the traditional way is so much more fun.
Hold out one hand, and keep it steady, with all your fingers in alignment. Hold as much liquid as you can (rasam is not hot enough to burn you) – you are going to want all you can get of this warming mouthful of soup.
Rasam Soup + Slurp Move
Slurp from whichever side of the hand you want, I find it easy to go from the base of the thumb, (leave a comment below if you have any pro-tips for us). Locals will assure you it tastes better this way, and after doing it myself I agree.
The taste is full of sour tamarind, masala spices, and maybe some sweetness from jaggery. Its absolutely delicious for looking only like a simple soup, you’re definitely going to want seconds on this one.
Kerala has its own way of making rasam, usually doing everything from scratch (not using the more common way of including instant powder in the recipe) – its tasty, its a classic flavor of Kerala, but this could also just be the most fun palate cleanse I can ever remember trying.
Rasam is another example of Kerala’s love for spicy flavor. The recipe is intricate, SO full of flavor like many of my favorite foods from around India (this amazing example from the North right here).
This is a flavor so great I’m happy to take it to-go, tucking away the last bite for a last taste of this great meal in Khozikode.
Jaggery Snack for Dessert
When all your fish have finally gone, and only a pile of bones remain, its finally time to pay the bill, and say ‘so long’ to the amazing Amma Hotel.
Directly in front of the restaurant, you’ll find a table full of sweet and savory snacks… but this is also a way to collect your change?
Pick out a Snack instead of taking your Change!
Snacks like these are a sort of farewell to a traditional lunch in Khozikode, but its also a way to avoid carrying around small change!
If you’re like me, and you really don’t want to have a pocket full of coins during your trip, then this is what you have to do. You can take one (or a few) of these small treats instead of small change for the meal. Its one of the many cute and cool things I enjoy to think back on when missing the time traveling in India.
Choose between sweet items, in which they use local jaggery sugar, or savory items as well, like the ones they make using peanuts, sesame seeds, and even hints of spice like cardamom and cumin.
They’re very cheap, and give you just a few bites to walk away and snack on while you thoughtfully plan out your next meal of Kerala’s best traditional food.
Khozikode (Callicut), in Kerala
Recommendations for where to find the best food in Kerala probably focus on several other towns before they will reach Khozikode (for this specific list…).
Khozikode is famous for both a cool night life, and its unique jungle-meets-ocean natural vibe, but neither of these have to do with the best food in Khozikode.
After reading this article though, I hope you will reconsider!
By the way, you can see a basic version of Kerala’s Fish Curry here (link), and another website detailing no less than 8 entirely different recipes, all of them making what in English we might just call a ‘Kerala Fish Curry.’
Its so diverse, the number of ways to make this dish in Kerala, and it just goes to show how important this dish is when creating any menu including Kerala’s most authentic food.
When you are in Khozikode, don’t miss visiting Amma Hotel for lunch, you need to have India’s most amazing coconut oil curry fish fry for yourself.
Finally, be sure to tell us all about your own experience when you’re there, we would love to hear from you in the comment section down below.
Cheers, thanks for reading.
Name: Amma Hotel (Seafood Restaurant)
Location: (Google Maps)
Hours: 12pm – 4pm Daily, closed on Sunday (we came a bit early to watch the cooking)
Prices: 1500 INR (US$19.70) for 6 people, our entire meal plus 2 curry fish each.
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