"If there’s anything more popular than the Malabari meen avial (fish avial)... Perhaps, it is this dialogue from the evergreen superhit Malayalam movie "Akkare, Akkare, Akkare" that made the fish dish popular across Kerala.
In one of the cleanest comedy scenes ever, Sreenivasan, the maverick CID, Vijayan, who also happens to be Mohanlal’s sidekick (literally), is trying all the tricks up his sleeve to woo and emotionally blackmail CID Dasan (Mohanlal) into carting him along with him to the US where Dasan is soon to fly on an assignment.
Vijayan tries to please Dasan by listing out the many dishes he’s been making just to make the latter happy, with “meenavial” being the day’s special. He puts on a funeral expression and asks Dasan: “Who will do your cooking?” (while you are in the US) and “Who will wash your clothes?’’
In the midst of his whining, the meen avial is all but forgotten. All of a sudden he pops up and comes up with the now iconic dialogue … “meen avial enthayo entho?”
Dasan’s craving for a fine dish of fish curry is seen best in the first film of the 'Nadodikattu' series. He comes to Radha (Sobhana) after his day’s work is done, hands her a bag of fish and tells her: “Meen curry nalla style aayittu undakkanam” (cook an excellent fish curry).
The meen avial got a desi twist when trollers picked the English word “meanwhile” and gave it a Mallu flavour with “meen avial” by twisting the “while” to “avial” to beget “meanwhile in a chatty… meen avial enthayo entho?
Talking of meen avial, the dish is familiar only in North Malabar. Folks in Onattukara, Travancore and Kochi would flee from the very concept of fish in avial. And fish, to Kottayamites is that red chilli curry with its fish-tamarind combo. In fact, meen avial is also not a daily dish in Malabar. It’s an exclusive Kadathanadan prerogative. For a taste of meen avial one has only to drive down between Vadakara and Nadapuram. It’s the region’s dearest dish.
Back to Dasan. Now why would he be so crazy about fish? He was born and raised in a Kadathanadan village. If one were to rewind 'Nadodikattu', up pops the familiar face of Dasan’s mother who was slogging it out as a maid to raise her son and give him the best education, to turn him out with a first class in B Com. It’s from that remote village that Dasan makes his entry into Kozhikode to work as a peon in a local company.
As for the script, it was penned by none other than Srinivasan, a native of Thalassery, a place where coconut is an integral part of every dish. Coconut, jeerakam (cumin) and green chillies ground together are the main players on any menu. And there’s that unmistakable rich whiff of coconut oil as the ground mix starts boiling along with the vegetables. That’s the simple vegetable avial.
Meanwhile …in a chatti (earthen vessel)
Wash a thick bottomed vessel to a squeaky clean finish. Wipe it dry and place it over the flame.
Pour coconut oil into the vessel. When the oil heats up, add two spoons of coriander, six dry red chillies, a pinch of turmeric, five shallots and three cloves of garlic. Sauté the mix. See that it does not turn too brown. Grind the mix.
Add ½ a kg of fish to this ground mix, a cup of raw mangoes (skinned), 5 sprigs of curry leaves and salt. Mix well.
Pour in two cups of water and cook the fish.
To the boiling mix add a spoon of chopped big onions, ½ a spoon chopped ginger, three green chillies split lengthwise, ½ cup of coarsely ground coconut and ¼ cup of water.
Allow the gravy to thicken, but see that it does not boil.
Meanwhile…, in a chatti, the meen avial is ready.