A Fine Vintage:
Why Sri Lankans Prefer Their Fish Old And Salty
So-called jadi fish is a delicacy in Sri Lanka. But the art of making it is dying out. One local man, who specialises in making pickled fish on the beach, explains how it’s done.
There are not too many places in the world where diners are happy to snack on fish that’s not fresh – and in particular, a fish that is potentially several years old. But that is exactly the make up of the Sri Lankan delicacy known as jadi fish.
It is a salted, pickled fish that is bought by the gram, rather than the kilo and used in way similar to lime pickle, in local cooking. Although in recent years the traditional preparation of jadi fish has been dying out, Moratuwa man W.W. D. Ajantha Perera, still keeps up the good work.
Perera, who lives in Moratuwa, on the outskirts of Colombo, explains how jadi fish is prepared. Fish are gutted and the internal organs removed, then salt and Indian tamarind – also known as goraka – are added. The fish and its spices are placed in a hessian bag and buried in a hole in the sand on the sea shore. Perara says he leaves the bag buried in the sand for two weeks and any smells and liquification are absorbed in the sand. Once removed from its sandy resting place, more salt, tamarind, and other secret spices – Perera doesn’t want to reveal his recipe – are mixed in. The fish is then stored in a container for at least a year, possibly even three.
“The longer it is kept, the tastier it becomes,” the 32-year-old explains, pointing out which of his stock is only six months old and which is older.
Perera and his wife have two children and they bottle and sell the fish together; it is something that the former fisherman got involved in after doing several odd jobs that didn’t suit him as much.
Perera was running a small roadside stand selling the jadi fish but this was deemed illegal and removed. Now he sells the salty delicacy from out the front of his house. He says he would love to try and make his business more professional but that this would cost more money than he has.
“If you have a pot filled with jadi in your kitchen, it means good fortune,” Perera told The Catamaran.