Andaman & Nicobar Islands Diary: Seafood lover’s haven
Port Blair: Havelock and Neil Islands in the South Andamans are seafood lover’s haven. Fish is sourced locally at each of the islands while large size crabs and lobsters are fetched from Port Blair daily basis.
Fish curry, fried, grilled or baked fish, grilled lobsters and crabs or in curry form are popular. Almost all shacks selling meals near the beaches have fried fish and fish curry on the menu.
Avoid prawns while in the Andamans. These islands depend on prawn supplies from Visakhapatnam or Chennai. It is fresh fish all the way on the islands.
For non-vegetarians’ chicken is another popular option. Broiler farms are there but desi chicken sourced from farmers is quite popular. Broiler costs Rs 200 a kg, while a desi chicken sourced from farmers is priced at Rs 600 a kg. Mutton is not popular in this part of India.
Use of coconut lends a unique taste to curries of fish and chicken. Biryani of fish, chicken and prawns is available in all restaurants and roadside eateries. However, you will not get dum (steamed) biryani. Technically it is fried rice served with curd and rings of onion and a slice of lime.
Local landowners are majorly into managing areca nut and coconut plantations. Areca nut is the main commercial crop of the Andamans. Areca tree fruits twice a year. After drying and peeling the fruit farmers bring the yield — beetle nut — to local dealers who double up as buying agents for the mainlanders.
Average income from one healthy tree is between Rs 500-700 per year. An acre of plantation on an average has 400 to 600 areca trees, said a plantation owner. According to him labor intensive and time-consuming paddy farming is not popular. “We earn more from areca plantation. Paddy is not commercially viable,” said a farmer.
For onion, tomato, potatoes, garlic, carrots, cabbage, french beans, drumsticks and capsicum, the islands depend on supplies from Chennai. Major supplies are from Ooty via Chennai in Tamil Nadu. All other vegetables are grown locally.
Papaya, banana, a limited variety of mangoes, avocado, star fruit (Kamrakh) and lemon are sourced locally. For all other fruits, islands depend on supplies from Chennai.
Please remember that these are not milk producing islands. Hence, milk powder is widely used. One should only be drinking fresh coconut water while in the Andamans. Full of refreshing sweet nectar coconuts are priced between Rs 30 and 50. Do not ever miss jhaal-muri Bengal style, fruit chat and lemon tea on the beach. For food go local should be the mantra on these islands.
For essential commodities the Andamans depend on cargo ships which run the islands kitchens and economy. “Delay in the arrival of cargo ships means disaster for us locals,” said a local tour organiser.
Masiba Ashraf of Srinagar, an ardent biker managing the Summer Sands resort at the Neil Island, said: “During the Covid lockdown once we exhausted our food supplies, for more than one month we survived only on papaya. We are completely cut off from the outside world here. For everything we depend on Port Blair. We were not aware of the severity of the pandemic since Internet connectivity is non-existent. We were taken by surprise when ships stopped arriving at Neil. Supplies too stopped during the lockdown. Only when I travelled back to Srinagar did the reality hit me and shook me to the core.”