Little fish: Tokyo to Toirano to Tankapani

In my last trip to Tokyo, I was exposed to the simplicity of whitebait or the little white fish, which are actually immature anchovies or sardines. Named shirasu in Japan, they make a great topping or an appetizer accompanying sake (which is how I had it). In Liguria (Italy), the same is boiled or fried and dressed with lemon juice and/or oil.  Here I share a classic recipe for the little fish  mahuradi from Tankapani (India). Unlike the whitebait, these are not babies; they just happen to be tiny adults!


Special tools:

Spice grinder

  • 1 cup  little fish, cleaned, smeared with little salt + little turmeric powder + 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • Seasoning: 1 tbsp oil +  1/2 tsp pancha phutana + few curry leaves
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced into 1/2″ cubes
  • Spice mix in a spice grinder:  1 1/2 tbsp black mustard seeds + 1  tsp cumin seeds + pinch turmeric + red chilli powder
  • 2-3 pods of garlic very finely minced
  • 1 small tomato peeled and diced fine


Deep fry the fish in oil in 2 or 3 batches till lightly brown. It is fine even if they clump together. Drain and keep aside.  Dissolve or mix the spice mix and the minced garlic in 2 cups of water.  Heat oil and add the pancha phutana + curry leaves. Add the diced potatoes. When well coated in oil add the spice mixture. Bring to a slow simmer until potatoes are soft (10-12 minutes). Then add the finely diced tomatoes. When it comes to a boil, add the deep fried fish and turn off the heat.

Serve hot with steamed rice.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. You can use any small fish in this recipe, including whitebait. Needless to mention, there is no need to debone the fish. In fact, for someone as squeamish as me, once I beheaded a thousand (prepping)!
  2. How can an Indian classic have cornstarch in its recipe? You got me. That’s my humble contribution.
  3. You could shallow fry the fish– but they disintegrate rapidly.  The cornstarch (or whole wheat flour/ata) helps in binding and crisping the fish.
  4. Instead of cumin seeds in the mix; you can use the fragrant ras el hanout.
  5. You can use a different souring agent than tomato (like ambula)
  6. See my pancha phutana mix


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