We went to Madampe to discover the charms of these freshwater creatures. The Thinapitiya wewa is a lovely expanse of water steeped in folklore. It was where Thaniwella Rajjuruwo, the King of Thaniwella, reigned. Romantic and tragic tales are told of him by the villagers. We nosed our way through a sinuous path breaking into the interior of Madampe.
We walked through a maze of picturesque little cottages and picking our way through backyards, finally emerged at the edge of the wewa, into which coconut palms dipped eagerly like women searching for their reflections. Clumps of greenery sprouted in the middle of the wewa, and its far end glittered with morning sunlight, as if a chandelier had half sunken in.
Early birds catch the fish
The fishermen begin the day, with a prayer, at six in the morning. Two men would sleepily stumble to the little craft called the ‘Theppama’ and row to the middle of the wewa. The craft has to be maneuvered with a bamboo pole like a witch stirring her cauldron thickly, and both men have to stand, the boat being frail.
One of them will cast the net at a spot favoured by the shoals of fish, and then they will row back to the shore. Later in the morning they would sail back and haul in their catch. The best of the fish you can be blessed with here are the Loola (snakehead murrel), the Seppali (Giant gourami) and the Korali (Green chromide). Once the catch is hauled ashore, the still protesting and thudding fish are taken in deep cane baskets to be sold.
Lip smacking goodness
Wewu maalu is either cooked or fried. The traditional homemaker has a favourite recipe for curried Wewu maalu. The fish is divided into good sized chunks and are marinated heartily with an aromatic paste of pepper, chilli, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and sweet cumin seeds as well as tamarind. Oil is then heated in a pot, mustard seeds are thrown in, and green chilli, karapincha, onion and rampe are added. To this, finally, the fish are ladled in, and cooked till the gravy is a simmering orange brown.
If you are to fry them, slice them into leaner pieces than you would for the curry, tickle them finely with turmeric, salt and pepper, into the oil and then, viola! You get a fluffy, fleshy fish with which to account for any amount of rice and sambol.