Meet Juhi Sanam Maharaj, the TikToker who caused a stir with her tin fish sandwiches

Juhi Sanam Maharaj. Picture: Supplied

Juhi Sanam Maharaj. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 22, 2024


If it feels like tin fish is everywhere right now, including restaurants, you are not wrong. And for good reason. Tin fish has so many perks. It is nutritious, often inexpensive, versatile, and delicious.

Food TikToker Juhi Sanam Maharaj recently caused a stir on social media recently when she made a video of her preparing tin fish sandwiches for the beach.

People questioning why she did not wash the fish in the comments section.

@juhisanammaharaj How to pick, clean and eat fresh mussels straight off the rocks! 🌊🦪🤤 #mussels #musselpicking #sea #ocean #seafood #durban #portshepstone #durbantiktok #portshepstonetiktok #southcoast #southafrica #southafricatiktok #rawfood ♬ Summer Vibes - GRLN

Independent Newspapers Lifestyle caught up with Maharaj to hear her side of the story.

The 25-year-old from Port Shepstone, on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, said her goal with her social media platform was not food content creation but to help as many small businesses in the area by putting Port Shepstone in the spotlight.

She said she wanted to attract as much tourism as possible to the town and inform people about the responsible ways in which they could enjoy their beaches and oceans.

Maharaj is in the process of opening her beauty salon and dreams of owning a farm one day.

“I love animals and it has been a dream of mine to own a farm. After matric, I studied BCom Accounting and Marketing at the University of the Witwatersrand. I proceeded to work in marketing in Johannesburg for a few years, however I did not enjoy the corporate life.

“I wanted to create a life where I could spend time with my family and focus on building my own business and own brand and this is what 2024 is about for me,” she said.

Maharaj said her aim right now was to share her lifestyle because it was different from other girls her age.

“The first video I posted on my TikTok was actually at the beach with my family where we were eating mussels. And that for us is a normal Sunday at the beach. That is where it all began.

“People commented that they had never tried such a lifestyle before, whilst others thought it was cool that a young girl like me does this. I want people in my generation to understand that it is cool to eat certain things.

“That it is cool to hang out with your family and it is cool you enjoy generational classics with them. I use the platform to share life skills like how to clean and cut a fish and how to light the fire,” she said.

Asked about her love for seafood, Maharaj said in her home seafood was a staple as they lived a walk away from the beach.

“My dad is an avid fisherman so we are always introduced to different types of fish. And I feel that if you get food that is that fresh it is the best way to eat it. Eating seafood is a more sustainable and easier way to feed your family,” she added.

The controversy

Do you wash tin fish before eating it? This is the question that had the internet divided after Maharaj posted a video of herself with her family making a pilchard sandwich and enjoying it at the beach.

@juhisanammaharaj Nothing beats a Tin Fish sandwich at the beach! 🌊🤤💯 Except for biryani 😂😱💕 #tinfish #beach #food #foodtok #fish #fishing #fishinglife #fishtok #ocean #sandwich #shore #recipe #portshepstone #portshepstonetiktok #durban #durbantiktok #southcoast ♬ původní zvuk - 🕷️

Narrating the story, she said: “It was a very normal Saturday, we were going down to meet my dad who was fishing on the beach and we were going to make tin fish sandwiches.

“I told my mom let us just take the ingredients and I will make it on the beach and we can take a video - not thinking this would cause so much controversy and such heated debate.”

Maharaj said what caused the debate was that people were concerned about why she did not remove the bones, guts, the black lining and the scales.

“Yes there are bones but they are soft. If you apply any pressure to the bones you will feel they turn into dust in your hand. I then made a follow-up video and opened a new tinned fish to look for the guts but there was none.

“The Lucky Star pilchards are already cooked and put into the tomato sauce.

“I then did a third video on this tinned fish drama where I looked for the scales. I was shocked to see tons of scales. I could even take them off with my hand. So I showed this and told viewers that they were right.

“I acknowledged it; however they are also just as soft as the bones. I told them that I am going to continue enjoying tinned fish the way I always had and they should too because it was okay to have different preferences,” she said.

Out of curiosity and the videos she made receiving a lot of negative comments, Maharaj contacted Lucky Star to find out the best way to enjoy the food and whether they would recommend that people clean the fish before consuming it.

The brand responded, saying, “It all comes down to personal preference. Everything put in the tin is done so internationally because of the nutritional value that it adds.

“There is calcium in the bones, there is collagen in the scales and there is omega-3 in the fish itself. It is a wholesome meal that is beneficial and nutritious, however should you wish to remove the bones that is your preference.”

The now-famous TikToker said being in the spotlight on social media was a roller-coaster ride.

“I would not say it is all fun and games but the majority of it has been awesome. I learned that you do have to watch what you say and how you conduct yourself. If you can control your reactions to situations you have won one half the battle.

“It is nice to get views and read the comments but what this has allowed me to do is to share my lifestyle and now be in a position of influence, and help other people and businesses with the platform to grow.”

Maharaj added: “My dad always says that, ‘life is about choices’. I knew that I wanted to have influence but I did not know how I was going to get there. If you want something or pray for something God is not going to hand it to you but he is going to give you the opportunities.

“He is going to put a door in front of you and it will be your choice if you want to open that door.”

Maharaj said she would love to write a cookbook and share the recipes for food she makes at home like chicken feet, tripe and trotters.