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Konkani

A food and culture related fiesta, bringing with it a whiff of the palm-fringed beaches, the balmy sea air and the mouth-watering food of Konkan. Gourmands, the world over, are an adventurous lot but their palates are not easy to satisfy. They are so well seasoned that only extraordinary food can draw their appreciation. And one cuisine that is sure to do that is the one that we can taste along the West coast of India – the Konkan, which runs from Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka down to Malabar. The Konkan cuisine has become one of the most popular cuisines of the recent times. Though Konkan food is mostly synonymous with fish, the variety of vegetarian and sweet dishes are equally impressive. It can be safely said that this region gives us some of the best and tastiest recipes of fish and other seafood. 

Konkan coastal cuisine is primarily the food of Konkani speaking people. The Konkani cuisine is as diverse as spoken Konkani. The major crop of this region are the coconuts which have given rise to various industries producing khopra oil, choir and other related products. Along the sloping lands, the heavy monsoons bring life to the mango, guava and betelnut plantations. A variety of pulses are also grown here.

The region also grows kokum in plentiful. Kokum is a sweet-sour fruit whose dried skin is used for adding a gentle sourness to the Konkani curries. Kokum seeds are used for making a delicious sherbet, which is called the “local nectar” which brings relief to many a parched throat during the hot summer months. Besides coconuts, mangoes, rice, cashew nuts and a variety of pulses are also grown.

The relatively undiscovered palm fringed beaches are home to many a fishing village. The ribbon-like coastal Konkan belt is full of coconut plantations and a variety of seafood. Quite predictably, this area has some of the best seafood recipes of India. Tourists who have explored these coastal havens confirm their affinity towards coconut laced curries with a punch. Fish is considered as the ‘Fruit of the sea’ and fishing trawlers can be seen all along the coastline to collect the bounty of the Arabian Sea. The most common fish that are found include mackerels, sardines, sharkfish, kingfish, squids, sting rays and many other small fish. Pomfret, though available, is not found in abundance, hence the high price at times. Variety of shellfish includes prawns or shrimps of all sizes, crabs, mussels, oysters, lobsters and crayfish.

The highlight of the cuisine of this region is the two basic masala pastes that form the base for most of the dishes. One is the Rasgoli mixture made from fresh coconut gratings with a variety of spices whereas the second is the Bhajana mixture made of stronger spices with roasted coconut and onion. The former is used for fish curries and the latter for meat or chicken curries. Both the masala mixes can be used equally effectively for vegetable curries. The Konkanis are particular about the spices and herbs that are chosen after long hours of discussion. A vast variety of red chillies is available in the area with varying degrees of spiciness and colour. Since the colour and texture of the curry is as important to them as the flavour, each ingredient is chosen with care and used with patience.

An everyday meal consists of several accompaniments that are set out in a particular manner in the taat (plate). The taat vadhany (method of setting food on the platter) is an art that young girls are trained in as soon as they are 7-8 years old. It starts with a bit of salt at the top centre of the taat. On its left is set a small piece of lemon. Then follow the chatni (spicy accompaniment made of ground coconut and green chillies), koshimbir (salad), bharit (lightly cooked or raw vegetable in yogurt) in that order. The vegetable with gravy never precedes the dry vegetable because the gravy will run into it. The meal is served by the woman of the house. Once everyone is seated, rice is served with a little toop (ghee) poured on it. The meal only starts after the eldest male in the house dedicates the meal to the Gods and everyone says a short prayer in thanksgiving. 

Culled from Konkani family treasures, we bring you authentic, traditional recipes from the region.

Festival Food

Being a predominantly agricultural region, most of the festivals occur during the monsoon, when a rich harvest is promised by nature and when plentiful of fruits and vegetables grow. On festive days, Konkani people make sweets from rice flour and liquid jaggery. Some of these are eliappe, shevais served with sweet cardamom flavoured coconut milk or patolis, which are packets of steamed rice flour with a sweet coconut filling. There is a large variety of ghavans, which are like dosas, eaten with dry or fresh chutneys. The Konkan coast is short of milk, therefore sweetmeats are made of rice, wheat, besan or coconut.

Gudi Padwa or Ugadi is the first day of the springtime month of Chaitra heralding the New Year. This festival coming around March-April is typical of this area, as it commemorates the triumphant expeditions of the Maratha armies of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Even in the present day every household in this region raises the ‘gudi’ or standard of victory comprising a pole with an upturned metal pot surrounded by folds of silk fabric, marigold and mango leaves. Gudi Padwa is considered as auspicious day for marriages, house warming and any new beginning. Homes and the entrances are decorated with torans (garlands) of marigold, flowers and mango leaves. Sweets are distributed among the neighbours and relatives.

Shravan, at the peak of monsoon in August, is a month of festivals starting with Nag Panchami when people worship the snake God. Various milk sweets are made and offered to the deity. People avoid cutting, frying, etc. hence vegetables are cut a day before by many followers. The celebratory meal cooked on this day includes Puran Poli, Kheer, jaggery flavoured Moong dal khichdi, a dessert called Dhondus and several vegetables and pulse preparations. While rest of India celebrates Raksha Bandhan on the full moon day of this month, the people of Konkan celebrate Narli purnima or coconut day. The day is thus called as coconuts are offered to the sea. This is done mainly by the fisher folk to appease the sea God and pray for their safety before resuming fishing season after the peak of monsoon when they do not venture into the choppy seas.

Soon follows Janmashtmi or the birthday of Lord Krishna. Most devotees fast till midnight when the birth of the Lord is announced, thus calling for a festive meal comprising of dishes, which, according to mythology, was liked by Krishna and his playmates in Gokul. This meal includes rice, butter, yogurt, puris, dahi pohe and a special vegetable made of potatoes. Amboli, a pancake similar to that of uttapa but a little thinner, is consumed with a bhaji made from leaves of drumstick tree since they are considered auspicious. On this festival night, children have a special place in every household. They are given plenty of butter and puffed rice mixed with sweet milk.

Ganesh Chaturthi, perhaps the most important festival of this region, is celebrated around end August-September. This is the feast of elephant-headed Lord Ganesha, the God of wisdom and the benevolent deity. Ganesha’s blessings are invoked at the commencement of every occasion. Lord Ganesha is the presiding deity of this region. Along with Lord Ganesh, the people of Konkan also worship Gauri – the Goddess Parvati – Lord Ganesha’s mother. Ganesh Chaturthi is a day of great feasting. Special sweets called modaks are steamed or fried for offering to Ganesha. Modaks are small rice or wheat flour dumplings stuffed with coconut and jaggery. Besides this, a large variety of savoury and sweet snacks such as shevian, karanjis, laddoos, chaklis, kodbolis and anarsas are distributed to devotees and guests during the puja.

On Rishipanchami, or the day following Ganesh Chaturthi, food grains that are produced on fields which are ploughed by the bullocks are not cooked. Hence only vegetables are used. The special bhaji is made with colocassia, green and red leafy vegetables, potatoes, yam, colocassia leaves, padval, etc. Slit green chillies are used for flavouring and garnished with grated coconut, coconut oil and triphal. Puja of Sapta ( seven) Rishis is also performed on this day

Dassera, which generally comes in October, is considered a very auspicious day for any new beginnings. Many children begin their education, their dance or music or art or sport lessons on this day. On Dassera , a special dish called Kesari Bhaath and Puran Poli are made. Soon after Dassera, comes the wonderful festival of lights – Diwali. The colourful electric lights decorate the buildings and fireworks assert the festive mood. During these five days, elsewhere in Konkan too, Diwali is a festival of twinkling lights and bursting crackers. Mouth-watering snacks, with a variety of sweetmeats, are made by every family. A special feature of Diwali in Mumbai is the identical paper lanterns which children make to light up homes in a building. This practice shows the community spirit of the festival. Many communities hold sports, arts, drama and cultural events to celebrate Diwali. Among the various savoury and sweet preparations made, some are besan laddoo, chaklis, shankarpale, chivda, papdi, anarasa etc.

Makar Sankranti is a festival that usually comes on the 14th day of January denoting the movement of the Sun from the tropic of Cancer to the tropic of Capricorn and is celebrated by the women with joy. They make a variety of sweets from jaggery and sesame seeds like til laddoo, and hold women’s gathering called haldi kumkum.

In March, comes the colourful spring festival of Holi. The jingle ‘holi re holi puranachi poli’ signifies that puranpoli is the special sweet of this spring festival. Holi is celebrated in the month of Falgun to mark the coming of spring season. It is the celebration of Lord Krishna playing raasleela with the gopis and drenching them in colours. Burning of the previous winter’s deadwood in a huge bonfire, throwing of coloured water on each other, community dancing are the integral parts of this festival. 

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