The relatively undiscovered palm fringed beaches of the Konkan region 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.
As you go southward along the coast, you notice that certain ingredients of cooking are typical of this area, examples are Kokum, used in abundance in curries and vegetable gravies to add a touch of sourness; curry leaves, asafoetida, red chillies and coriander seeds. One of the favourite and famous vegetarian dishes, which will leave you with a taste that will haunt you for days to follow is the Solkadi. Though coconut is abundant in the Konkan, it is groundnut oil that is used as a cooking medium.
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.