Konkan food – a blend of three cuisines

Konkan cuisine is an interesting amalgamation of all food traditional: be it from Malvan, Goa or Mangalore. In keeping with the distinctive type of cuisine in each of these areas there is a plethora of flavors that can be played around with. Each household has its own variation of the same recipe hence the repertoire increases.
Malvan food is known for its fish preparations. What distinguishes Malvani fish curries is not just the variety of gravies but also the variety of recipes for the same kind of fish made by a dazzling permutation and combination of spices and ingredients and dry-to-wet cooking styles. For a good recipe read Malwani Fish Curry.

Goans traditionally use a lot of vinegar or toddy in their spicy dishes. Toddy is locally brewed palm vinegar. Garlic is another favourite. Goans believe in preparing everything freshly from raw ingredients, they believe it tastes much better that way. While that may be debated in some circles, one cannot dispute the outcome is usually mouth watering! Goans make the best crab preparations. Being a former Portuguese colony, Goan cuisine encompasses Portuguese dishes but is also characterized by strong flavors and tropical notes such as lots of coconut. It also makes exuberant use of many new ingredients such as cashewnuts that first entered India through the port of Goa. The long period of Portuguese rule, besides that of the Muslim and Hindu kingdoms, has left an indelible influence on the original style of Goan cooking and this has led to an exotic mix of truly tasty and spicy cuisine.
Mangalorean cooking is unique in the way the spices are used to enhance the taste and the flavor. When fresh coconut, chillies and various combinations of spices are ground the result can be described with only one word – culinary magic! The people of this region are fond of variety and therefore have perfected the art of improvising and coming out with a veritable repertoire of perfectly cooked food.
Another community that has now adopted Karnataka is the Saraswat Brahmins. Having coursed through various lands the Saraswats have a unique cuisine. They make use of practically every vegetable so much so that even the skins and seeds of many vegetables that most others discard, are used effectively in different chutneys. Even fresh fruits like mangoes and jackfruit are used in a variety of dishes both sweet and savoury. Among their vast repertoire Batata Humman and Mango Sasam have to be mentioned.

Konkan cuisine – aromas from the coastal line

India is a country of diverse cuisines that intermingle ever so harmoniously that if one traverses from the northern tip to the southern, from eastern tip to the western, one comes across a plethora of delectable delicacies that have their similarities and yet are pleasantly different. The food of the west coast of India – the Konkan region – is a top favourite. In recent times, Konkan cuisine has become one of the most popular cuisines well showcased by a number of speciality restaurants that draw appreciative crowds. Though Konkan food is largely synonymous with fish, the variety of vegetarian dishes is equally impressive. Tender Coconut and Cashew Sukke has no competitor!
The Konkan area boasts of the spiciest and most delicious recipes of fish and other seafood. Konkani, the language spoken by the locals of this region, has different dialects with varied accents that make this belt unique. Konkan cuisine is as diverse as spoken Konkani. As you traverse the region you will sense the difference not only in the taste of the dishes but also in their names. Like for example a dish that may be called ‘sukha’ in the Malvan region will be called ‘sukke’ in Mangalore. But both mean a semi dry dish. Chana and Jackfruit Sukka has interesting texture.
The unique tastes of kokum and triphal make the cuisine of this region distinct from the others. As is the case the world over, locally grown crops play a key part in giving the cuisine its identity. Besides kokum and triphal, coconut too is a major crop and therefore is used generously. Kokum is a sweet-sour fruit whose dried skin is used for adding a gentle sourness to Konkani curries. One of the popular beverages that use kokum to good advantage is the Solkadhi. Triphal, on the other hand is used extensively in Goan, Malvani and Mangalorean cooking. When added to fish gravies and pulses, it enhances the flavour of the dish. It can be used both fresh and dried.
A vast variety of red chillies are available in the area with varying degrees of spiciness and colour. Though coconut is abundant in the Konkan, it is groundnut oil that is largely used as a cooking medium. In Karnataka, however, coconut oil is also used to add a special flavour to certain dishes. Of course one has to cultivate a taste to enjoy the flavour of coconut oil. Some like it but if you don’t you can always give it a miss and use groundnut oil instead.

Konkan cuisine – the fun and fiesta of festivals –II

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. A clay replica is brought home and worshipped from 1½ days to 5, 7 or 11 days, that is till Anant Chathurdarshi. On the last day, the deity is taken out in a joyous procession and immersed in flowing waters. This is called visarjan (immersion). 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. New journeys are planned and elders are respected in a ritual, which is touching, as it is interesting. On Dassera, a special dish called Kesari Bhaath and Puran Poli are made.
Soon after Dassera, comes the wonderful festival of lights – Diwali. The commercial city of Mumbai becomes a magical fairyland with scores of twinkling lights and Akashkandils hung in front of every home. 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.

Tulsi Vivah, marriage of Tulsi and Krishna follows Diwali, towards mid December. The celebrations go on for three days after which comes the Dev Diwali i.e. Diwali of the Gods which goes on for a month which is considered auspicious.
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.