Food from the Malvan coast flaunts a staggering variety of cuisines using fish, fowl and vegetables but seafood and chicken take pride of place in any Malvani meal.
What makes it unique is that it is a combo of the fieriness of its masala, vinegary pungency of Goan food, the use of freshly grated coconut from the Karwar belt and the sweet and sour mix of the Sarawat Goud community.
Malvani fish curry with rice; Photo by Susheela Nair
The genesis of Malvani cuisine can be traced back to Malvan, a scenic town in the Sindhudurg district on the west coast of Maharashtra.
Malvani Masala; Image courtesy: Chef Aniket Das
Malvani cuisine is different from elsewhere in the country, in terms of ingredients and cooking methods.
It is characterized by the use of liberal quantities of coconut in all its form- dried, grated, paste and milk – combined with generous portions of dried chillies, coriander seeds, cardamom, ginger, kokum, tamarind and garam masala spices.
There is nothing unusual but their food is generally pan fried, deep fried or it’s a curry which is simmered. Some dishes also use dried kokum, tamarind, and raw mango.
The Malvani masala, a form of dried powder masala is a concoction of 15 to 16 dry spices. This masala is coarsely grounded and stored in jars to be utilized when required. It is the technique of grinding these masalas with fresh coconut that imparts the food its special flavour.
Although Malvani cuisine is predominantly non-vegetarian, there are vegetarian dishes also. They eat bhakri (made of rice flour), the Malvani equivalent of the Maharashtrian jowari and chapati instead of rice. However, not all of the cuisine is hot and spicy.
Bhakri; Image courtesy: Chef Aniket Das
"The 'Konkanastha Brahmin' style of food is quite bland yet very tasty and vegetarian too. In Malvani cuisine there are different varieties of aamti (cashewnut chi aamti) which is one of the most famous dishes. Also Phanasachi Bhaji is an exotic vegetarian dish, made from jackfruit, chillies and spices. Kalya Vatanya Chi Aamti is a delicious black peas curry made using coconut and Malvani masala," says Chef Aniket Das, Head Chef at Fairfield by Marriott, Bengaluru.
Seafood dishes dominate the Malvani cuisine. The seafood curries are hot and fiery, but it's irresistible enough to have you wanting yet another mouthful. Mackerel, crabs and prawns are perennial favourites, fried or cooked with coconut masala pastes.
Jhinga Fry is a common dish consisting of fried prawns rolled in flour. Mori Masala or shark curry is a highly popular dish along the Konkan coast. If you are in Mumbai, try the Paplet Saar, a dish consisting of pomfret cooked in traditional Malvani fish curry.
Malvani fish curry; Photo by Susheela Nair
Other equally popular non-vegetarian dishes include the Kombdi Vade (chicken curry and a special bread), or Murgh Malvani which consists of the traditional Malvani chicken curry (including chunks of chicken with bones), vade ( like a puri, which is a fluffy, fried bread of wheat and nachni flour), onion, lemon and Solkadhi. The Bombil Fry or Bombay Duck fry is an equally popular dish, especially in north Konkan regions such as Mumbai and Raigad.
Solkadi; Image courtesy: Chef Aniket Das
If you have sweet tooth cravings, try Dhondas or Cucumber Cake, a baked preparation made from cucumber, rava and jaggery. Dhondas gets its wonderfully grainy texture because of the semolina and grated cucumber and sweetness with jaggery. Not everyone can come up with a delicious steamed sweet cake using cucumber and semolina. It can be made with jackfruit also.
Another equally popular sweet dish is Khaproli which consists of a fluffy pancake dipped in yellow sweet juice. Ghavan, a fried pancake is especially popular in the Sindhudurg district. Its netted appearance is visually appealing. Malvani malpua is a sweet deep-fried delicacy, highly popular in Maharashtra. The dish is especially in big demand during Ramzan.
Moong sprout ussal; Photo by Susheela Nair
There are other sweet dishes like Ras-Poli, a sweet deep-fried delicacy which consists of a fried pancake served with sweetened coconut milk.
Don’t forget to wrap up your meal with a glass of chilled Solkhadi, a kokum-infused coconut milk, the digestive you need in generous doses as you feast on the coastal cuisine.
This pink colored drink made from the kokum fruit (Garcinia indica) and coconut milk, is also an energizing curry drink, often drunk after particularly hot and spicy Malvani meal as it is very soothing.
Susheela Nair is an independent Food, Travel Writer and Photographer. She has contributed content, articles and pictures on food, travel, lifestyle, photography, environment, and ecotourism to several reputed national publications. Her writings constitute a wide spectrum which also includes travel portals & guide books, brochures and coffee table books.