When seafood is the highlight of a cuisine, cooking fresh becomes the thumb rule. The Malwan region located in the coastal area of southern Maharashtra swears by its fish preparations and using ingredients that are locally available.
It comes as no surprise that coconut in different versions, freshly grated, roasted, dried or squeezed to extract the milk, is one of the primary ingredients. The Banawali coconut of this region is rich in milk and Malwanis know how to make the most of this rich and versatile drupe as dairy is not easily available.
Rice with fish and solkadi is a daily affair, but special occasions call for vades, chicken saghoti and a black peas gravy. The thali today is a fine balance of both, and is a toast to fresh ingredients and laboriously prepared masalas. It is well known that there are no short-cuts in cooking this food and pre-preparation is key.
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We have Kolambi bhat, prawn rice flavoured with hand grounded garam masala and best paired with Bangda Tikhale or Mackerel in a tangy and spicy coconut-based gravy. A dry and gravy-based seafood items are a must in Malwani meals and the simple preparation of Tisrya Masala (clams cooked with coconut and spices) is the former in this thali.
The chicken saghoti is an exclusive dish, because it is traditionally prepared when the son-in-law visits. Most Malwani homes in villages and small towns have a poultry farm in the backyard and they would pick the choicest chicken for this dish. Cooked in a clay-pot over a clay oven, tender chunks of organic chicken pieces are simmered with onion, garlic, ginger and a Malwani garam masala which is rare mixture of 18 different spices.
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It acquires a rich smokey flavour and the mouthwatering aroma is enough to appease a hungry son-in-law and the entire family who sits down for this feast. Tucked into a piece of ghavne (rice pancake) or jowar flour vade, this is the kind of food that will leave you asking for more.
Kalya Watanyachi usal or the black chana masala gravy is an item that is lovingly prepared for most important occasions. There is a saying in Malwani - Illaike vade ani melaike vade, translated as from birth to death if there is any signification event, vades and watanyachi usal must be part of the menu.
The end of the meal does not call for dessert in this thali. Solkadi has gained a place of reverence as ‘Bhairavi’ aka the concluding note to a soulful homemade meal. Fresh coconut milk is seasoned with kokum juice, ginger, garlic and garnished with coriander to prepare this drink which acts as a powerful digestive. When the solkadi is brought to the table, it is an indication that the meal has come to an end. It is interesting to note that the drink is not served in a glass, but a small bowl because it is like a shot of flavour. One can either mix it with steamed rice or sip it and bring the meal to an end.
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Yet, one cannot leave a Malwani home without biting into a juicy modak. A simple preparation of steamed rice flour stuffed with a mixture of roasted coconut sweetened with jaggery and seasoned with cardamom, Modaks are a favourite during festivals, especially Ganesh Chaturthi.
Now, all one needs is a long nap after this delicious experience, preferably by a window that lets in the gentle sea breeze.
With inputs from Nitin Govind Walke, Owner of Chaitanya Restaurant in Mumbai known for their Malwani food.
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