Malvani cuisine: Spice, spice baby

Chef Dilip Bavkar expertly stirs and mixes the cashew apple curry with an overpowering aroma. It’s the ethereal setting that provides the extra magic. A Malvani cooking class on an airy gazebo overlooking the Arabian Sea at Coco Shambala in Sindhudurg, near the pristine Bhogwe beach, is an experience not to be missed. Bavkar shows how to make the brilliant orange Malvani masala, ground with as many as 14 spices from poppy seeds to mace and cloves, simmering the cashew fruit in it, till it turns soft. Next is a tangy prawn curry, with coriander seeds, dried red chillies, raw mango, coconut, ginger, garlic and onions, ground into a paste. Last on the list is a delicious dessert made of cooked sago pearls and sweet Alphonso mango puree mixed with coconut milk.

Malvan, a scenic fishing town in the Sindhudurg district on the south Konkan coast, the land of the mercurial Marathas, is a mix of two words—‘Maha’, meaning a large piece of land and ‘Lavan’ meaning salt, which was once produced here. The picturesque land is hemmed in by the Arabian sea on one side, and the Sahyadri mountains on the other. The cuisine is an amalgamation of culinary influences from Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka. The region is dotted with mango orchards laden with succulent Alphonso mangoes, cashew and kokum trees and of course coconut palms, and this reflects in what’s found on the plates.

Suhas Malewadkar, the F&B Manager at Coco Shambhala, explains, “We use a lot of red chillies and spices, as well as a generous dose of coconut in various forms. Being on the coast, seafood is an integral part. But the cornerstone of this cuisine is the aromatic Malvani masala, which is a mix of different spices like coriander and poppy seeds, fennel, mustard, cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg etc. Vatan, an onion, ginger, garlic and coconut paste, forms the base. In most dishes a souring agent is added, according to what is available in the season, from tamarind or raw mango to kokum.”

Chef Dilip Bavkar

Contrary to popular opinion, the cuisine—which is known for its kombdi vade (deep-fried chicken drumsticks), pomfret fry and Malvani crab curry—has a lot to offer vegetarians too. There is dried black peas cooked with cashew gravy, red amaranth leaves in a dried stir-fry with grated coconut, and stuffed or bharali vegetables. Soft bhakris—netted pancakes made from rice or jowar flour—are a must-have. The accompaniments are almost the star on the table. There are crunchy salads with spouts, tomatoes, raw mango and boiled peanuts, fiery thecha made from green chilies, peanut and garlic, tart chutneys like airavat, made from tamarind, jaggery and dates.

For those with a sweet tooth, there are modaks—rice flour dumplings stuffed with a coconut jaggery mixture—that look like works of art. There is also ras poli—deep-fried pancakes served with sweetened coconut milk—and dhondas or cucumber cake, a baked preparation made from cucumber, rava and jaggery. Even the drinks of the region derive from its fresh produce, like the local Urrak—cashew apple stomped to produce juice and then distilled.

But no drink can beat the sol kadhi, a creamy drink made from kokum and coconut milk, and spiced with ginger, cumin and coriander. It is a digestive, aperitif and a cooler and serves as the perfect ending to a spicy foray into Malvan.

from Food

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