There was grilled pomfret in front of me and from the sounds of cats around, I clearly wasn’t the only one with a watering mouth. I was in the village of Harihareshwar, having lunch in a modest home that doubled up as an eatery. The roof was all terracotta brick, the floor a layer of smooth dried dung. This is typical of the central Konkan, many homes serve as eateries called gharguthis or khanavals and you place your order well in advance to be assured that the morning catch will be cooked from scratch in the kitchen. And be prepared to share with cats. The owners of Vishranti had to chase them so I could eat in peace.
Peace is actually quite easy to find in the palm-fringed Konkan, whose soft breezes make you forget there’s no fan. At Open Umbrella, in Mangaon, just off the NH 17 Mumbai-Goa highway, it’s possible to sit by a lake, under an umbrella, and have a lovely meal. And every place serves thalis. The non-vegetarian one has a dry preparation, a curry, chapatti/bhakri and rice. Seafood options run from pomfret, prawns, bangda (mackerel), bombil (Bombay duck), and rawas (Indian salmon) to surmai (kingfish) and kurli (crab). A vegetarian version will have two vegetables, dal, rice and chapati or jowar (white millet) bhakri. Sol kadi, a pink drink made from the kokum fruit and coconut milk, is a staple with all meals.
This is exactly why we’d skipped the usual Mumbaikar weekend trip to the Alibaug-Kashid-Murud Janjira stretch and opted for the sylvan coast of Harihareshwar-Shrivardhan-Diveagar. The aim was to slow down, savour the solitude, avoid the tourist traps, live like unhurried villagers and enjoy their cuisine.
In Harihareshwar, while Vishranti, Shivshanti and Gokul happily serve meats and fish, Guru Geeta and Swayam will do all-vegetarian meals. But along the Shekhadi road running parallel to the sea and leading to Diveagar, there are several more culinary stops. Delicious homely food is available at the Kshitij lodge, Suhas Bapat khanaval or Suvarnaganesh khanaval. Tourists are scarce, so your kids have the bullock-cart rides and you have the lush coconut, banana and betelnut plantations all to yourself. The six-kilometre beach comes with a bonus: migratory seagulls.
For more buzz, drive to nearby Harne, a town at the edge of central Konkan on the road between Mangaon and Harihareshwar via Dapoli. It’s known for its fish market. Get there early and you’ll see fishermen returning from the sea and spreading fresh prawns and crayfish out for auction. It’s a spectacular sight.
Between Harihareshwar and Diveagar is Shrivardhan, a relief for city slickers since it has the only ATM in the vicinity. There are garghutis here too – Hotel Prasad, Sagar Darshan and Alankar will all serve you if you order in advance. So make your selections, do a little sightseeing and come back hungry.
In places like these, you’ll never pay a king’s ransom, even for kingfish. A thali comprising of chicken costs barely Rs 90, while kingfish is Rs 150. A prawn curry with rice will set you back by a measly Rs 70 and a plate of fried pomfret by Rs 170. And their portions and recipes leave the state-run MTDC restaurants out in the cold. What other reason do you need for a road trip like this?
From HT Brunch, January 6
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