The fish are everywhere. Heaped high on tables, drying in copious quantities on front porches. There's so much of fish around, that it's hard to tell if the Konkan is the coastline or the ocean itself. The Konkan coast is a gorgeous stretch of more than 25 beaches. If you have about 15 days, take a road trip from Mumbai to Goa along this coast.
I undertook one at the fag end of the monsoon; when the catch is not so good according to the locals. The food here is deliciously spicy. It's flavoured heavily with a generous mix of Malvani masala, which is unique to the region. You'll find it enriching the colour of the fish and mutton curries, while infusing its distinct aroma into your fingers for the length of your culinary adventures through the region.
The first stop: Alibaug. The place I discovered my first Khanaval. These are small, family-run eateries right by the road or along the coast. Front porches double up as Al fresco dining areas.
A small sink is provided to clean up. The man of the house takes your order (which means he will tell you what the catch is for the day). The women of the house execute it to perfection. In a matter of minutes a mouth-watering spread of chapatti, dal, fish-fried and curried, rice, prawns, chicken, vegetable, fiery pickle, sol kadhi, lime wedges and onion rings is laid out in front of you. It's like eating at someone's home. Most Khanavals are extensions of the villagers' homes. And what better way to discover a region than by eating the food that the locals do!
The Alibaug - Murud road that leads to the Portuguese fort of Korlai is sprinkled with relics from the past. It runs through the ruins of the Revdanda fort and a quaint village. A few walls remain with inscription plates and canon balls still affixed. A walk on the main road will reveal the ruins of a Jesuit monastery.
En route, there are beaches that you won't find on a tourist map. It takes a bit of chatting with the locals to uncover these gems. One such beach is Nagaon. A narrow road, through a sleepy village will lead you here. It's a small inlet with alternate rows of black and golden sand, lined with fishing boats. Here too, the smell of spicy masalas being stir-fried in anticipation of the catch, waft from the village nearby.
24 km away from Alibaug is the village of Korlai. An ancient Portuguese hamlet, Korlai houses the ruins of an imposing fort and a functioning ancient church. The locals speak a unique language called Kristi, or Portuguese Creole, a blend of Portuguese and Marathi.
The drive through the village up to the Korlai lighthouse and fort is breathtaking. Peer out of the window and you'll find yourself looking down craggy cliffs that frame golden sand and azure waters - untouched and picture perfect. The lighthouse which charges a nominal R 5, is a must see. Its light spreads to an area of upto 40 kms. It also houses three canons in its compound. Behind it are well-preserved steps leading uphill to the Korlai fort. The view of the ocean from here is breathtaking. The fort has five bastions and it is said that during the Portuguese rule, there were 70 canons guarding it. Just to remind you that this is the Konkan, a light compels you to look down at the village. There, arranged neatly on the glistening sands are ribbons of plump bombil, shrimps and fish that only the locals can pronounce drying in the gentle Korlai sun. Getting ready for a night of digging in fish cooked in scarlet gravy.
Malvani fish curry
Take 1/2 kg pomfret and cut it into slices. Apply a little salt and turmeric. In 3 tbsp oil fry 2 onions, 10 dry chilies, 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp coriander seeds till the onions turn light brown. Grind the 1/2 grated coconut with above ingredients to a paste. Apply the ground paste to the fish and keep aside to marinate for 15 min. Fry the Garlic flakes in 5 tbsp oil, add red chili powder and Malvani fish masala. Add the fish pieces with the marinade.Add 2 cups of water and simmer on low heat till the fish is cooked.