A spicy feast: These are the dishes found at traditional weddings of the Koli community
Weddings, across India, are a food extravaganza, and such occasions in the Mumbai’s famous fisher-folk Koli community are no exception. So while the Kolis may love a thin fish curry and rice as their staple meal, their weddings showcase assorted dishes mostly cooked by their womenfolk, as caterers or hotels specialising in this community’s cuisine are hard to find. Koli in Marathi means spider, presumably because the fishermen use a net to catch fish as a spider builds a web to catch its prey.
The ethnic and one of the oldest communities in Mumbai not only dominates the sea but also maintains its signature food style, including their Koli masala -- a blend of around 18 spices. Even as they keep their food habits simple, a Koli wedding is the best amalgamation of their tradition and passion for food -- be it for making the `ghari’ (a savoury doughnut of boiled rice) or the `ghol’ fish, a large size croaker for which fishermen have to venture into the deep sea. Their food habits are based on what they are able to harvest or forage, popular Koli food blogger Anjali Koli tells PTI.
A traditional Hindu Koli wedding is a seven-day affair for which preparations are made much in advance. This includes going into the sea for washing the rice for ghari, drying it, getting it milled and then the women sitting together to boil and knead it on big mats into a dough. “The kneaded rice is then packed intro cauldrons...we make a deep hole in the dough, put red hot charcoal in it to create warmth and attract wild yeast (for fermentation). “The dough is then shaped like a `medu vada’ or doughnut and deep fried. This is a must for breakfast at a Koli wedding,” says Anjali Koli.
The ghari is a celebratory food not made on any other day, so its first batch is offered to the deity and the family goddess, she says. For the `haldi’ ceremony at the wedding, the ghol fish curry is imperative and the way it is cut is unique as only very few people know the technique, Anjali Koli claims. “Only the Kolis and Pathare Prabhu community in Mumbai will eat the `kata pisara’ cut,” she says. “Kata is the spinal cord, it is cut in a way that fillets are removed and the kata is divided into sections. It has marrow in it, so when cooked it tastes delicious, people like to suck on the marrow. So like in the West people make turkey, this is our variation to it,” Anjali Koli elaborates. “So the ghol fish curry served with rice at lunch is the main meal during a wedding,” says the food blogger.
Interestingly, Anjali Koli is herself a vegetarian and the options for people like her from the community are `chowli batata vanga’ bhaji (made of black eyed beans, potato and brinjal), `usal’, dal rice and home-made papad. The dinner, hosted only for close family members, mostly comprises kite fish (stingray) or any big fish curry served with roti and rice. “And no desserts...our people don’t eat desserts during a meal as they would not like to spoil their `teekha’ (spicy) taste,” she says on a lighter note.
According to her, just about two desserts are served after the bride is given a send-off (vidai). These are popular mostly in Alibaug, a costal town in adjoining Raigad district. “We make `nariyali pak’ (coconut fudge) and there is also a `badam pak’. We call it badam pak because it is made of peanuts which were called `chini badam’ in old days. It’s actually a peanut fudge. You don’t get it easily in Mumbai where people have almost forgotten about it,” Anjali Koli rues. Asked why Koli food is not commercially as popular as Parsi, Gujarati or Marathi cuisines, Anjali Koli says people “need to have a developed palette for it”.
She says pan-India people are not much aware about coastal communities and their food. “I wish more (Koli) home chefs become popular.” Prashant Nanaware, a food blogger and a Koli food fan, says he has to depend on his mother to relish some of his favourite recipes from the community. His mother, although not a Koli, has been associated with the fishing community for over 20 years, and hence the influence of community’s cuisine has moved into her kitchen. Possibly, this is what Anjali Koli is envisioning will keep the community’s unique cuisine alive.
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