Kunal Vijayakar celebrates New Year’s Eve by feasting like a local in Alibaug
Sample the curries, raitas and roasts of a small Mumbai community called the Somvanshi Kshatriya Pathares.Updated: Jan 04, 2019 21:56 IST
It’s been an extended New Year weekend for me, sequestered, as I am, in restful and quiet measure, with Cyrus and Ayesha Broacha in their secluded farmhouse just across from the Mumbai harbor, near Jirad. The weather is many degrees cooler than in the city, and shivery temperatures awaken something in me like heat and mugginess never can — a longing hunger.
One of the joys of going to the Broachas’ house is being able to drive into Chondi fish market early in the morning and watch the catch come in. Small pomfret, jitada or Asian sea bass, ravas, surmai, pomfret, crab, clams, tiny muddoshya or lady fish and bombil fill the cacophonous marketplace. The routine is to pick up a bit of this and a bit of that, and dump it into the able hands of Vrushali the caretaker. Now I don’t know what specific cuisine she cooks, but it’s coastal Maharashtrian, sometimes featuring coconut and often not.
The weekend extended into a vivid menu of Prawns Sukka, stir-fried with lots of onion, spices and heaps of coriander; Fried Rawas, spiced and coated with a crisp layer of rice flour; mutton cooked with methi leaves, heady spices, a domination of haldi, green chillies and garlic; Javla Koshimbir, a spicy salad of dried shrimp and finely chopped raw onion and spices, served with rice, dal, potatoes and jawar and nachni bhakri.
While this was the usual lunch, don’t forget that we were in Jirad for the New Year’s Eve weekend. Half of Mumbai is in Alibaug ensconced with family and friends in their quiet bastions, so the evenings turn into impromptu pot-luck soirees. We dropped in to meet the sports journalist Ayaz Memon, whose wife Ambreen cooked up an aromatic Mutton Biryani, and Hyderabadi Kheema with pav. It doesn’t get better than sitting under a tree, snuggled in a shawl, a malt in hand and Kheema Pav on your lips.
My cousin Monika Doshi at her home at Thal beach had laid out a leg of Honey Mustard Glazed Ham with Cloves, imported game terrine, smoky chicken salad in tart shells, a smorgasbord of cold cuts, cheeses and a local barbecue of tikkas and kababs. And those were only the starters.
The weekend was indeed a carousel of meals, including a big lobster, clam and crab takeaway from Alibaug’s iconic Sanman Restaurant, but I kept hearing of a woman in the area who had done a series of pop-ups of a cuisine which I’d hardly explored, knew very little about and had me a tad intrigued.
Naina Goregaonkar comes from a very old Mumbai family. The Goregaonkars once owned and ran shacks and an open-air restaurant called Sea View on Juhu Beach. I have many childhood memories of the Goan food served there. They also own Prabhat Poultry, one of the oldest cold storage shops at Shivaji Park. The Goregaonkars are from the Somvanshi Kshatriya Pathare (SKP) community. The SKPs are some of the original inhabitants of Mumbai, and you can recognise in some of the surnames the areas they’ve been named after — Dadarkar, Vasaikar, Parelkar, Thanekar, Worlikar and Goregaonkar. The Somvanshi Kshatriya Pathare are also referred to as Pachkalshi and share threads of history and cuisine with the Pathare Prabhus.
Where Malwani, Varhadi and Kolhapuri food is fiery and complex, SKP cuisine is simple, flavourful and cathartic, using little oil and coconut except in a coconut curries (also known as Kalwan). The recipes often call for a lot of tomato and onion, with tamarind as a souring agent, but the main flavour, the distinction and the identity come from a traditional spice mixture, called Pachkalshi Masala.
The cuisine is a medley of meats, fish and vegetables, with a bias towards seafood. Curiously, the community also has a soft corner for raitas and koshimbirs, which play a vital role and are eaten with nearly every meal, not only to complement but also to balance the spices of the main course. The raitas are unusual too. For example, Suranacha Raita, a salad of sorts made with suran or yam cut into small cubes and deep-fried, then acidulated with lime juice and garnished with finely chopped onion, grated coconut and coriander.
When in season, this community revels in the slightly complex Ambyacha or Mango Raita. Mango pulp is heated in a thick-bottomed pan, to this is added freshly chopped mango and a finely ground paste of coconut and mustard seeds. This is cooked on low heat and then seasoned with jaggery, salt and sugar and brought to a boil.
The fish-eating SKPs also make a Javalachi Koshimbir. The small, dried shrimp are roasted on a pan without oil, till light and crisp. Then grated coconut, chopped onion and red chilli powder are added, with coriander as a simple garnish.
Naina sent me a tiffin box full of simple, home-style SKP food. Chicken Sukka (cooked in onion and tomato, with spices and tonnes of coriander); Chicken Kalwan (a thin gravy flavoured heavily with garlic and spices); crisply fried prawns and pomfret, marinated in Pachkalshi spices; Prawn Pulao or Kolambichi Khichdi, with a base of delicately flavoured masala rice. There was also steamed rice, bhakris and Ghavane, which are rice flour crepes similar to Amboli or Neer Dosas.
As I sat at the al fresco granite-topped table in the crisp noon air and opened each compartment of this rather large tiffin, I was filled with gladness and then consumed by sadness. Gladness for the food that destiny had laid in front of me, and sadness that I could see my resolution to lose some weight flying straight into the Arabian Sea beyond.
Happy New Year, everyone! May your resolutions fare better than mine have.
First Published: Jan 04, 2019 21:56 IST