When all you can think of is food, fishing and feasting on a scrumptious menu then the journey doesn’t quite account for much however hectic, tiresome and long it might be. Stopping along the way for refreshing ‘Neera’ sweet toddy like (non alcoholic) drink with stalls dotted about through the motorway serving through the day. I was on my way to Sindhudurg District or ‘taluka’ as it’s known in the Marathi dialect. Located in the southern part of Maharashtra to sample the local Malwani cuisine and experience the way of life in the region. My excitement for a foodie fare is what kept me going on the drive from Goa to Malwan. Sandy beaches, lots of sun, good food and a tad bit of culture is what we had waiting for us.
Reaching our gorgeous stone built cottage at 5pm was good timing. We had decided what the plan was to be for each day. An early morning start at Tarkarli beach to see the nets and fishermen get out in their rustic wooden boats was on the agenda. A good catch would mean happy fisherman and make our experience that much more memorable. Though no one warned any of my friends of sea sickness; something I only too well experienced on a fishing trip a few years back.
Bustling and busy for that time of the morning, the anticipation of the experience and what the catch of the day would hold for us is all that I was thinking about. But through it all I wanted to soak in the experience, the smells of the sea and the view of the coast line from the jetty. It was a good few hours at sea but with the sun rising making the view ever so picturesque. The nets came in a few at a time with a flurry of fish. Was hard to identify all but I could definitely tell there was Pomfret and Surmai (King fish) for sure. A delight for the fisher folk!
What struck me the most amongst all the busyness of fishing during the day was the respect & admiration the fisherman has for their boats and how grateful they were to receive the abundance from the sea.
The cottages where we were staying for the few days in Malwan were ever so kind to cook up traditional food for our meal with a few of the fish that we had caught earlier. Ketan was the cook for the cottage and had been cooking at a few homes around the area. He has also lived in the region for the last 4 generations. We relied on his guidance for places to visit around the area. The trip encompassed visits to fish markets early in the day in Malwan; something I was only too familiar with having visited the local Mumbai markets with my mother as young girl. The freshest catch can be found here; also the mecca for anyone looking for a bargain price on the good quality fish. Haggling is the name of the game and it’s something I revel in only too well. Visiting temples, forts and my favourite bit; sampling local Malwani food at no frills restos. With benches aligned, food served in thalis; an array of seafood, meats and vegetables. The best part is how reasonable priced such meals are. There were all my favourites; Kokum saar drink; made from sour tangy local fruit, Fish curry, Tisrya; clams cooked in a spiced gravy, Bombil; Bombay duck. Bhakri & vade; a local bread in the region to mop up the spicy gravies and fried fish usually made with good quality pomfret or surmai (king fish).
Though our visit was chalked out to the t; over the last few days it was a surprise when we heard one of the local staff was keen to invite us over for his son’s wedding. Keen to see the rituals, ceremonies and also sample some good food we happily accepted to go along. I was also keen to have a nose around in the wedding kitchen and see what was on the menu. Undoubtedly one of the highlights of my trip to watch the local chefs cook, sample the food and also be given a chance to help out with the cooking. I couldn’t have asked for more!
My recipe is based around a local favourite Malwani chicken masala. Malwani masala powder is quite distinct and unique in flavour. Also a spice blend that is unique to the region with ingredients such as ‘Dagad Phool’ Black stone flower which aren’t easily available in UK Asian stores/ spice markets either. I have put together the ingredients that form the basis of this Malwan mix bearing in mind spices that are readily available. The use of grated coconut in this dish is ideal to soak up all the spices and coat the meat all the way through. Eaten with Indian bread to mop up all the gravy & chicken juices this is a fantastic dish. My choice of Indian bread is ‘Bhakri’ regional Marathi bread that easy to make. You could serve this curry with chapattis or puris if you prefer.
To make the Malwani Masala; roast all the ingredients for 5-7 minutes in a dry frying pan except the nutmeg & turmeric powder. Cool the roasted spices and grind in a coffee grinder to a fine powder. Mix in the nutmeg & turmeric. This powdered mix can be stored in an air tight container for a few months.
To make the coconut paste; grind all the ingredients in a blender with a few tablespoons of water until you get a paste.
In a heavy bottom pan heat the oil and add the asafoetida; let it sizzle for a couple of seconds and tip in the sliced onion. Cook on a medium heat stirring occasionally until softened and light brown for about 7 minutes. Now add the coconut paste. Stir well and cook for 5-7 minutes. You want to make sure the coconut changes colour slightly to a pale brown. Fry the mix and stir occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
At this stage add 3-4 heaped teaspoons of the Malwani masala along with the chicken. Stir and coat all the chicken pieces with the coconut and spices. Let the chicken seal and cook in its juices for 2 minutes
Now add the water and mix. Bring the curry to a boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Season to taste; add the lemon juice and fresh coriander. Serve with your choice of Indian bread.