Konkan Food Trail

by Jacinta Coutinho on 30 July 2015

**Ukadiche Modak and Tisryache Kalvan

Bangadyachi Chatni and Vade–Sagoti

Amti Bhat, Saandhan, Kurkuron Bombeel

These form a part of my Konkani Meal.

“Ah! Food!! One of my two greatest passions...” crooned a husky-voiced lady in a TV Ad. I don’t think she mentioned what her other passion was; but for me, it is travelling.

A combination of the two – and with a little bit of money in your pocket and a set of wheels under you, you’re in for a delightful time. I stress on the ‘little bit’ – because I like to haunt the little dhabas (roadside eateries) or 'Khanavals' (food place in Marathi) on my travels. These dhabas cater to the hungry traveller’s appetite, are easy on the pocket, and serve local food - proudly.

I’m a foodie, and I’m a traveler. This is an account of the Konkan food trail I undertook, liberally interspersed with brief but interesting sojourns into gastronomic pleasures.

The Konkan experience was all it promised to be, and more. The suggestion made by Maj. Chowdhury of Viktorianz was priceless!

Liberally sprinkled with adventure, unraveling mysteries of the unknown, going where perhaps no one has gone before, experiencing the thrill of tasting the unknown, smelling good ol’ earth in the rains, tasting sugarcane off a field, eating a mango beneath the tree that bore it, drinking neera, tasting food cooked with different masalas – kanda, goda (black Maharashtrian masala), and Malvani, licking off the various gravies – pandara (white), laal (red), and drinking sol (kokam) curry from steel tumblers…

Fueled by a desire to explore and taste the very vegetarian Kothimbir vadi, Missal, Batata vada, Zunka bhakri, Pav bhaji, Bharleli vangi, Pooran poli, Kolhapuri veg, Aamti, Thaali peeth, Sabudana vada, Piyush; and the purely non-vegetarian Fish Fry, Prawn masala, Mutton and Chicken masala, I set out on my Konkan gastronomic adventure.

ROADMAP TAKEN:

Panvel - Khopoli - Kolad - Mangaon - Mahad – Dapoli - Chiplun – Jaigad - Ganpatipule - Ratnagiri (Kotawade) - Pali - Rajapur - Devgad - Kankavli - Sindhudurgnagari - Malvan

http://www.konkanyatra.com/konkan-road-map.html

**Kurkuron Bombeel - Crisply fried Mumbai duck

Tisryache Kalvan - Clams in thick spicy masala

Bangadyachi Chatni - Spicy dry gravy dish made with mackerel

Vade - Sagoti - Meat dish with fried cake of mixed grains

Chulivarchya Bhakrya - Pan Cakes made of native grains cooked on a chulha

Fanas Bhaji - Spicy jackfruit dry gravy

Amti Bhat - Rice and yellow dal curry

Koyada - Half ripe mango sweet-sour curry

Saandhan - Jackfruit sweet dish with coconut or cow milk

Kelphoolachi Bhaji - A Konkan favourite made of banana flowers

Vatli dal - Side dish made up with raw mango and dal

Sol kadhi - Kokam curry

Ukadiche Modak - Lord Ganesha's favourite steamed delight – the Modak

Kadva wal usal - Beans curry

Day 1

PANVEL

The sky was engulfed by grey clouds that threatened to consume the sunrise. A continuous drizzle blurred the view of the landscape as the wipers of my car danced on the windscreen like half-submerged synchronized swimmers in an Olympic routine. It was a not-so-bright Sunday morning. Driving down from Vashi to Panvel (34 kms) though was a breeze, and took me less than an hour to reach the Sai Krupa Dhaba – just in time for breakfast. Sitting by the Panvel Bypass Road, on NH-17 at Edapally, the dhaba is spread over a large area and can accommodate several vehicles in the vast courtyard facing it. Inside, the seating capacity is immense and one can be assured of getting a seating at any time of the day or late evening.

What they have on the menu:

Chicken Bombay lapetha, Mutton lapetha, Prawns lapetha, Pomfret/Surmai fry. I went for the Chicken Bombay lapetha. The Misal pav (which I had to give a miss) that I saw at another table, made my mouth water with the sheer colours and the aroma that wafted from it. Cooked in red chilly gravy, this perhaps is the only restaurant that serves the lapetha. I took my time with the food as I was in no great hurry. It was gratifying to know that the people who had stopped at this dhaba were as serious about their food as I was.

KOLAD/KUNDALIKA

Onward I drove to Kolad in the Roha taluk of the Raigad district. Instead of going the Khopoli route, I chose to go via the AH-47 – SH-83 – NH – 17 from Wadkhal Naka. A distance covered in a little less than 2.5 hours (77 kms), I opted to head southeast on the Panvel bypass road instead. The idea was to take in the sights and sounds of the various highways and the rolling fields of the area, and the undulating mountainous terrain of the Sahyadris surrounding the Kundalika River, peppered with farms, resorts and outdoor camps that organize outbound training and adventure activities.

The monsoons had done their share and the trees had this washed look, with leaves displaying different hues of the brightest green. The clouds hovered thick and grey, and lightning struck intermittently.

Dinner was early, as I had planned to have an early start the next morning – to catch more of the lovely weather that promised to deliver the experience I craved for.

Namrata Dhaba in Kolad is just two kms short of Mangaon. The open, airy Dhaba has a smiling staff and of course, excellent food on its menu. With reasonable prices, the fish thali with wade and bhakri coupled with rice and sol kadi was not just a treat for the eyes; it was a holistic experience unto itself. Feeling sated, I decided to set camp for the night. Drove further down to near Sutarwadi and checked into Kundalika Cottages.

Day 2

Next morning saw me all bright-eyed and bushy tailed to take on the experience of white river rafting.

River Kundalika flowed at a gracefully swift pace while creating a flutter of white rapids further down. I could see some early risers - a clutch of young adults having a dry run of practicing oaring skills and motions and shouting in excitement till their trainer barked something which calmed them down somewhat, only to start up again. I went up and asked the instructor if I could join them. Thankfully, he agreed. We threw on our life jackets, buckled them tight, yanked a helmet over our heads and were handed a paddle each. I was relegated towards the back of the dingy as I was a newbie and had never held a paddle in my life. After listening carefully to safety instructions and rehearsing our moves for a bit, we were off shouting “Ganpati bappa moriya”! The rapids go by various names at different locations going down:  ‘Good Morning Buddha’, ‘Hilton’, ‘Pumphouse’, ‘Fisherman’, ‘Butterfly’, and ‘Crow’s Nest’.

Rafting is hungry business. And I couldn’t wait to gorge on some delicious misal-pav and kande-pohe with a kadak chai to wash it down. Heading south on the NH-17, within a bit over half an hour, I arrived at Mangaon and treated myself to a nice heavy brunch at the Open Umbrella at Karoli Phata.

Misal pav is a delectable Maharashtrian dish which makes a great breakfast or brunch. A deliciously hot combination of curry with farsan served with bread, the taste lingers in your mouth until much later. Adding chopped onions on the farsan topping the curry helps to take away the spicy edge. A dash of lime juice over the onions makes it just that much zingier.

DAPOLI

With a belly full and in high gear, I drove down towards Dapoli – 100.7 kms due southeast. It took me about two and a half hours of continuous driving to arrive at this place situated 800 ft above sea level and considered to be a hill station. Home to three Bharat Ratna awardees: Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve, Dr. Pandurang Vaman Kane and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Dapoli is a remarkable town and is also the birth place of many historic idols like Lokmanya Tilak, Sane Guruji, Dhondo, Maharshi, Keshav Karve and Wrangler Paranjape. 

Dapoli offers sea-based water sports in Karde, along with natural hot water springs (for free) at Unhavare. How can one resist a rejuvenating dip? And so, I went ahead and did just that. I also ditched the car and went for a boat ride in a fisherman’s boat to indulge in some dolphin viewing. Got to see a few dolphin heads with their unmistakable snouts bobbing in the waters and Ganpat (my boatman) was grinning at my squeals of delight, trying to capture the smiling faces rising out of the waters.

And my tummy called out to me to go have a large one. Which I did – at the Aaswad Dhaba. An eatery catering to the seafood-eating people, this dhaba was just what I craved for. I ordered a Bangda (Mackerel fry) along with Surmai ambat (fish curry) with tandla peeta bhaakri (rice flour flat breads), and of course, the sol kadi. The fish curry was made of ground fresh coconut with red chilly with kokam added (to substitute tamarind for sourness). The spicy, well-marinated fish fry was mouth-wateringly delicious.

The Konkani cuisine uses Coconut liberally in various forms such as grated, dry grated, fried, coconut paste and coconut milk. A mix of Masalas using dry Red Chilies and other spices like Coriander seeds, Peppercorns, Cumin, Cardamom, Ginger, Garlic etc. form the mouthwatering dishes prepared by the people from the Konkan strip. Some dishes also use dried Kokam (Mangosteen), Tamarind, and Kairi (Raw Mango).

RATNAGIRI (Kotawade)

I proceeded on the NH66 towards Ratnagiri. Destination – Atithi Parinay – a homestay run by a mother-daughter duo (as recommended by Col. Mike Keshwar of Viktorianz). The rains were pelting down and a ride which should have ideally taken a little over three hours ended up being a 5 hour journey. It was wonderful arriving at the homestay finally and the warm welcome with a steaming hot cup of chai (tea) was just what the doctor ordered. Serenity and peace prevailed in this place. With birds chirping away on their way to their nests, a light drizzle falling outside and the light splash of the waves on the beach a little away, I couldn’t have asked for more.

http://www.atithiparinay.com/youtube-video.html

Needless to say, I was hungry again and made a beeline for the dining room. The food was vegetarian but truly awesome. I felt like I was back home. The aamras (mango pulp) that went with the puris I ordered was so pure, I felt like I was actually sucking on an alphonso. I had usal to go with my rice, with kothimbir vadis (coriander and chickpea flour steamed in little rolls) on the side, followed by the house’s speciality – ukdiche modak (steamed balls of rice containing grated coconut and jiggery with a hint of cardamom).

Ah! Blissful sleep in the lap of green, lulled by the sound of the surf.

Day 3

Woke up early the next morning and had an enormous breakfast of Sabudana khichdi (sago cooked with potatoes and crushed roasted peanuts) and Puran Poli (sweet flatbread stuffed with sweetened chickpea flour) in the dining room of the homestay. I also packed a few of the Puran Polis to eat along the way.

MALVAN

Next stop – Malvan. A distance of 144 kms was covered at a nice ambling pace. I got really busy soaking in all the sights and sounds, while driving along the coast line, stopping by every once in a while to get out of the car for a stretch or to click pictures of the greenery around me, some rare species of birds and just locals going about their business. A journey of 3 hours took me a cool 5 hours and more. But, it was really worth it.

I headed straight to Somwar Peth and Hotel Chaitanya for its awesome seafood delights. A clean hygienic place serving authentic Malvani food, I found the ladies serving well-groomed and knowledgeable about the ingredients that went into making the wonderfully palate-tickling, lip-smacking, dishes. I was informed that the food was prepared from the fresh catch of the day. I ordered crab curry (crabs cooked in coconut gravy), with mori masala (baby sharks in a dry coconut gravy), and prawn fry to go with bhaakris (flatbreads made from rice flour). I opted for fruitkhand – a combination of fresh fruit in shrikhand – for desserts.

I could go on, but, as the simmering pot said:

"I'm cooling off before someone puts the lid on me."

And once again, dawn awakens with the sounds of the birds

Once again, the morning breeze blossoms with the fragrance of flowers

The afternoon, again, steals the warmth of the sun

Once again, night descends with the magic of cicadas.

And connected to thoughts of travel, are this darkness, this light, too

Linked to life are the turns of the seasons, too.

The scorching Summer, the hell of a Separation

The Rain, a shower of His grace and Kindness

Spring, the moment of your graceful Arrival

Autumn, the time of your Desertion

Your Displeasure ushers in the cold and the harsh winds of Winter.

I walk along the path; I don’t know where my friend

But thinking of you, I know, my travels will never end.

A BRIEF ABOUT THE KONKAN REGION

The Konkan region is in the general area between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. As per Wikipedia, it covers the region between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, and between the Tapi river in the north and the Chandragiri river in the south. Divided in four districts: Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri, and Sindhudurg; the Konkan belt boasts of beautiful beaches, historic forts, lush green hills and valleys with waterfalls, and wide fields of swaying sugarcane.

Driving through the tiny picturesque villages, with its simple people living in a culture, and having a lifestyle far removed from the urban madness, can be an almost spiritual experience and a treat for the metro-tired eyes. But the what would really appease one’s gastronomic desires is the authentic Konkan cuisine – with its incredible colours, tastes, and textures – so irresistible, you want to indulge till your senses are completely satiated.

It is said that if you’re travelling by road towards any destination on the Konkan coast, there is a food outlet serving the typical preparations of Konkan delicacies pertaining to that particular part of the coast – every 150 kms. The dhabas (roadside eateries) dotting the route intermittently, serve up a variety of styles of cooking, as different in their flavors and aroma, as the various dialects of Marathi, Marathi-Konkani, and Konkani spoken as you move from the north to the south of the Konkan trail. The food joints at these places serve some of the most delectable of dishes prepared in various kinds of gravy or fried.

Called the California of India, this tropical strip lets one savour deliciously luscious Alphonso mangoes, tempting juicy oranges, heady succulent grapes, and sweetly sugary sugarcane. For a foodie like me, the plate’s not the limit. It extends outwards – towards places that grow mangoes, oranges, supari, and cashew; and seawards – where a fresh catch yields fish, crabs, prawns, mussels, and baby sharks. And heavenwards – the Tadi (fermented), Madi, and Neera (unfermented) – juice derived from the palm trees that gently sway to the breeze.

Needless to say, travelling during the rains in the Konkan is a bracing, and strangely, fulfilling experience. The open skies, darkened with threatening but scurrying clouds (always seeming in a hurry), the pelting of the rain (go ahead, feel it on your face!), the tunnels, bridges, waterfalls… and the never-ending green of fields, hills, ghats.

- by Jacinta Coutinho