A few weeks back, I got a call from JW Marriott in Mumbai Sahar. Their chefs were planning to go on an exploratory trip to the Konkan coast to discover the Konkanastha Brahmin cuisine, they said, and they wanted to take a few bloggers along. Was I interested? That is hardly a question, is it! I'd enjoyed my trip to Dapoli a few years back and the Marriott crew was now headed to nearby beach towns of Diveagar and Guhagar. Plus the Konkan Brahmin cuisine, with its completely vegetarian teetotaller bent so close to the coast, has always intrigued me.
The thing about driving down the Konkan coast is - you spend an awful amount of time on the road. Which is why it is important to have likeminded companions. We were all foodies on this trip so the food talk never really stopped. Once we got off the road, we spent a night at Guhagar and another at Diveagar, both times at homestays and within walking distance of some gorgeous beaches. And all three days, womenfolk who run dining halls in the town taught us how to cook traditional Konkanastha Brahmin dishes. There were some dishes I'd heard of and eaten before and others that were a revelation. There were modaks made with a skill that takes years to build and a vermicelli dish that an old lady came out specially to teach us (since she's the only one who knew how!). Overall, between sol kadhi and misal at rest stops and home cooked meals, we ate really, really well.
Of all the dishes we ate and cooked during the trip, I'm sharing with you my top 5. Keep an eye out for these if you make the trip or ask me nicely and I will share recipes.
1. Panchamrut: Hands down the best dish of our trip. This super flavourful coconut soup derives its name from the five flavours (savoury, spicy, sweet, sour, bitter) that go into its making. Think of this one as khowsuey on steroids.
2. Raw Jackfruit Stir Fry: Jackfruit, specially the fragrant ripe version, is an acquired taste. But cooking this raw stir fry in Mr. Bapat's kitchen was a revelation. Made with only 3-4 dry spices, coconut and tons of peanut oil, the jackfruit was subtly flavoursome without any of the ginger, garlic et al that goes in our curries.
3. Rice Flour Vermicelli: The special part of the vermicelli was the 'milk' they were served in. A combination of coconut milk, jaggery and cardamom, I can see this as a drink on its own.
4. Kaju Usal: With fresh green cashews in season, our Guhagar hosts made us a cashew usal (with usal being a generic name for lentil curries). The Konkan food is sweet and I would have liked it with a bit less jaggery but the curry was super nice and versatile enough to adapt for any legumes you want.
5. Misal Pao: My standard order every time we stopped for tea or lunch on the way. Misal is basically your mixed sprout usal, but it comes topped with fried savouries called farsan. Every misal I had was different, some spicy, some sour, but topped with crunchy onions and accompanied with the local bread (pao), it hit the right note every single time.
Tempting, isn't it! If you don't have a trip to Konkan coast planned yourself, you might get a chance to taste most of these dishes at JW Marriott Sahar itself. The chefs have taken the learnings from the trip and are putting up a Konkan Food Festival from 6-15 May. I'm surely going to head out there to check out how the village food fares in a 5-star hotel.