Cuisine of Karwar, a small town on the western coast of India, just south of Goa, is unique in its taste, flavour and variety. People of Karwar have spread over different parts of India and the world in search of employment and livelihood. But the karwar Diaspora, no matter where it exists cares for the food of the native land. Their mouth waters the moment somebody mentions the Karwari dishes.
There are books on Goa cuisine which is therefore well advertised but Karwar cuisine is less known. Though it may have similarities to Goa cuisine, it is distinct. Goa was under Portuguese rule for five hundred years and this inevitably affected the content and the style of cooking with the inevitable impact of the Portuguese food style. But Karwar cuisine has retained its pristine purity and traditional favour. the Malwani food in south Konkan is similar in some respects. But Karwar food has its own tongue- tingling and mouth-watering quality. It is quite distinct from the food of the neighboring Karnataka and Maharashtra states. Karwar food deserves to be widely known and its dishes made accessible to not only the Karwar Diaspora but also all the lovers of good food the world over.
Local crops and products, fruits and vegetables inevitably enter into the cuisine of the people. Rice, cocoanuts and the fish are naturally the main ingredients of Karwar food but it is enriched by wide varieties of fruits, nuts, vegetables, leaves and spices.
Rice: rice is locally grown since the crop requires heavy rains, which Karwar is blessed with. The locally grown parboiled rice ( ukado tandul) is used for rice gruel ( pej) for mid-morning meal. Rice ripens around Dasara-Diwali time (month of October) and appears in the market. It is stored in the house in huge moodos (baskets made of dry paddy stalks) for use through the rainy season till the next crop is available.
Cocoanuts: Every Karwari house would normally have a grove of cocoanut trees in the backyard. Cocoanuts are used in abundance in Karwari cuisine to produce a variety of curries, chutney and sweet dishes like patoli, modak and madgane. A traditional house has a ragada, a stone artifact that is used to mash cocoanuts flesh. Cocoanut milk is an input to sweet dishes like payas and madgane. It is mixed with jaggary made from local sugarcane which serves as ros cakes made of rice are dipped and eaten. Cocoanut when dried up becomes copra which when crushed becomes oil which is a medium for cooking. Fish fried in cocoanut oil gets an aroma and taste of its own.
Fish: A wide variety of fish is the treasure provided by the sea the estuaries. Karwar fishermen spread the early in the day and the fisherwomen bring the fresh fish to sell in the morning bazaar. The head of the household personally goes to buy the fresh fish according to the liking of his family members. Often he successfully bargains with the fisherwoman about the price. A successful purchase of quality fish at a bargain price becomes a matter of boast in an animated morning conversation with friends and neighbours. Bangada ( macharel) Tarala (sardine) are the fish most abundantly available as reasonable prices. Paplet( pomphret), Visvan or Surmai( king fish) Ravas, Shevate are bigger fish each with its own taste. Nagali found in estuaries are a delicate fish and is aptly called Lady’s Finger. Sungata (prons), Tisryo (shall fish) Kalwa (rock fish or mussels) and Kurlyo (crab) each has its own flavour and taste. Winter (November to January)
Is the best season for fish-lovers? The fish is abundant and appetite is demanding. During the rainy season, fishermen cannot enter the turbulent sea to catch fish. So fresh fish – bangada, sungata and mori (shark)- is dried in the summer season on the road under the hot burning sun and stored for use in the rainy season. They are carried in bundles by visiting Karwaris who live in places where fresh fish is not available. Kismore made of dried bangada, sungata and mori is more delicious.
Fruits: mango is rightly called the king of fruits. Everybody knows about Ratnagiri Alfanso (hapus), which is exported to up country market of Mumbai and from there to Dubai and other foreign lands. American president Bush relished the alfanso mango during his visit in India and hoped that the mango will be exported to US also. But Karwar varieties of mangoes are quite different and are unique in taste and flavour. Karwaris will not exchange them for any other variety. First are ishadth, kalo (black) and dhavo (white).They are full of sweet pulp. There is musrad big in size and with special flavour. Third is fernad firm in flesh and easy to cut into pieces. Karwar meal cannot conclude in the summer season without a plateful of pieces of these mangoes. Summer is the season when mangoes arrive in abundance in the market. Amras-puri is a favorite dish in a summer season meal. Beside there are also small juicy mangoes, which are used to prepare sasav, a special dish of Karwar. Mango curries flavoured with ghalani are also a favorite. Wild mango trees, grown in forest provide an abundance of raw mangoes, which are collected in early season to produce whole mango pickle besides a variety of other pickles. Mango juice is dried in the sun and made into flakes –sath for relishing the taste of mango long after the mango season is over.
Jackfruit: Like mangoes, jackfruits also ripen in summer. Huge jackfruits hang in bunch from the jackfruit trees. Every household compound has a tree or two. The green exterior with small spikes hides a treasure of golden ( garas) that is sweet flesh covering large seeds neatly packed inside. The huge fruit is ripped open with a knife and with oil smeared hands, lest the glue( cheek) sticks, the garas are taken out to be consumed at leisure. There are two types of jackfruits – kappa and baraka. Garas of kappa are crisp and delight to relish. Those of baraka are juicy and are used to prepare relishing patolis – a pancake steamed in a covering of haldi (turmeric) leaves. Patolis are eaten steam-hot with dollop of ghee melting over it. The jackfruit seed ( bikan) is used as an additional input to curries.
Bananas: Bananas are a common fruit in India but the standard banana sold in the market is with green skin. But those in Karwar, smaller in size are golden in colour, sweeter and fragrant. Bananas are eaten fresh after the meal but are also turned into sasav, a sweet, sour, pungent dish.
Cashews: Summer is also the season for cashew nuts. Very few know that cashew nut appears on the top of the cashew apple resplendent in its red hue. Cashew apple is nice in taste but can hardly compete with mangoes and bananas. It is the cashew nut that is more coveted. A thick exterior covers the nut which is roasted on fire (nowadays it is done in cashew factory) the cover removed and the nut taken out for eating. The nut has a crisp brown cover, which is easily removed with fingers. There is hardly any nut as delicious as cashew nuts. It is eaten as it is or salted or spiced. It is also mixed with variety of preparations like sweets such as madgane and kheer or savouries like phov and muga- ambat( green gram curry). Cashew nut is the ingredients of katli sold by the famous Chitale shop in Pune.
Ananas (pinapple): This is also summer season fruit. Its rough exterior cover is removed to reveal a sweet sour interior, which is sliced and eaten. The slices are canned and its juice tinned. Karwaris use the ananas for sasav and bhaji.
Chibud (melons): These again are available round Dasara-Diwali time. They are eaten mixed with phov, coconut and jaggery.
Vegetables: coastal areas are not known for modern vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower or green peas, which require cooler climate not available in Karwar’s coastal climate, which is warm and humid. But there are distinct local vegetables.
Neerfanas ( breadfruit) : though called a fruit it is indeed a vegetable. Green in colour like jackfruit but much smaller and round in shape. They appear on the branches of a huge tree with its artistic leaves. Their skin is peeled off to reveal a whitish flesh inside which is sliced and shallow-fried. These are called phodies a typical Karwar dish which is very delicious. A tasty bhajis- suki ( dry) and patal( saucy) is also made combined with vatana (dried white whole peas)
Mage: This is a typical fruit vegetable of Karwar – like the people of Karwar, soft and somewhat sweetish whose liquid bhaji mixed with vatana (dry peas) or ghalani and coconut paste is a great delight.
Vali-bhaji ( local spinach): This is a leafy vegetable whose bhaji mixed with dry shrimps is an ideal accompaniment to mid-morning pej( rice gruel). It is rich in iron.
Tambadi ( red) bhaji: this is another leafy vegetable of Karwar, which is often flavoured with lasun( garlic)
Toushe (cucumber): This is often used as an input to a delightful home made cake eaten with dollops of ghee.
Ambade: This sour fruit vegetable is put in a special curry called udadmethi, which tingles the tongue.
Mug(green gram): are sprouted and are used as an input to a most popular vegetarian curry flavoured with phodani palo (curry leaves) and enriched with cashew nuts. It is eaten with rice and is a must at wedding feast and other ceremonial occasions. Usal is another dish flavoured with fresh coconut gratings. Mug is nutritious.
Chilli: Bydagi variety, grown in neighbouring Dharwar district is invariably used for all types of curries –vegetarian or fish. Byadagi gives the red tinge and taste to the curries but is not pungent.
Tepal (Trifal): It is an essential input in many fish, specially Bangada( maceral), tarala( sardin) and vegetarian curries. It leaves unforgettable taste in the mouth. While raw they are green in colour but on drying assume a black tinge. Dried tepalas are stored and used for months together.
Sola- bhiranda and vatamba. They are grown wild and are plucked and dried. They are used to add sour taste to the curry. Red Bhirandas are used for sola kadhi, which has the cooling effect and is in demand in summer.
Haladi( turmeric) leaves: the aromatic leaves are used to cover the sweet pancake-patoli.
Cooking utensils and procedures:
Karwari cuisine has its own cook-wear i.e. modak-patr for steaming patoli and heet and special frying pan for cooking yerrapes. Kashya vessels for prparation of fish curries.
It has also unique cooking procedures i.e. dhuvan for smoking viangan( brinjal) bharit and kismore. A burning coal with coconut oil poured on it is covered with bharit or kismore, which them assume a delightful flavour.
Karwar cuisine- a tradition
Karwar cuisine is a tradition that is evolved from generation to generation and is a part of Karwari way of life. A Karwari housewife does not mechanically follow written prescriptions and formulae in a recipe book but relies on her own uncanny judgment of taste and flavour. She passes on her skill to daughters and daughters-in –law. Things have undergone a change in recent years. Girls are getting educated even up to the highest levels of education – graduate and even post-graduate. They get less time in the kitchen. They take jobs, which keep them engaged for hours on in the office. They do not find it possible to spare time for preparing dishes involving elaborate processing. They would like them to be available at some restaurant or hotel but latter are seldom familiar with the delicacies and nuances of Karwar cuisine. Hence the need for a recipe book on Karwar cuisine. We hope our book will be widely used.