19 October 2014

Malwani Magic and Konkani Swaad

Maharashtra is blessed with the Konkan belt- a sea strip that provides us with just the most picturesque locations and a large variety of sea food. Malwani food is the cuisine that emerges from this Konkan belt in Maharashtra and Goa, which is predominantly non-vegetarian and fish-centric, with a liberal use of coconut, kokum, tamarind, and spices. Malwani food is not for the faint-hearted, it can be quite spicy!

I was recently invited to Pondicherry Cafe, Sofitel, BKC to sample their on-going Malwani food festival. Pondicherry Cafe is the hotel's 24-hour buffet restaurant, and I love that they jazz up their regular buffets by having occasional food festivals. I previously attended their Vietnamese food fest (read about it here), among other food festivals that I've seen happening there frequently. I spent a wonderful evening dining there, and enjoying the Konkan fare on offer. Here are my top 5 reasons to dine at the Malwan food festival:

1. Ghar Ka Khana: The first thing that struck me, when I walked around the buffet spread was now simple and homely the food looked. It was exactly like something you'd eat at a Maharashtrian friend or neighbour's home. There was Phodniche Varan-Bhaat which is a traditional Maharashtrian dal-rice combination, a staple food at most homes. Then came Bajri Chi Bhakri- a small roti made with Bajra and topped with desi ghee. At one point my plate was filled with rice, dal, bhakri, achar, mutton, and it resembled something that would've been eaten in a rural home in a village in Maharashtra. There was Besan ke laddoo for dessert, though I would've liked to have something a bit more complex. Nevertheless, homely food made with the heart!

Bhakri Counter
Varan-Bhaat
Konkan on my Plate
2. Ghar Ke Cooks: The most exciting part of my entire experience was getting to meet housewives Mrs. Prathishta Armarkar and Mrs. Praja Patil – the Malwani cuisine specialists. They're both home chefs, and ocassionally cater Malwan cuisine from their homes. The entire week long festivities have menus designed by them and food cooked by them along with the restaurant's chef Vividh Patil. That explains why the entire feel and taste of the food was so homely- because, housewives and mothers were the chefs here! I applaud Sofitel for giving them an opportunity to showcase their talent and give them the experience of working in a high end kitchen.

(Left to Right) Mrs Patil, Chef Vividh Patil, Mrs Armarkar
3. Malwan Mood: The entire restaurant had a Konkan feel to it, with the staff dressed in traditional saris and kurtas to the serving containers for the buffet. I loved the earthen pots the food was served in. I also loved the traditional 'bannis' in which the pickles were served. There was a large variety of pickles on offer, most of which were home-made. I enjoyed the tart, and spicy chicken pickle the most.

What a Pickle!

4. Meat Lover's Haven: Malwani food is known for its fish and meat based dishes. The food fest had some spicy and well made Mutton Sukka that fell right off the bone. The Modakachi Kadi- Indian silver sardines simmered in a coconut gravy- was a traditional fish curry with a strong, spicy taste. The Chicken Sagoti which demonstrated the Goan-Malwan influence was a well seasoned, thick gravy that went well with bhakris. I then ate some delicious Surmai Fry that came hot off the pan onto my table. The only damp squib was the Jinga Biryani- bland and lacklustre.

Modaka Chi Kadi
Chicken Sagoti
Surmai Fry
5. The Veg Attempt: I was extremely curious to see what the vegetarian food on offer would be, if there was any vegetarian food to offer. My friend accompanying me was a vegetarian, and she really did enjoy all that she ate. Right from the Varan- Bhaat to the vegetable dishes such as Gobhi Vatana and Vala Chi Bhaji which all had coconut and typical Malwan masala in them. She did not care for the Lal Math (Red Spinach) and Tondli Chana Sabzi (Tendli and Chana Dal), and neither would I if I was given tendli to eat in a buffet.

Vala Chi Bhaji
Tondli Chana Chi Bhaji
Lal Math
Gobi Vatana
The only vegetarian dish of the night that I tried and enjoyed, was the Neer Fansache Kaap or jackfruit fritters. (Can you blame me with all the meat options out there?) I usually steer clear of jackfruit because of its pungent smell, and haven't really eaten much of the fruit. This dish I enjoyed- thin slices of the fruit, coated, seasoned, deep fried, and topped with spices. An absolute winner of a dish!

Neer Fansache Kaap
Budget Bites: The buffet is priced at Rs. 2100 + tax and also includes some Oriental and Mughlai spread along with the Malwan food. I found it a bit on the pricier side since the food is extremely homely and simple, and there may be many other places in the city where you'd get a meal such for a lesser price. Especially true if you're a vegetarian. It's a good idea for those who want to enjoy such food in a five-star ambiance and also want other fall-back options in the buffet. I noticed a couple of expats there that night, adventurously trying the Malwan food out, and I felt proud. Jai Maharashtra! Jai Hind!

Contact: Sofitel Hotel, C 57, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra East, Mumbai.
Malwani Food Festival is on from the 11th to the 20th of October.

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