Food: Mumbai restaurant offers Saraswat seafood delicacies

Feb 21, 2016, 09:25 IST | Anju Maskeri

A new restaurant in Goregaon hopes to give Mumbaikars a taste of Saraswat cuisine's seafood spread. Care for some pedawan?

Two months ago, when Abhay Pandit decided to launch a Saraswat seafood restaurant in Goregaon, he was sure about one thing, fish lovers will travel any distance for their caviar. And, it seems, he wasn’t all that wrong.

Aamshe tikshe or the hot and sour fish is one of the signature dishes at Matsya
Aamshe tikshe or the hot and sour fish is one of the signature dishes at Matsya

Last week, a group of 20 patrons from Thane had booked the restaurant for lunch. “We get customers from South Mumbai as well. Most seafood lovers in Mumbai have tasted fish prepared in Konkan and Malwani styles. So, I felt the scene was ripe to introduce Saraswat seafood cuisine,” says Pandit.

A chef prepares a pomfret tawa fry at Matsya. PICs/SWARALI PUROHIT
A chef prepares a pomfret tawa fry at Matsya. Pics/Swarali Purohit

The 43-seater, with its walls dotted with vintage pictures of Chitrapur station and Murdeshwar beach, is the city’s first restaurant to offer seafood cuisine that till now has been mostly restricted to Chitrapur and Gowd Saraswat homes. The two sects are small Konkani-speaking communities of who trace their genealogy to the Kashmiri Pandits. While Simply Saraswat in Borivli offers vegetarian fare, this one caters primarily to the ghassi-loving, mackerel-eating section.

Owners Anuj and Abhay Pandit
Owners Anuj and Abhay Pandit

“Saraswats have originally been strictly vegetarian. Legend has it that when Saraswats migrated from the north after the Saraswati river dried up, they were permitted to eat the fish on the dried-up river bed to escape starvation. The fish were euphemistically called sea vegetable or Jal Kaay.

Oysters are sometimes called ‘samudra phalam’ — sea fruit. In fact, the fish eating habit of Saraswat Brahmins finds mention even in the Ramanyana,” says Asha Philar, author of The Konkani Saraswat Cookbook which was published in January last year. The book contains recipes ranging from breakfast items like horsegram idli to seafood items like prawns pickle and stuffed pomfret fry. “Since not much is known about Saraswat cuisine, I just wanted to share the recipes that my late mother, Susheela Aroor and my maternal grandmother, Girijabai Dhareshwar taught me,” says the 68-year-old, who lives in Bengaluru.

Out of mom’s kitchen
Pandit tells us that the women of the family, from his mum to his distant aunts, have contributed to the menu at Matsya. For instance, the aamshe tikshe or the hot and sour fish (Rs 220) is a signature dish in most ‘aamchi’ (a colloquial term for the community) homes. It is made with bangde (mackerel) where in bydagi mirchi (red chillies), tamarind and teppal (sichuan pepper) is ground to a paste.

It is a slightly pungent dish with a strong aftertaste of sichuan pepper. The restaurant sees a fair number of South Indians from the area, who, we are told, often ask for mackerel to be replaced with another fish. “It is an acquired taste.

While most Saraswats love it, others are still warming up to it. Interestingly, mackerel is the only fish that can be used in aamshe tikshe for its distinct flavour. Bangde has a flavour of its own, so we make sure that the masalas supplement the taste,” explains Pandit, adding, “While prawns can replace it, the taste won’t be the same.”

The dish that Pandit is most proud of is the Kube Ghassi (clams curry), priced at Rs 270, which he says you won’t find at any other restaurant. “It is a pleasant, mildly flavoured curry prepared using paste of raw mangoes, drumsticks, roasted garlic, udal along with red chillies and grated coconut.”

While chicken curry and chicken sukha feature on the menu, there are no mutton dishes. “It is not really a part of Saraswat cuisine. The demand for chicken, too, is more among the younger generation,”reveals Pandit. The chicken dishes are characteristic aamchi preparations using a mixture of poppy seeds, lavang (cloves), garlic and ghee. “We mostly use desi ghee in our dishes which gives it a distinct flavour,”he adds.

Rashmi Ubhaykar, owner of Simply Saraswat at Borivli, feels what differentiates Saraswat seafood from the seafood you get at other restaurants is the process of preparation and the masalas used. “Every Saraswat household has its own secret masalas. However, most times, the base includes coconut, whole red chillies, green chilies, onion, ginger and garlic,” reveals the 58-year-old.

By the sea
The restaurant, surprisingly, does not have much space for cold storage apart from a single fridge. “We ensure the dishes are prepared from fresh items. So we buy fish proportionate to the demand,”explains co-owner and Abhay’s younger brother, Anuj Pandit.

About 8-10 kg of fish, comprising mackeral, prawns, lady fish and pomfret is bought every fortnight from Crawford market or the Malad fish market.

In the two months that the Pandits have been running the business, a few dishes have come and gone, and pedawan or the Saraswat equivalent of the Patrani macchi is one of the dishes that has been discontinued. It is a steamed fish using mackerel which, again, is prepared using sichuan pepper, green chillies, a twig of turmeric leaf.

“It did not have many takers, so we stopped it. However, we plan to re-introduce it, this time with pomfret. It’s an expensive fish, but always has takers,” smiles Pandit.

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