The tasty charm of Konkani Muslim food
A centuries-old cuisine thriving under oblivion is finally getting its due through home chefs in the city
Earlier this month, a lesser-known cuisine popped up at the restaurant Neel in Powai and Mahalaxmi. Yet, The Kokani Muslim Special by Authenticook home chefs and cousins Mumtaz Kazi and Sameera Gawandi had many takers. Close to 250 people attended the pop-up. It's the cuisine belonging to a prosperous population in Mumbai — settled in pockets from Mazgaon to Mumbra — who are originally from Raigad and Ratnagiri districts on the Western Coast of India. "The Kokani Muslim community is not very proactive in promoting itself and so its cuisine is not well known," explains food historian Dr Mohsina Mukadam, a Kokani.
The scene is changing gradually. Wedding specials like Dhaan-shikori (rice and mutton gravy) are making a silent entry into the menu at restaurants like K2 in Thane, Saher Khanzada's blog The Bombay Glutton and Najmunnisa Mukadam's videos on YouTube featuring authentic recipes are finding large followers. Coffee-table books like Zaika-e-kadwai (contributed by the residents of Kadwai village) and Kokani Delights (cuisine of Kokani Muslims settled in Africa) by Nujmoonisa Parkar featuring recipes are also giving a glimpse of the socio-cultural aspect of the region.
Mukadam, a history professor at Ramnarain Ruia College explains, "Kokani Muslim cuisine represents a composite culture of India and is a delicious synthesis of local food practices and middle eastern culinary traditions brought by the Arab traders who first came here in the 11th century. There are hints of influence from the North of India which came through Muslim dynasties of Maharashtra. Also, many families migrated to Africa and those who returned on a trip back home brought in some influence from there too. On one hand, we share the culinary tradition with our Hindu neighbours, and on the other, our philosophy of food and practices are rooted in our religion. Things which clashed with our religious beliefs were either discarded or adapted to suit Islamic food ethos. Every 12 kilometeres, the language, clothes and food changes, you’ll find variations of the same dish scattered across the coast. Unfortunately, in the absence of documentation, one has to rely only on food traditions followed till today."
Shabana Salauddin holds home dining services every weekend. CALL: 93263 84969. Pic/Sameer Markande
What the food's like
Rice, coconut and fish are trinity of the Kokani cuisine. "A daily repast has the use of local ingredients, whereas on festive occasions, rich Middle Eastern dishes like biryani, kormas and kebabs are prepared," says Mukadam. The Kokani khichda is one such example. This wholesome and robust meal that represents the Arabic tradition and has been adapted to suit the Indian taste in Hyderabad and Lucknow is slightly different for the Kokanis. "The twist on the masala and adding coconut milk and dried coconut makes it totally ours," she adds. Mukadam’s favourite is Naralidhan with Macchi ka salan (coconut rice with fish gravy). The abundantly available coconut makes its way into the daily staple — rice as it is slowly simmered in coconut milk to give it an oily texture. "Fresh catch of the day cooked in simple thin gravy with just fish masala and kokum or raw mango or Amboshi (dried raw mango) — an example of minimalism. The gravy complements the rice perfectly," she adds.
Pop it up
Kazi started cooking when she was eight years old and has inherited a distinct cooking style from her mother and paternal aunts. She and her cousin Sameera frequented their native Harnai, a small fishing village in Ratnagiri and would often join the ladies in the kitchen to watch and help them cook. "On Eid, our aunts would wake us up early to prepare sandan (sweet buns) which was served with akhni gosht (mutton cooked in whole garam masala and dry roasted coconut in its own juices on slow flame) for breakfast. We use various spices and fennel is the key ingredient."
A good Kokani Muslim spread would include Akhni gosht, haldoni (fish gravy), Sukhi kolbi or kolbi chi chutney (prawns cooked in onion and tomato based gravy in Kokani fish masala), Kavtacho bojar (boiled eggs stuffed with ground coconut, whole masalas and Kokani mutton masala), chavachi chutney (a main course made with grated coconut and sautéed with dry red chillies, onion and mild masalas) and rotis (made from steamed rice flour, shaped by hand and baked on tawa without oil till it reaches a melt-in-mouth texture).
Back in the villages, Sarawle or dry handmade pasta made in different colours is stored in glass jars and kept on the shelf to showcase in the living room area called wata (hall). It is cooked in sugar syrup and topped with egg steamed to perfection. Pelve are rice flour crepes stuffed with grated coconut and jaggery and garnished with chirongi. "In Kokani cuisine, there is frequent use of poppy seeds to garnish sweet dishes like mitli, peyushi, duderi, chonge, and seviya. It gives the dish a crunchy, nutty flavour. Charule or chironji is also widely used in sweet dishes like kele ka meetha, shirkurma and sevaiya," says Gawandi.
Tilkut, a dry chutney made with black til (sesame), often used in vegetarian preparations and is a staple in every Kokani home. "Our men folk who work in the Gulf countries often carry the fish masala, mutton masala
and tilkut," adds Kazi.
"I love cooking various cuisines from all over the world but Kokani Muslim food — with all its variety and distinct flavour — has always been my pride and priority. It was a proud moment for us to see our Konkani cuisine on the menu at Neel."
Mumtaz Kazi and Sameera Gawandi can be reached on 9833308960
From mum's kitchen
Living in a joint family, as a child, Shabana Salauddin watched food being cooked in large deghs (cooking pots) for fatiha (prayer meal), Eid and get-togethers. Her mother is a great cook and they never brought any readymade packet masala ever. "Hailing from Warkhal in Raigad, we've always used a home blend of Kokani spice mix, passed on from generations. Sundays was reserved for gosht biryani made with thecha hua gosht (beaten meat) and andey ka pudding (egg pudding). Thursdays were for fish and we would wait for Machli cha Halduni (fish gravy), dum che Bombil (Bombay duck made in dum style), and naarli khichdi (coconut khichdi) served in a big paraat (plate) loaded with fried fish. Dessert was choi ke kele. My all-time favourite is khaara gosht," she adds.
After working in the corporate sector at senior management roles for 20 years, Salauddin decided to call it quits and become her own boss. "While savouring saandan and sikori (rice buns and mutton gravy) one afternoon, I felt I was fortunate to enjoy a completely traditional meal but not many even know that such cuisine exists. Even within the community; either there was ignorance or some chose not to prepare the dishes as they were time consuming. Also, today Parsi, Bohri, and Goan food are easily available and quite popular but Kokani Muslim food is restricted only to villages and home kitchens. That's where we found our inspiration."
Salauddin started Ammeez Kitchen in November 2018 and has home dining service every weekend. The kitchen serves soups, starters and a main course that includes meat and fish gravies and biryani and traditional Kokani desserts that aren't overpoweringly sweet. The fish biryani and khaara gosht from the savoury and Kokani Doodhi Halwa have always nailed it. Guests choose either our fixed menu or opt for an ala-carte. Soon we’ll be serving in the authentic manner which will be on a Paat-Pira and Baisna (where meal is kept on a wooden plank) as step above Dastarkhwaan servings."
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