The best malvani cuisine I have eaten in Mumbai!
Malvan, is a scenic town in the Sindhudurg district on the west coast of Maharashtra. While most of us have never visited the place and possibly know very little about it, the foodies amongst us have clearly tasted several times over, its most famous export viz the malvani fish thali!
Among the several theories surrounding its name, Malvan is said to have originated from the words maha lavan or the great region of salt. Malvani cuisine is proof of the natural bounty of the Konkan coast where coconut, salt water fish, jackfruit and cashew, plantains and native rice, banana and mango are staples. Wedged between the Arabian Sea and the Sahyadris, this strip of fertile earth supports a tradition of meat fare, seafood and Chitpavan Brahmin vegetarian delicacies that traverse the spicy to sweet-sour taste profile with ease. However, seafood dominates this cuisine and while there are die-hard fans of chicken dishes like komdi-vade (malvani chicken masala curry with multi-grain puris), personally I absolutely love the seafood options that are part of this cuisine.
My favourite restaurant for malvani food is Highway Gomantak in Mumbai, a no-frills eatery that we have been going to for years. Raja or praja, rich or poor, the start of this gourmet journey begins by standing at the tiny door to the eatery and looking longingly at the fried fish and curry dishes that come piping hot from the kitchen and whizz past you as they get deposited with a bang at the various tables where hungry office-goers are waiting to devour the same. You have to patiently await your turn, hoping that the rumbling of your tummy and your salivating mouth are not audible or visible to your lunch companions. Finally, the interminable wait is over, and a busy waiter beckons you to a table where you squeeze in with some strangers. (An independent table would require a much longer wait and sitting next to equally ravenous unknown people is a small price to pay for the quick seating)
You begin by briskly ordering and just as quickly wolfing down the bombil fish or Bombay duck, a hallmark of the cuisine which reaches your table so fresh that it almost seems as if it has come directly from the sea with a quick detour to the kitchen to get lightly battered and fried. My personal favourite is the tisrya masala- a clam preparation with coconut, ginger-garlic paste and red chillies which is eaten with rice bhakris. I also enjoy eating the bhakris with the vegetarian option of the day which is typically an ussal (a curry made with legumes) and with sol kadhi to help the digestive juices flow, which frankly don’t need too much aid given the tasty food. Since the idea is to maximize the gratification, you then proceed to eat the rice and fish curry which is typically made using kokum/aamsul and coconut milk to add the sweet and sour flavour to the dish and by adding malvani masala, coriander, dry coconut, ginger-garlic paste and onions.
Post such a soul satisfying meal, you want to sit back, maybe undo a couple of buttons and relish the delightful almost heavenly experience you have just had, but then you see hungry faces peering at you impatiently from that tiny door, and regretfully but with a satiated sigh you get up and waddle out of the door already planning your next date with the best malvani thali in town!
Author: Sameer Kumar