One of the earliest memories from Mumtaz Kazi and Sameera Gawandi’s childhood involves an annual trip to Harnai every summer. Today a popular tourist spot along the Konkan Coast in Ratnagiri district, it is the native village of the two cousins. They would join their grandmother at the grinding stone to prepare spices for the entire year, before the monsoons set in. What started out as a fun summer activity with cousins is today one of their biggest strengths. Associated with Authenticook, which organises pop-ups of regional cuisines at homes of locals-turned-chefs, Kazi and Gawandi are known in Mumbai for their Konkani Muslim food.
“The simple activity taught me how to grind in order to get the right consistency for masalas and gravies. As a result, I took to cooking at a very young age and it’s the one thing I do with all my passion,” admits Kazi. Along with Gawandi and in collaboration with Authenticook, she is currently hosting a Ramzan special pop-up of Konkani Muslim cuisine at the restaurant Neel – Tote of the Turf in Mahalaxmi. On till June 9, it will move to the restaurant’s property in Powai.
On the special menu are dishes such as Kelyachya Paanat (marinated bangda fish wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an earthen pot), Akhni Gosht (sukha mutton in whole spices masala), Dum cha Mhaura (fish cooked on ‘dum’), Kombdi cha Salna (chicken gravy) and Chawrachi Roti (rice bhakris/rotis made of rice flour), among several others. There is also a special vegetarian menu, which comprises dishes made using a variety of pulses — a common ingredient in the vegetarian Konkani Muslim fare.
Relatively unknown and mostly absent in Mumbai’s dining scene, the Konkani Muslim cuisine, say the two Andheri-based sisters, has certain Arab influences. “The use of kokum in curries, especially the fish preparations, is Konkani, whereas fennel in our food is something we take from the Arabic cuisine,” they say, adding that the Konkan coast was a popular halt for Arab traders back in the day. “The tradition of purchasing our spices from the Gulf was then continued by male members of our community as many of them took up jobs in that region. My father worked for many years in Kuwait. He would bring back spices for the entire family on every visit,” says Gawandi.
Fennel, however, is a crucial element in the cuisine, and used in almost every dish. “We even grind the haldi powder along with roasted saunf; the mixture is called bada saunf and added even to simple dishes like daal. It lends a mild aroma and flavour to the otherwise-simple daal,” Kazi explains.
Apart from bada saunf, the community heavily relies on two other masalas — fish masala and mutton masala. They are both made using dried red chilli powder and dhaniya seeds but while the former, says Kazi, does not have haldi, the latter includes ground whole spices. “Then we have a cashew gravy too but that is for special occasions. Mostly, we use these two masalas, even to prepare our vegetarian dishes,” Kazi explains.
Since all coastal cuisines use rice as a staple, Konkani Muslims are no different. But apart from steamed rice and rice bhakris, they also abundantly consume khichdi, which is served along with sol kadi, which they call Soloni. Kazi says, “But sea food is a must. If not every then every other meal has some component of fish, including breakfast, where we serve roasted dry fish among other items. And during monsoons, when the fishing boats can no more tread into the sea, we have the small dried fish, fried with onions and chillies and served like a pickle or snack on the side.”