KOCHI: The Konkan belt boasts of a coastline that stretches for 720 kms. Hence, the culture is unique, as it traverses the four coastal states but perhaps what is even more significant is the cuisine of the Konkanis. The Konkan food festival currently underway in the All Spice restaurant at Four Points by Sheraton, promises to render an ample introduction to the food of the region.
It is curated by Chef Deepu Mohan whose expertise in Konkan cuisine comes from working for over five years at The Taj in Mumbai. Chef Mohan is a reticent person but his demeanour changes immediately when asked about his favourite dish in the spread. He talks animatedly about a non-vegetarian starter he modified to work beautifully with a locally-found pink perch fish. The fresh fish is dressed heavily in Mangalorean and North Kerala spices and then fried. The result is a surprisingly mild-flavoured starter which is both crispy and soft at the same time.
The lunch menu, which has been specifically introduced for the ongoing festival, comes with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian thali options. "We have taken into account five major regional influences along the Konkan railway track including Maharashtrian, Malvani, Goan, Mangalorean and Malabari to design the dishes and every day we change the menu entirely to add new dishes. Apart from the accompaniments, there are about 18 items in each thali," Chef Mohan says.
The thalis come with a sweeping array of curries, of which the taut gassi is particularly impressive. Made with Madras curry cucumber, it is equally tangy and spicy, and a generous tomato puree adds to the zest. Its non-vegetarian counterpart called kori gassi is made with chicken and is stronger in flavour.
Escorting the kori gassi in the non-vegetarian thali is the familiar Malabar meen curry with its rich coconut milk infusion and mustard tempering. The truly Konkani verieli vengi (stuffed brinjal in tomato and spice gravy) hits your palette with incredible relish, it looks just like the taut gassi but is tender and sweet. The only lentil dish is mixed ussal which is a twist on the traditional dal and made with six different pulses. It glides pleasantly down the throat and leaves you wanting for more.
The exhaustive range of accompaniments has been curated with equal care. The sanna (Goan steamed rice and urad dal cake) goes well with either taut gassi or kori gassi while puli inji (sweet and sour ginger curry) adds a spectacular pungency. The feast ends with a delectable ada pradhaman and neatly brings the entire meal together.