Home. Food. Family.
These are the ties that bind.
I was perhaps a toddler on my first trip to Goa. The next time I visited the state was two decades later when I interned at the International Film Festival of India (Entertainment Society of Goa). This was when I encountered the true cuisine of the south west coast of India, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Since then, I’ve tried many times, looked for it in all sorts of places but haven’t really tasted authentic south west coastal Indian food in Delhi. That was until four days ago, when on the 23rd of September I stepped into Varq at the Taj Mansingh, New Delhi for a taste of the Karavalli Restaurant (Gateway hotel, Bengaluru) pop up. Each bite was a delicious trip down memory lane, and if this is true for me, it will be even more so for the expats from the coast in Delhi.
Referring to the generational shift, lifestyles and attitudes that have changed, today there are many who don’t know how to cook/ recreate the flavours they grew up with in their own homes. And even among those who do know how to cook, there are constraints on time that do not allow us to indulge in our favourites. This is where Karavalli comes in.
These are truly recipes from the homes of the coastal communities of Goa, Karnataka, and Kerela- and in a sense, they capture the traditions and the cultures of the south west coast of India better and in richer detail than perhaps any book you may read. Why? Because you will not find these recipes in any cook book, or TV show. The communities whose recipes are covered in the Karavalli menu include the Mangalorean Bunts, the Konkanis, the Kodavas from Coorg, the Malayalees, the Calicut Muslims, the Syrian Christians of Travancore, the Havyaka Brahmins of Vitla and the Portuguese of Goa.
Headed by Chef Naren Thimmaiah, the Chef’s at Karavilli have done thorough research in the field. They have literally gone to the homes of the coastal communities of the south west, and have researched the recipes directly from their kitchens. The ingredients are local, right down to the variety of chillies used, the raw mango (which grows in abundance in Karnataka), the local tamarind variants (and not the Indonesian variants which are so sweet that they may as well be candy) and the Kokum.
Vegetarians need not fret. Of the 80 odd dishes that constitute Karavalli’s menu, roughly half are vegetarian- and these are truly different dishes that challenge your notion of standard vegetarian fare. Also note that menu includes a section on comfort food. We’ve all had days when we’ve felt absolutely dreadful, and in those moments, in most cases, it is simple, humble home food that uplifts our spirits.
So what’s good? In one word- everything.
In starters, sea food lovers absolutely cannot afford to miss out on the Prawns Roast (Prawns tossed in Kerela Spice plus tomatoes, ginger, green chilli, coconut slivers, and lemon juice), and the Meen Eleittad ( Black Pomfret marinated in Malabar Masala, wrapped in Banana Leaf and pan fried). Another must have is the the Koli Barthad (Pan fried chicken in a blend of roasted spices and the tart flavor of Coorg Vinegar). But while you wait, for the starters, don’t miss out on the papads and chutneys. I particularly liked the red coconut chutney. It was tangy, tart, and spicy but not overly so, all in one go.
In the main course, you absolutely CANNOT miss out on The Allapuzha Meen Curry (seer fish simmered in moderately spiced gravy of fresh ground coconut, ginger and raw mango). You would never guess that the souring agent is raw mango, and the taste was so good, the blend so absolutely harmonious and so delicious that it has dethroned the Kori Gassi from the top of my list of favourite dishes. The Kori Gassi (Chicken cooked with finely fresh ground Byadgi Chillies, coriander and tamarind) came in a very close second.
For the vegetarians, there is plenty, but the dish that stood out and cannot be missed out on is the Maavinkai Mensukkai (chunks of brine preserved mango cooked in a blend of chillies, and coconut – from the Havyakas of the Mangalore region). This dish is truly unique. I haven’t tasted it any where else. Sweet, tart, tangy, all rolled into one. If you want to be pleasantly surprised and challenge your notions on the versatility of the Mango, this dish is a must try. You may well find the non vegetarians polishing it off before the vegetarians get a chance to try it!
All main course dishes are typically accompanied by neer dosa, sannas, malabar paranthas and appams.
You will not be disappointed in the desserts section either. Years ago on my last trip to Goa, I had been encouraged by colleagues (local Goans) to try Bebinca. At the time, I had not been convinced that a combination of flour, sugar, coconut milk and eggs could yield a delicious dessert, and my northern pride pledged allegiance to the Gulab Jamun. Thus, I tasted Bebinca for the first time in my life on the 23rd of September 2019- and it didn’t disappoint. It hasn’t quite dethroned the Gulab Jamun as my favourite- but it has smashed a lot of preconceived notions on flavours, and opened my eyes to what I’ve missed out on. Apart from being well made, the hint of nutmeg and cinnamon (?) lifted the profile of the flavours a notch higher. The next time I come across it, I will certainly help myself to first, seconds, and if space permits, more.
Equally interesting is the Dodol- a rice cake cooked gently in coconut milk and jaggery. This was unique and another first. It is dark in colour, and tastes a lot like caramelized jaggery. I personally liked the caramel taste of it but it may not be a universal favourite. The Ada Pradhaman is also really delicious. Sweet, warm, and in my opinion comfort food that would taste great on a rainy winter day. The cashew nut garnish took the dish a notch up and made for a great finishing touch.
Thus concludes my Karavalli experience. But your chance to experience it has just begun.
The pop up of Karavalli at Varq, Taj Mansingh is on till the 28th of September 2019.
Price : INR 5000 plus taxes, Lunch : 12:30 PM to 2:45 PM, Dinner : 7:00 PM to 11:45 PM
Don’t miss it, it’s a great opportunity to build new memories with friends and loved ones.