Oct 21, 2017 | 8 Mins
Bookmark this blog
Each time I introduce myself as “a Konkani/Amchi”, the responses have varied from “oh you’re from Goa” to “okay, you’re from the Konkan coast” to “is that a synonym for Maharashtrian?”.
Well… all guesses fail and I start at the very beginning. So let me start at the very beginning here too!
We “Amchis/Chitrapur Saraswats/Konkanis” are a small community (just around 25,000 globally) with a distinct cuisine and customs and traditions. And of course, the Konkani we speak is very different from the Goan and Sawantwadi/Konkan coast and yet a dialet of Konkani.
Chitrapur Saraswats Brahmins are believed to have migrated from Kashmir some centuries ago and settled on the banks of the river Saraswati. Drying up of the river forced them to move to greener pastures. Some moved to Bengal, others to Punjab while the majority to the south. They first moved to
Goa and laid their deity deep in the jungles and away from the prying eyes of invaders. To this day, our ‘Kuldevatas’ (Community Gods) are in Goa — Lord Mangeshi, Goddess Shantadurga, Goddess Mahalaxmi and a few others. However, the advent of the Portugese and the forced conversions made the Saraswats move to the south of Goa in the Coastal belt of the Kanaras from Karwar to Mangalore and where they have predominantly resided.
The “Chitrapur” comes from the Mutth (Ashram) at Chitrapur, near Shirali. We follow a Guru Parampara tradition and the Chitrapur Mutth is our headquarters. This group considered itself superior in intellect and formed a sub-sect called Chitrapur Saraswats or Bhanaps. And have a host of intellectuals and artistic individuals including some very famous personalities. Just like the Parsis, our numbers are dwindling due to multiple reasons. And there is an urgent need to document and create awareness of the community before our customs and traditions become extinct. Our language Konkani, is unique and derived from Prakrits. We refer to it as “amchigele” meaning ‘our own’. Our surnames are typically the villages names.
Having lived on the Kanara Coast for a few centuries now, we have an abundance of coconut in our cuisine. While a few preparations such as our signature preparation, the Batatya Saung use coconut oil, others use coconut with all the fibre. We are among the few Brahmins who are “allowed” to eat fish!
However, with changing times, the younger generation has adopted to eating other non-vegetarian foods too. The menus are essentially rice based with varied preparations with dals and legumes and of course vegetables. The preparations are so many and varied that it is easy to do 3–4 week cyclic menu with just the vegetarian foods. Most of the food preparations are healthy with the occasional addition of fried foods. A majority of our preparations are made with minimal oil and steam cooked/boiled.
As a community, we are quite thrifty particularly when it comes to using foods. Among vegetables, for example, rarely is any part of the vegetable really discarded. Seeds and skin of ridge and snake gourd (turai/padwal) are used for making chutneys as also the skin of raw, green bananas. Being in Karnataka and South India, our cuisine has been influenced by that of other states. From a nutritional perspective, I believe our menus are among the healthiest if one makes a judicious selection of the foods and controls
the portion sizes. And we have seasonal menus too apart from festival menus.
We are spoilt for choice as far as the breakfast menus are concerned too. At least 10 different preparations each with rice flakes (Poha) and as many varieties of Dosas ensures that there’s never the same breakfast for a few weeks!
The biggest festivals for us are Gowri Puja and Ganesh Chaturthi and it is celebrated with even greater fervor than Diwali. Most Bhanaps bring home an earthern Ganesha idol (it is the environment friendly ones these days) to worship. Needless to add, we have an elaborate but relatively fixed menu to follow.
And all of this is offered to Lord Ganesha as ‘naivedya’. In addition to the menu for the day, our preparations start a few days earlier with preparing the snacks such as modaks, nevris (similar to karanjis but the stuffing is different), coconut laddoos, Chaklis (only milk is used to bind the dough), etc.
I have grown up listening to stories of how huge containers used to be filled with these and other snacks for Ganesh Chaturthi and the elders would have a hard time keeping it away from the kids as all had to be offered to Lord Ganesha as naivedya first. Dwindling families and expanding waistlines have curtailed the number of these snacks but thankfully the enthusiasm persists! And on Ganesh Chaturthi, it’s a long wait till we can feast as the elaborate puja can take a few hours!
We bring a Lord Ganesha idol home and I do try and make all the traditional snacks and menu. Two of the unique preparations are simple, nutritious and yet so delicious that my husband always takes it to share it in his office. And inspite of sending one kg of the Prasad, his Executive Assistant always gets requests to convey to the boss to get more! And almost every year I have made it all over again! This Prasad is called, “Panchakdai” referring to the five ingredients that are used namely roasted gram dal,
til, dry coconut, sugar and cardamom powder. The other panchakdai is made with fresh coconut, jaggery, roasted gram dal, til and cardamom powder.
Before we celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi, we celebrate “Gowri puja” which is worshipping Goddess Parvati. This is very different from the Hartalika Gowri that is celebrated by Maharashtrian women. We keep a silver or earthern idol of Gowri and perform “Vayana puja”. An important part of this puja includes decorating coconuts with colored chalk. The coconuts are first cleaned by removing all the fibrous portion. However, a small portion is retained. The coconuts are then washed in turmeric water. The two ‘eyes’ of the coconut are smeared with Kajal and the third with Kumkum. They are then made as colorful and pretty as possible. Every married woman makes five such coconuts while unmarried girls make only two and along with a colored thread called ‘vayana dori’, is offered to the Goddess. After the puja and naivedya, these coconuts are given to older married women along with flowers and ‘Haldi- Kumkum’ as ‘Vayana’. The highlight of the menu is the ‘Patholyos’. This consists of a thin wheat flour paste smeared on Turmeric leaves. In the centre is added a coconut-jaggery filling, the leaf is folded and steamed. On cooling, the leaf is opened and the patholyos served with a dollop of ghee.
Trust this write-up entices you to understand more about the Bhanaps and our cuisine!
If this variety and spread doesn’t entice you into trying this cuisine…..nothing else will!
If you are wondering where you can find this Ganpati special thali, Hemangini is hosting a meal at her home in Gurgaon. You can check out the following link for complete details and bookings: https://www.authenticook.com/meal/celebrating-ganpati-in-gurgaon/169/
Written by Hemangini Hoskote for Authenticook
About Hemangini : Hemangini is a host with Authenticook and a consulting nutritionist by profession, Hemangini loves cooking and hosting people at her home. Residing in Gurgaon for the past 7 years, Hemagini and her family are eagerly awaiting to host people over authentic vegetarian Maharashtrian and Konkani meals.
“You have to taste a culture to understand it” — Deborah Cater No journey is ev...