In this episode of our Mumbai street food tour, we take a coveted deviation from our street food sojourn in the Megapolis in order to catalog and present to you the modest and distinctive cuisine of the Kolis, a native fishing community in Mumbai who were the first inhabitants of the city. This sea-faring community is known for its industrious and fun-loving way of life.
The Kolis live in close-knit settlements called the Koliwadas, which are spread across Mumbai’s coastline. Apparently, there are twenty-seven such settlements that exist today. The community is easily distinguishable from their distinctive attire and idiosyncrasies.
Koli food is as simple and straightforward as the Koli people's. For the most part of the year, their meals are centered on fresh catch from the sea.
Their signature food style is rustic and underexplored. Hence if you ever feel intrigued by their cuisine and intend to experience its nuances, the best place to head to is an amazingly hospitable Koli household.
Our quest to experience a slice of their life through their cuisine leads us to the delightful company of a home chef and fisherwoman, Harsha, who lives at the Versova Koliwada, in the north-western part of Mumbai. The next few hours were completely engrossing and satiating.
Harsha prepared us a magnificent Koli spread right from the scratch. The menu included a Lobster curry, Pomfret curry or the Paan Kanji (or Kanchi), Prawn fritters or the Soode fry, Pan-Fried Mackerel, or Bangda, Rice Bhakris or Rotis and Sol Kadhi. It was an enriching and gratifying experience. The conversations gave rich insights into the culinary and cultural traditions of the community. Not only did we learn new recipes but we also picked up some interesting snippets about the Koli cuisines e.g.
a. The Koli masala is an indispensable ingredient that rules almost all their seafood dishes.
b. The use of coconut is sparse and it is primarily for foods that need to be cooked with their shells intact.
c. Rice and fresh seafood are staples.
d. There is a generous use of garlic and fresh coriander in most of the Koli dishes.
We started with the Soode fry and the Pan Fried Mackerel. The former one was delicious, crunchy, and spicy. After the starters, we moved on to the main course where there were two types of curries- the Paan Kanji (Pomfret Curry) and the Lobster curry and rice bhakris (or rotis made with rice flour kneaded with hot water).
Paan kanji or Kanchi is a tangy, broth-like, easy-to-make Pomfret curry that has no Koli masala in it. It’s just kokum, fresh coriander, garlic, and chili pastes that give this dish such a subtle flavor. This light curry is enjoyed for its simplicity, healing, and health-giving properties.
The Lobster gravy was rich due to the addition of coconut milk and amazingly aromatic due to both the Koli masala and fresh lobster. It tasted outstanding with the rice bhakris.
We ended our meal with the Sol Kadhi which is a refreshing drink made with coconut milk, green chilies, and kokum that imparts a pinkish hue to it. With the four major flavors combined in perfect unison, Sol Kadhi is highly beneficial for enhancing digestion.
The Koli women folks are an extremely hardworking and enterprising tribe. With the men folks out for fishing it’s these courageous ladies who handle the trade and also their domestic responsibilities with conviction and perspicacity. We salute their indomitable spirit as living in such a rugged situation is not at all a cakewalk.
After the meal we went to the Versova dock to experience the activities and the buzz. As the trawlers were being unloaded, the women got busy getting the marketplace ready for the trade. In no time the place became clamorous with all the bargaining and stuffs.
We are immensely grateful to our amazing host Harsha.