Mumbai, the city of dreams! A city that is now a home to millions of dreamers, across India, ,across the world...Such is the grace and reputation of Mumbai as being one of the most modern,multicultural,developed city of the country, that it gets difficult to relate a particular tribe of origin to it. Unlike cities like Delhi, Lucknow or for that matter Hyderabad, which has a predominant mughal-nizami influence and history, Mumbai seems to have the colonial rulers in its fartest history. So when it comes to tracing back the origin inhabitants of the city, it comes down to Kolis or the fisherfolks , most common along the western coast. But ,then there is also a community SKP-Somvanshi Kshitriya Prabhu that holds its roots to this ISland city. SKP is further divided into Pathare Prabhu, which is still very much commonly known to everyone. They are the ones mostly residing in town. Another SKP is Pachkalshi community, also known as Vadvaals, most of them are from the southern coast of mumbai, the present day suburbs Andheri -Borivali, Vasai Virar uptill Bordi-Dahanu. I 'm a proud Vadvaali by birth, and take immense pride in sharing the lesser known aspects of our Culture, Festivities and Food. Whereas we might share the prefix of our community with the Pathare Prabhus, there are a lot of aspects in Pachkalshi culture that makes it unique.
Tracing the roots, Pachkalshi is an ethnic tribe that migrated to Mumbai in 13th century AD with Raja Bhimdev( source Wikipedia) Being a coastal tribe, seafood,rice and Coconuts form our staple. However, unlike Goan cuisine, Vadvaali Cuisine has fewer colonial influences. The recipes are very simple, yet rustic, making use of local ingredients and flavors. I remember our fish curries called Kalwan to be very light, with a dash of watan or a thick paste made with green chillies, ginger and garlic in a tamarind base, with chunks of onions,tomatoes or seasonal vegetables added for extra taste and volume. Sesonal vegetables like brinjals, drumsticks,Turnips found their way into seafood prepaarations. If your seafood vocabullary is limited to Pomfret,Prawns or Kingfish, here you ll discover an encyclopedia of fish types and preparations. Bombil or bombay duck is relished in fresh and dried form as well. Smaller fishes like Mandeli, Modaka were reserved for lighter weekday dinners(yes, we vadvaalis never miss any non veg eating day, wednesdays and fridays, apart from sundays) And if any religious festivity falls on that particular day, I remember the annoying faces of my Dad and Grandmom! Rawas (indian Salmon) and Surmai are always brought whole, never in per piece or slice. Prawns has many avatars for us. No we arent just talking about the Tiger prawns etc.. We have the fresh prawns for a fry or curry, a baby prawn called Jawala for a dry preparation, Karandi or a smaller prawn, for rice called Kolambi chi khichdi and extra tiny prawns that are made into a preserve spread called Kolimb , and yes a luscious prawn pickle saves the day for a true Vadvaali if there's no fresh catch in the market. Sukat and Sode are a form of dried cured prawns, that form dry preparations as well as curries. Shell fish are particular favorites..Tisrya or mussels are relished in curries as well as as pakoras or fritters. And when it comes to Crabs, every seafood loving Vadvaali sits for a leisure meal and casually cracks open the claws and devour it to the last bit. Fish is never bought by weight,it's always by portions or vatta...or if buying in bulk in wholesale, it is bought by paati or an entire spread that the fisher woman has laid out on a flat wooden surface called paati. Wholesale markets at Malad and others at Gorai,Bhayander mira rd or Satpaati towards the north end of vasai virar are our hotspots to get fresh seafood, or else we have our own favorite and trusted Maushi, who brings fresh seafood straight to our doorstep. Amongst larger fish, we have what is called Khara or Ghol, where portions of a large fish is bought and cooked in a curry or simply salted and roasted wrapped in banana leaves.
Meat,poultry and eggs are made into more or less a similar curry of onions ginger garlic and cocnut. We prefer free range chicken or desi chicken to the regular broiler ones. I remmber my Mom saying, the flavour is all in the bones. The chicken isnt very meaty, but if you have grown up eating free range chicken, you can make out the difference in the flavour and meat texture. chapatis and rice ghawan(crisp rice dosa lik pancakes) and rice bhakris are very common accompanyments with the curries One type of rice bhakris are made with rice flour wrapped in between banana leaves and roasted on tawa.. For richer curries,kombdi wade are a must. they are mixed flour pooris, fried crisp and served hot. my Mom has a special recipe for chicken thts spot on during ilnesses esp. cold and cough and a post delivery staple. Desi chicken is marinated in a generous portion of ginger garlic paste and fried in ghee. Seasoned with turmeric,cumin and Pepper. The taste is magical. If accompanied with rice bhakris, it ll be the best comfort food ever.
On the Vegeterian aspect, we make a feast out of seasonal produce. A Bathoni is a regular treat in summers, the mango season. Bathoni is a sweet and tangy curry made with ripe local mangoes. With first showers of monsoons, arrive a spacil nutritious vegetable called shewale. The preparation of this vegetable calls for experience and care, in cleaning and cooking. One mistake and you ll have an itchy throat al night. The holy month of Shrawan brings in Kantavli, a spiky green fruit like vegetable, thats deicious and high on nutrition too. Regular fresh vegetables are prepared with simple basic spices, sometimes laced with jaggery or fresh grated coconut. We love adding sprouts or soaked pulses to our fresh vegetables. Soaked chana dal is most commonin dry vegetables, whereas soaked peanuts or sprouted Val or beans are a regular in curries.
Most of our festivities are common to Maharashtrian rituals and customs. Some food customs are overlapping with Gujarati customs, due to close proximity.eg. On sankranti, Ukad Handi is made , that has striking similaarity with Undhiyu. In case oof ukad Handi(literally meaning Boiled Pot) all the seasonal vegetaables likw brinjals,potatoes,Suran,beans,raw bananas etc, are marinated in spices and pastes and filled in earthen pots, sealed and placed in a campfire like arrangement. The vegetables cook in their own juices and acquire a lovely smoky and earthy aroma. The result is a wholesome meal you just cant stop eating.
The month of Shrawaan and the festivities that follow, brings out some of the unique customs in vadvaali comunity. Pithori devi pooja is celebrated on the last day of shrawaan, also known as Pola. In my home, Balsam or terda plant, that mostly grows by itself after mosoon showers is brought home, draped in saree and jewels and flowers and worshipped by women ,precisely mothers for blessing their children with a long healthy life. A special khher is made with atta or peeth dumplings.Small portions of whole wheat dough are boiled in boiling water, then cooked in jaggery and ground fresh coconut. Pithori maa is offered this kheer and meals, including breakfast tea till the next day, when the terda Idol is taken to each room of the house and then taken for Visarjaan.
Ganpati is one festival thats celebrated across maharashtra and India with equal zest. Traditional Ukadiche Modak ,are offered to Ganpati Bappa , along with complete meals. Visiting guests are mostly served the Prasad Modak and Alu wadi or patra (a snack made with layered colocassia leaves rolled and steamed, sometimes cut and fried crisp) Gauri maa, lord ganesha's mother arrives soon after. similar to Pithori devi, Godess Gauri idol is also made with terda plant, with a bust of goddess face and draped with jewels and saree and garlands. Goddess Gauri is worshipped till the 5th day of Ganpati festival. Unique aspect of offering is the presence of fish on the meal along with a small cup of alchohol. Godess is treated as a family member, and offered tea, breakfast and meals before it is served to the rest of the family. Foot prints symbolising entry of goddess gauri in each corner of home are made mixing lime or chuna or rice flour and vermilion. On the last day, Goddess Gauri is taken to every corner of the house before she bids a goodbye.
Vadvaali cuisine may not boast of a secret masala or spice, but it stays true to its roots, true to its base flavors. every season brings in fresh flavor and a traditional recipe best suited for the produce. And we never run out of our fish supply. if not fresh , we still have a stock of dry cured Bombil or prawns thats replenished every summer. So the next time you come across a vadvaali, make sure you get yourself invited for a wholesome seafood meal!