Free Press Journal

Actress, trained chef Tara Deshpande Tennebaum shares lip-smacking delicacies she grew up on


Chicken Shaguti

Actress, trained chef and author, Tara Deshpande Tennebaum shares lip-smacking delicacies that she grew up on

Once every year my entire extended Mumbai family visited Malu Atya in Bandra for lunch. Malu atya was renowned for her Karwari cooking and this was an annual treat we all looked forward to. Lunch turned into tea turned into dinner and invariably we all stayed the night. We slept on sofas, mattresses; even dining tables were converted into beds. The menu at the far bottom of this page will explain why it was not humanly possible to drive home after one of her zabardast fish curries.

India is a vast ocean of seafood curries, so what’s so unique about a curry from Karwar, a sleepy, ramshackle town that most people have never heard of? I will tell you, but first a little bit about Karwar. Karwar, in Uttara Kanara, Karnataka, is a port, two hours drive from Goa on the Konkan coast, once frequented by Arabs, Dutch, Portuguese and British.

The establishment of a nuclear power plant has cut off access to parts of the beach. My last visit was in April 2010, and I am happy to report the water is still blue and the sands of Devgarh Island still golden. Tourism is limited and domestic, unlike Goa. Karwar still has the charm of a hidden gem: quaint streets, sloppy shops and easy-going people. It is an unwritten tradition that a mid-day meal of crusty fried fish and curry is always followed by a siesta.

Karwar has a diverse population; Goud Saraswats like my family, Konkan Marathas who are landowners, a large fishing community of Kharvis and Gabiths, tribals like the Goulis, nomadic herders and the Vokkaliga or Goudas, who fled Portuguese Goa and came to live in Karwar’s foothills. Karwari Christians or Caanarite Christians are Roman Catholics, originally from Goa and Mysore.

A typical Karwari non-vegetarian thali will always have both seafood and chicken or mutton. Many Gaud Saraswat women are vegetarians, but for some inexplicable reason make the most exquisite seafood curries. I think they have got salt water in their veins. Like thalis across India the components remain the same, a few condiments, something deep fried and crispy, small salads, bread, rice, lentils, curries and vegetables followed by yogurt and dessert.

Karwar has languished in the giant culinary shadow of Goa and, while it shares ingredients in common, all fish curries are not alike. And like a Hyderabadi would know a Katcche Gosht ki Biryani by its aroma, a Karwar native would know the difference between a Goan fish curry and one from his hometown too.

Karwari food is cooked in fresh coconut oil. Roasted powdered turmeric gives Karwari curries an ochre tint and smoky flavour, distinct from Goan and Malvan curries. Garlic and ginger is an Indian staple but in Karwari cuisine garlic is absent in many signature dishes like Yellow Pomfret Curry, Rawas Dab-dab, Mackerel Kis-kis and Dodak.

Another technique which, I’m convinced gives Karwari curries an original taste, employs the same ingredients in two different ways, in the same dish. So green chilli and ginger are ground to a paste and also julienned and sautéed separately, then stirred together with coconut milk.

Dry roasting coconut or browning it in oil is a particular Konkan technique. In North Indian cooking, onions are ground and sautéed with garlic, ginger and tomatoes until they release starch, necessary to thicken curries. For Konkan food, onions are lightly sautéed and thickened with coconut and rice flour.

Most masalas are toasted spices ground together with coconut and stirred into coconut milk.

Smoking food in a dhuvan over burning straw or setting hot coals into a prepared dish of food is also a popular Karwari technique. Eggplant, Ramphal and Bhopala are smoked to make bharit, which is tempered with green chillies and served with chilled yogurt and crushed peanuts. Bangda is marinated in a red masala and smoked slowly over coals to make Dodak. Large fried masala oysters are served on the half shell a la Rockerfeller and Solachi Kadi is not drunk as a beverage, but poured over steaming hot Varan bhat. Sasav, a signature mango curry, is made with local Kala Ishad mangoes and eggplants are pickled with powdered fenugreek.



Kande bhajjis (onions fritters) or Clam fritters or Stuffed Goa Chillies

Kakdi chi Koshimbri or Karela Koshimbri or Bangda kismore

Karwari red coconut chutney with onions

BREADS:  Phulkas or chapatis with toop

VEGETABLES AND BEANS: Cauliflower Rassa or Moongache Dab Dab (cauliflower, peas and tomatoes in thin coconut gravy)


Teesri Sukke (clams with coconut)

Paplet Rice Fry

Prawns Rawa Fry

Bangda Dodak


Chicken Xacuti or Shaguti: Chicken or mutton cooked in coconut and cashew gravy

Jhingyachi Amti: prawn curry with turmeric and white rice

Bangda Udid nMethi Rawas Dab Dab


Varan: Toor dal, macerated with cumin,

Dahi Bhaat (curd rice) with papads, Solachi kadi (thin coconut milk with kokum)

Ambe-Mohar rice

DESSERT: Vermicelli Kheer and Kopra Vadi

(coconut candy)

Excerpted from A Sense for Spice: Recipes and Stories from a Konkan Kitchen (Westland)


This is a unique curry prepared by the Saraswats of Goa and Karwar. Its unusual flavor comes from a combination of black gram and dried fenugreek seeds that pair beautifully with the dark meaty, mildly bitter Indian mackerel.The vegan version is the Sour Mango Udid Methi, which is also delicious and made for occasions when non vegetarian food is not permitted like a high holiday. You will find the recipe here…nd-coconut-curry/

This recipes call for whole fish but if you are not comfortable with deboning a fish on your plate use thick filets of a meaty fish like halibut or swordfish. Mackerel however, has a unique flavour. Bandga traditionally in Indian cooking is cooked whole except when it is sometimes flaked to make a dish like Kismore.

Serves 4

4 whole mackerel, cleaned

1 tsp Turmeric Powder

1 tbsp lime or Lemon Juice

1 tsp Red Chili Powder or cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon kitchen salt

8 Dried Red Chilies such as Bedgi or Kashmiri, stalks and seeds removed

¾ Cup shredded fresh or defrosted, unsweetened coconut

180 gms white onions finely sliced

1 tsp Urad Dal or split black gram

½ tsp dried fenugreek seeds (Methi)

1 tsp medium grain white rice, rinsed

2 tsp whole Coriander Seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp Black Peppercorns

1-2 tsp tamarind concentrate

1/2 tsp jaggery if required

vegetable oil

chopped cilantro or fresh coriander to garnish


To marinate the fish

Rub turmeric, red Chili powder, salt and lime juice over the 4 pieces of fish. Cover and refrigerate.

For the spice paste

Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a pan on medium heat. Add dried red chilies, black gram, cumin, coriander, black peppercorns, rice and fenugreek seeds and toast 3-4 minutes until fragrant. Remove from the pan and reserve.

In the same skillet add 1 tbsp oil and toast the coconut and onions 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Cook until the coconut begins to dry and turn a light golden brown.

Cool all the roasted ingredients and grind to a smooth paste thats free of any fibre or lumps.

Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in the skillet. Add remaining Onions and green chilli and saute until just softened. Do not brown.

Add the ground paste, turmeric and stir well. Add 2 cups of water and tamarind concentrate and cook for 5 minutes on a slow flame. Add the fish and continue to cook until fish is cooked through. This is a whole fish so it takes longer to cook than filets. If the fish is not immersed in gravy you may have to turn it over to ensure its cooked through.

Adjust salt, jaggery, red chilli powder and more tamarind concentrate to suit your taste. This curry is mildly spicy, sour and bitter with a hint of sweetness that should come from the coconut but if it isnt enough add a little jaggery.

Serve hot with boiled white rice and wedges of lime. Garnish with fresh coriander. The vegan version with sour mango is not garnished with coriander leaves and is always served with Basmati. You can use any medium-grain white rice for the seafood version.


This chutney with raw onion garnish is served with everything from thalipeeth, puri bhaji to dosas and poles.

Makes about ¾ cup


4 long dried red Byadgi or Kashmiri chillies, stalks and seeds removed

1 cup grated fresh; or frozen, defrosted, unsweetened coconut

½ tsp salt

1½ tsp tamarind paste


1 tbsp very finely chopped red onion


Toast the red chillies in a dry pan for 2-3 minutes on low heat.

Cool and grind to make a fine powder that feels smooth between your fingers. Do not add water.

Add the remaining ingredients, except the garnish, and grind again to a fine consistency.

Adjust for salt.

Garnish with chopped onion.