Saraswat cuisine is one of the cuisines prominent in the Konkan region of India situated along the western coast of the country. It is traditionally the cuisine of the Saraswat Brahmins who are considered to have originated from the Brahmins who lived on the banks of the now-extinct river Saraswati of upper Punjab or Kashmir. They derived their name from either the river Saraswati or from their spiritual leader, the sage Saraswat Muni (sage) who lived on the banks of Saraswati. Saraswat cuisine is different from the sub-Saraswat Brahmin sects and region. The roots of this cuisine can be traced back to Goa, India. There are a few variations in this cuisine spread across the western coast of India but the basic characteristics of this cuisine remain same. Goan Saraswat cuisine is well-known throughout the Konkan region. The variations in this cuisine are dependent on the availability of ingredients like fruits and vegetables in the region and that provides each variation a distinct flavor. The main feature of this cuisine is that it is mild in taste and avoids strong flavors. Saraswat cuisine is primarily pesco-vegetarian while in some sections it is strictly vegetarian.
Though the flavors of this cuisine are gentle in nature it does not indicate that the cuisine lacks in taste in any manner. In fact this traditional cuisine carries great taste in the dishes. The Saraswat cuisine is influenced by the cuisine of South India in a huge manner. The dishes of this cuisine use a lot of coconut, tamarind and curry leaves in cooking. The medium of cooking is the coconut oil. It carries traces or influence of the Malvani or Konkani cuisine. It also features similarities to the Udupi or Mangalorean cuisine. It differs from the Goan Catholic cuisine in being less spicy and having scarce influence of the Portuguese cuisine. Hooman ani Xit (fish curry with parboiled rice) is the staple diet of the Saraswat Brahmins residing in Goa. The consumption of Indian breads like puri, roti and paratha are common among the community of Saraswat Brahmins residing in Maharashtra. The Satvik Brahmin, a sub sect of the Saraswat Brahmins, follows a cuisine which is similar to the Jain cuisine. The specialties of this cuisine is that it is strictly vegetarian and does not use vegetables that grow underground, like onions, potatoes, garlic, etc. The vegetarian food of the Satvik Brahmins is called savalem ranapp (devoid of onion and garlic) and is prepared by the Bhats or priests belonging to the Orthodox Goud Saraswat Brahmins and Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins. This diet is followed by most of the people of Konkan region on religious festivals and holy occasions. There is a tradition of Saraswat Brahmins eating strict vegetarian food on Mondays. This is mainly true in case of the Brahmins whose kuladaivata or family deity is Manguesh, Naguesh or any other incarnation of the Hindu god, Shiva.
Some of the popular dishes of this vegetarian cuisine are as follows: Khatkhatem is a vegetable stew prepared with at least six kinds of vegetables. Bhaji or Shaak is a preparation cooked with different vegetables and fruits. Usal is the name of a dish of pulses with a thin gravy. Misal is another popular dish. Misal is basically Usal topped with fried snacks. Tondak is cooked with beans and cashew nuts. Ross is a coconut based dish. Hoomans are the name given to various kinds of curries. Karams are vegetable salads. Indian pickles are popular in this cuisine and is known as Lonche. Papadums or padas are also savored by the people with delight. This cuisine, like most other cuisines of India, has a tradition of snacks. The popular snack items include Moongacho gathi or curried green gram. Botatyache patal bhaaji or potato curry is another popular snack dish of the region. Tur dal ross or split pigeon curry is also like by the people of this region.
Chitrapur Saraswat Cuisine
This cuisine is famous for its unique recipes and the way these recipes have been guarded by the natives of the community. The recipes are generally handed down generation wise from mother to daughter or daughter-in-law and are rarely shared with anyone from outside the community. The dishes mainly comprises of curries and vegetables cooked with fresh coconut gratings or made from beans, sprouts, pulses (dals) garnished with coconut gratings. Popular dishes of the Chitrapur Saraswat cuisine are Batata Song (which is a dish cooked with potatoes, tamarind, onions, garlic, chili powder and turmeric), Kairus (which is a dish made from capsicum, potatoes, tamarind, peanuts, cashews, ground coconut and spices), sukke (a dish comprising of a variety of vegetables like potatoes, peas, cauliflowers, okra, ground cocfonut and spices) and Apinmedi (which is a pickle prepared with certain particular variety of raw mangoes).
The Saraswat cuisine has a lot of variations among the various sects of people who follow the cuisine. A lot of Saraswat Brahmins are pesco-vegetarians. Pesco-vegetarian is the diet that includes seafood but not the flesh of other animals. A pescetarian diet is quite similar to a vegetarian diet except for the fact that it includes fish and shellfish in the diet along with vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, beans, eggs and dairy products. The legend prevalent behind the Saraswat cuisine being pesco-vegetarian is that at the time of the drying up of the Saraswati river, the Saraswats did not know how to farm the land and so were allowed to eat sea food or fish for survival. Fish was referred to as Sea vegetable. For instance, Oysters are sometimes called samudra phalam, which means sea fruit. The fishes common in this variation of the cuisine are mackerel, pomfret, salmon, prawns and crabs. The cuisine revolves around seafood, coconut and cashew nuts as these items are found abundantly in the coastal areas. The curries are dry and gravy based as well. Chilly powder is used to impart the red color to the dishes. Other common spices used in the cuisine include fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, etc. The dishes are cooked using very little oil.
A typical breakfast in according to the Saraswat cuisine includes Pez (congee) of Ukdem Tandhul (par-boiled rice) and Lonche (pickles) accompanied by papadums (papads). The affluent families would have Dosa, Idli (in the southern parts of Karnatak and other parts of South India) or Sannas (in Goa), along with a tasty dish of chutney and sambar each. Shevaiyn phann or Phow (Gooda Phow or Meet Mirsange Phow) are other common breakfast specialities. Rotis and bhakries also are types of bread eaten along with Tondak or seasoned batata bhaji (dish consisting of potato stir fry). Lunch and dinner would have Daat Dali Toi and rice (Xit pronounced sheeth) in Dorke’s home whereas Bhanaps would prefer Ambat with their rice for Kalvani. A typical Saraswat lunch would comprise of Sheeth, Roass or Varann. For non-vegetarian fare it would be Hoomann, Bhaji, Tondak, Lonche, Papad, and Toi or Kadhi. Kadhi is made to serve the dual purpose of Mukhashuddhhi (mouth purification, perhaps after all the relatively spicy stuff) and jeervonn (digestive Kadhis include asafoetida, Vomvom, cumin, fennel seed). Sometimes the Kadhis are seasoned simply with Karivel and Sanswam (mustard seeds). Typically, this is a watery preparation which the person having lunch holds in his hand as it is poured onto his plate and drinks it before mixing a little amount of his rice with it to eat at the end of the meal. The most preferred and relished Kadhi amongst the Konkani Saraswat Brahmins is the Kokumachi Kadhi or Konkam Kadhi. Kokum is a fruit found exclusively in the western Konkan coast of India and is a speciality to every Saraswat cuisine. Normally it is often said that no meal is complete without Kokum Khadhi.