Think of coastal cuisine, think of sea food; but interestingly the sea side menus in India are not devoid of vegetarian dishes and also have some rather interesting sweet dishes to conclude the spicy meals.
While it is only natural for one to relate coastal cuisine with prawn curries and fish fries, there are a whole lot of vegetarian dishes and snacks enjoyed in the coastal states of India. The western state of Gujarat is known for its primarily vegetarian cuisine. While it has a variety of namkeen (crispy, salty snacks) and finger foods like dabeli defining the daily meals of people, idli and sambar (rice cakes and lentil stew) are a staple in south Indian states, which boast of sea food as well. Vada pav (bread stuffed with potato balls) is the spine of street food in Mumbai and there is a vegetarian version of xacuti (curried dish with chunks of chicken) in Goa. There is also a plethora of sweets along the more than 7,500 km coastal line of India, giving sugary edges to this spicy journey. So, the food journey along with the Indian coast is indeed an eclectic mix of sea food, spices, and sweets.
One might find cuisine from Odisha to be similar to that of its neighbouring states. Rice is the staple enjoyed with variety of vegetables, making the daily diet of the locals primarily vegetarian. The state is deeply religious, particularly because of it being the location of the much revered Jagannath temple in its city of Puri. This is one fact that explains the extreme vegetarianism, despite the state being coastal. There is however, a significant proportion of population that relishes fish and other sea food delicacies like prawns, crabs and lobsters. Yams, brinjals and pumpkins are enjoyed liberally. Cooked with little or absolutely no oil, Oriya food has a less calorific value. People here are very fond of curd, coconut milk, as well as sweets. A popular item are the pithas, which are small cakes of both sweet and savoury variety. Chhenapoda pitha, the caramelised custard-like dessert is also very popular not only with the locals but with the tourists also. While in the state, one must try the traditional mahaprasad (Abadha thali) or the sacred food offered as to Lord Jagannath. The temple has the world’s largest kitchen with 400 cooks and 200 hearths that feed 10,000 people daily. The Puri beach not only has the fresh fish from sea being fried in spices and served hot to the tourists, it also has a lot of traditional sweets on offer like ukhuda, rasabali and the famous gaja which is bought back by people in huge amount as the prasad (food offerings) from Puri!
A Bengali meal is a perfect blend of sweet and spicy flavours and of course many dishes of rice and fish. With so many beach destinations in West Bengal like Digha, Mandarmani, Tajpur and Bakkhali, seafood and fish delicacies are abundant. With fresh fish such as pomfret, ilish (hilsa), parshe, rohu, bhetki (barramundi) and tiger prawns from the sea, they are served on the seaside sautéed with spices. While you can also get your fill of coconut water at the sea-shores, you can try the daab-chingri, prawn curry cooked and served in green coconut. You can also try the various preparations of sea crabs too. The places also serve typical Bengali food, snacks and sweets at the shacks and restaurants lining the shore.
The huge state that Maharashtra is, it features different dishes in its various cities. Although there are some dishes that are common across the state, their preparation varies. While a dish may be mildly spiced in cities, it will be rather hot in the rural areas. So, while staples like kanda poha (rice flakes with onion), sabudana vada (a type of fritter) and sweets like aamras (mango juice) and sheera (semolina sweet), remain common across the state, their preparations may vary. Another Maharastrian flavour to try is the refreshing mattha, which is just like the Punjabi buttermilk but a tad bit spicy and is a traditional drink. Maharashtrian food is known for the use of local spices such as the malvani masala, goda masala, and kala masala, which add the extra kick. The coastal parts of Maharashtra have a wide variety of seafood preparations on offer for the taste buds. For the authentic taste of the Malvani cuisine (a town in the Sindhudurg district on west coast), people may try the bangda fry (fried mackerel) and kolambi (prawn curry). The city of Mumbai known for its street food variants will leave you spoilt for choices- vada pav (bread stuffed with potato balls), sev puri (a biscuit topped with onion, tomato and chutney), pav bhaji (a mashed preparation of vegetables served with buttered bread), ragda puri (crispy balls made of wheat or semolina stuffed with boiled, hot chickpeas or ragda), and bhel puri (mix of puffed rice, mild spices, coriander, and chutneys (sauces) tossed with diced tomatoes, onions and lemon juice) among some other snacks. The popular non-veg dishes include kolambi bhaat (prawns and rice), varhadi chicken (a spicy dish traditionally made in a clay pot), vajadi (a mutton dish), karwari (a mutton preparation).
Food from Goa boasts of a Portuguese influence, left by its former colonisers. It has many a preparation of fish- both dry and curry, which are served as starters and main course. A typical Goan platter consists of steamed rice, kismur (salad made with fresh grated coconut and pan fried prawns), poi (local bread), which are relished along with sol kadi (kokum coconut milk drink). Some signature dishes also include kokum juice (made from the fruit of kokum plant), xacuti (curry with vegetables or chicken) and preparations of king fish, pomfret, mackerel, shellfish, tiger prawns, lobsters, squids, etc. Prawn curry or fish curry with rice, called humann also known as ambot are particularly famous dishes among both locals and tourists. Fish udid methi, which is another curry based dish of fenugreek and mackerel is also heartily relished. With an interesting blend of the mild and mellow along with the hot, Goan cuisine is a derivative of the state’s varied culture with influences from its Hindu origins, Portuguese colonialism and Catholic culture. The peri-peri chilli is the most important part of Goan spices. It is one of the ingredients the Portuguese colonisers had introduced here along with potatoes, tomatoes, pineapples, guavas and cashews. Some popular Goan sweets, which are unique to the state, are bebinca (a stack of 7 or 16 wafer thin layers of sweetened semolina), dodol (a chocolate-coloured dose of coconut and jaggery, blended in rice flour or wheat flour), pinaca (rice mashed with crushed jaggery and coconut milk), and doce (crushed split gram blended with coconut shavings and jaggery) amongst other coconut based preparation and of course a variety of cakes.
One of the oldest culinary treasures of India, Gujarati cuisine is primarily vegetarian. With added sugar even in savoury and spicy dishes, it has its own twists on tastes, which are rather unique and unlike food from other coastal states. A typical meal consists of signature dishes such as dhokla (spongy savoury of rice and chickpeas), bajra bhakri (millet bread), methi thepla (fenugreek bread), kathiawadi akha adad (Gujarati whole black gram curry), dal (lentils), kadi (a curry of curd and chickpea flour), chaas (buttermilk) and papdi (fried snack). Different cooking styles and combination of spices are used in preparing different dishes. While some dishes are stir fried, others are boiled. There are also a whole lot of pickles and chutneys (sauces) that are tasty as well as healthy. Gujarati food is incomplete without namkeen or farsan and then are tea snacks like patra (fried snack made with spinach leaves), handvo (savoury cake), fafda (fried gram flour sticks), which can be found in almost every household. The Kharwa community of the coastal area has developed a cuisine of its own around the fresh and dried fish and common sea foods are pomfrets, khandwas, gedadas, surmai (seer fish), prawns, crabs, lobster and narsinga (calamari).
A quintessential Andhra meal includes hot rice with ghee (Indian butter) poured over, which are enjoyed along with mudda pappu (lentils). Vepudu (fried vegetable preparations of potato, okra, bitter gourd, plantain, ivy gourd), pulusu (a tangy broth made with tamarind juice or sour yoghurt with vegetables) and yoghurt are served along. Spicy powders, pickles, chutneys also embellish the platter. Traditional sweet offerings include the boorelu (sweet dumplings made of rice flour, jaggery and soft-cooked lentils) or bobbatlu (a flat bread stuffed with the same mix).
Like most big states, even though many dishes remain the same in various parts of Karnataka, a change in preparations and flavours occurs with a change in region. While the north Kanara region of Karnataka boasts of seafood delicacies with rice and fish curry being the staple, the Mangalorean cuisine from Karnataka is known for its unique diverseness in food due to the different communities settled in the region. Coconut in different forms and curry leaves along with local south-Indian spices form the basic ingredients of most of the dishes. The local dishes most popular among people are bisi bele bath (spicy, rice-based dish), neer dosa (rice crepe) or the ragi mudde (millet moist ball), kori rotti (chicken and wafers made of rice), Mangalore Buns and macaroons and the popular Udupi food, which is an eponymous to the city of Udupi. Also being a coastal region it has a variety of fish options available for savouring.
Hailed as God’s own country for its natural beauty, Kerala is a star when it comes to food, too. Although offering an eclectic variety of vegetarian meals, it is known for a pre-dominantly non-vegetarian cuisine. It is also known for including ingredients or vegetables in its preparations that are often ignored. With a diverse population belonging to different religions, the dishes Kerala offers make for an interesting mix. In vegetarian meals there is the usual idli (savoury rice cake), sambar (lentil soup), dosa (savoury crepe), and vada (fried savoury), but there is also cheera thoran (Kerala style stir-fry for any vegetable), Malabar parota (a type of bread), appam (a unique crepe that has a soft centre and crisp edges), puttu (cylindrically shaped mashed rice). On the non-vegetarian menu there is a whole lot of chicken, mutton, pork, beef and a vast range of seafood – mussels, crab, tiger prawns, king prawns, tiny prawns, oysters, sardines, mackerel, tuna and gorgeous red lobsters. Paal payasam (made of rice and milk) is a celebratory sweet made on various festivals such as Onam. The state also has an official fruit- jackfruit, which was given the title in 2018. Kerala is a mass producer of the fruit but 30 pc of it gets wasted annually; so the fruit was declared as official, with the hope of the production being consumed entirely.
Of course a food journey in any south Indian state has to begin with the spicy and soupy sambar. But, Tamil Nadu has a bit of a twist here. The sambar (lentil soup) in Tamil Nadu is tangier and thicker with more of lentils and local vegetables such as drumsticks, brinjal, white and red pumpkins and doodhi (bottle gourd). It also has a distinct flavour and aroma that comes from adding asafoetida. The state is known for its Chettinad cuisine, which is known for being a spicy variety. One reason for the cuisine being extra hot is often credited to the fact that Chettiars were a community of spice merchants. Little wonder then why and how unique spices like Marathi moggu (has a flavour similar to that of mustard and pepper) and Kalpasi (flowers that you may not find in other parts of the country) are used in the preparation of the cuisine. Some dishes that decorate the menus in the state are- Kozhambu (gravy preparation with a base of tamarind and lentils), milagu pongal (a breakfast dish), urlai roast (roasted baby potatoes), chicken Chettinad (the traditional recipe of this uses a mix of 28 spices), Mulligatawny soup (apples, carrots, potatoes and red lentils simmered with coconut milk, tamarind pulp and black peppercorns), and Arisi thengai payasam (a traditional Tamil sweet). While Chettinad is the known cuisine of the state, the coastal cuisine is also celebrated by the Nanjil Nadu cuisine of Kanyakumari and its surroundings. The cuisine of this region is abundant with fish and coconut cooked with the tang of ginger, garlic and green chillies.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep
Andaman and Nicobar Islands is paradise for sea food lovers. Cuttle fish, crabs, lobsters, prawns, and fish of probably every kind is cooked and relished here along with the staple rice. There are plenty of options for vegetarians as well. Coconut, along with fruits such as mango, sapodilla, banana, pineapple, etc. are commonly available as they grow here unlike other fruits and most vegetables that have to be bought in from mainland India. This is also one reason why the island serves cuisines from various south Indian states as well as West Bengal. Tourists can also find other north Indian dishes at hotels and resorts, but those are not, of course, ethnic. The diet of the natives, majority of which is the tribal community, consists of meats of turtles, wild boar, and other animals endemic to the Islands. Use of fire to cook food is still a rare phenomenon and the Sentinelese, which is a protected community and an un-contacted tribe, are known to eat raw meat. Wild honey is harvested and stored for use and sea turtle eggs are also a delicacy. On Lakshadweep islands, which are about 420 km off the Kerala coast, a south Indian influenced cuisine as well as traditional recipes of sea food make for the daily diets of people.