Forgotten flavours

Forgotten flavours

Navayath cuisine A small community from North Karnataka, Navayaths are particular about their meals. Aftab Husain Kola gives us a glimpse of the community’s sumptuous culinary traditions

Being a food connoisseur and having done hundreds of food reviews, I can vouch that there is no better delight than gulping down the scrumptious Bhatkal biryani, a combination of heavily steamed mutton pieces ensconced under the mound of velvety saffron-spiked rice tinged with birista (fried onions). Though the cuisine of Navayaths, a community of Arab origins, mainly settled in and around Bhatkal in the Uttara Kannada district, is not as varied as it is in rest of India, yet it is rich and delectable. 

Notwithstanding the community’s roots in Arabia, the cuisine carries little Arabic influence and, to most extent, is dominated by shades of local culture, which it adopted subsequently. In a world where fast food rules, will our children ever get to hear about mudkuley, satpatra nevri, tairlose (eggs and sugar fried in ghee), humalli poli, katripaati, donney, etc?

Already, our generation has forgotten old dishes like malida (sweet preparation made out of wheat flour, sugar and ghee), pande (curries made out of vegetables and coconut milk), bhallyo (cakes of rice steamed) and ukad (a fish preparation). The basic, everyday breakfast is tasty, hearty and nourishing. Theek/goad thari (semolina), gavan or thalla shayyo (wheat or rice vermicelli), a variety of appos (pancakes), fau (poha), theek/goad khubus (bread), masala poli (spiced parantha), gavan poli (wheat parantha) and puttu (steamed cakes) are among those commonly found on the morning table. 

Fish or meat is eaten as the main course with rice. Our region, amid the plentiful coconut trees, is blessed with an abundance of water bodies flowing all around. Naturally, fish is the signature item for lunch. The main fish preparations include lonmiri mahwre (fish in a red chilli soup), ambut lokha (orange-coloured coconut based curry), saambhar (yellow fish curry) — all traditional fish curries; fish fry, aatate mahwre, including the additional ones like grilled fish and steamed fish. Navayaths still use the hand-pounded chilli and ginger-garlic paste for their fish and other preparations.

Sea food like prawns, mussels, clams, oysters, and recently squids are also relished with traditional spices and herbs. Ekshippi is a fascinating coconut-rice based clam curry while chicken, mutton and beef are also regularly eaten in Navayath homes, but those recipes are not entirely indigenous. Chicken/mutton sharwo maas (curry), khorma and kukdi maas fry (chicken) are some of the preferred dishes. The famous Bhatkal biryani is cooked in two layers; the bottom layer comprises half-cooked meat or chicken in traditional spices topped by the upper layer of the half-cooked saffron-spiked rice. Then the pot is sealed for dum cooking. 

Although Navayaths are hardcore meat/fish eaters, vegetables do figure on their menu. One regular item, a must for lunch, is called sawra, a dry preparation of vegetables. A popular vegetarian dish is saakuche — a delectable preparation of mixed vegetables with a dash of coconut milk. 

Some of the delectable items, which any Navayath can have any day are mudkuley (rice and coconut balls smeared in a thick curry), kichdi, satpatra nevri (a sweet crepe dish), haldipana nevri (stuffed rice crepes steamed in turmeric leaves), khotey (steamed rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves), gudiyo (stuffed crepes), etc.

Among the sweet items, godan occupies the pride of place. The different varieties of godan are name after the special ingredient, the common ingredients being, jaggery and coconut milk. Some of the popular ones are: dudhi godan (of pumpkin), shayya godan (of vermicelli), muga godan (of green gram), amatya godan (of hog plums), faua godan (of puffed rice) and gavan godan (of crushed wheat). Khawras is rustled up in different types, of which naasna khawras (of ragi) is the most sought after. Another sweet dish especially made during wedding and festive occasions is sakar brinji. Sweets like taunsuli, tairlose, various puddings and phirni are also quite popular.

There are some other dishes, which need special mention and one of the popular ones is raithe, a chilli, tamarind and tomato-based curry with breadfruit, papaya and sweet potato. For side accompaniments, digifanas (breadfruit) fry, buraani (raita), kadang fry (sweet potato fritters). For snacks, khazurney, fugey, poliapapde, khostana poli, rode, pitaoodey, naankatai, saakulyo, and bajey are best enjoyed with evening tea.  

I have made a sincere attempt to throw some light on the traditional cuisine of the Navayaths but we need to explore more. 

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