Keeping the Nawayathi food tradition alive

Keeping the Nawayathi food tradition alive

The community traces its origins to the Middle-East and is now going all out to save its cuisine from being forgotten

Haldi paana nhewri

Many traditional cuisines in India are slowly fading away and one such cuisine belongs to the Muslims of the Karavali coast of Karnataka. Called the Nawayaths, they are mostly settled in the towns of Bhatkal, Byndoor, Malpe, Gangolli, Shiroor, Tonse and Murdeshwar.

The origin story: The Nawayaths hail from the Arabian Peninsula, and the Persian Gulf. They used to work as businessmen, merchants and mariners there. Between the 8th and 15th centuries, they migrated from Yemen, Iran and Turkey to the coast of Karnataka for trade. The term ‘Nawayath’ loosely translates to “newly arrived” or “newcomers”. The community speaks ‘Nawayathi’, a language that is a mix of Konkani, Arabic, and Persian.

Shaad Hassan Damudi, co-owner of Alibaba Café and Restaurant, which serves up Nawayathi and Arabic food in Frazer Town, explains why this is happening. “Our traditional food is tedious and time-consuming. We live in a fast-paced world and no one really has the time to make any of these dishes on a regular basis.” Damudi has shut down the outlet temporarily, because of the pandemic.


Mudkoley

Earlier, people would stay in joint families and divide work and time to whip up these dishes. “But for people staying in nuclear families, it can take almost a day to make traditional food like ‘Mudkoley’ (steamed rice dumplings cooked in an aromatic coconut stew with prawns or chicken),” he adds.

Uzma Mavad from Byndoor, who’s currently staying in Bengaluru, urges members of her community to make these dishes despite their busy schedules. Otherwise, the future generation will lose touch with this food heritage of theirs. Youngsters have already forgotten ‘Guliyan Godan’ (a sweet pudding made from maida and coconut milk), ‘Ghaawan’ (sweet crepes made with coconut milk and topped with ghee and sugar) and ‘Chonge’ (a dense rice cake), she says.

Talking about the anatomy of the Nawayathi cuisine, it is rich because it makes use of coconut products but it is light on spices when compared to other food in the South. The Arabic elements in the food have come down over the years while Konkani influences like the use of the Byadagi red chillies have crept in.

Seafood is central to the Nawayathi cuisine. Fish, prawns, mussels and oysters, available in plenty along the Konkan coast, are combined with local spices to make the very umami ‘Mhawra Lonmiri’ (fish cooked in a salt-red chilli paste) and the ‘Watwa Nhewri’ (steamed mussels stuffed with a spicy mix of rice and coconut).

‘Bhatkally Biryani’ is another staple. It makes use of heavily steamed and marinated mutton pieces topped with mounds of velvety saffron rice and covered with birista (fried onions).

Vegetables do make an appearance on the Nawayathi menu every once in a while. ‘Sakhuche’ (a spicy, tangy mixed vegetable stew made with a dash of coconut milk) is a lunch favourite. The community is also fond of Breadfruit. A misnomer, it’s a vegetable that’s locally called ‘Dewfanas’.

But not everybody is losing hope about the future of Nawayathi food. Based in Bhatkal, Zahura Gouhar runs a YouTube channel and Instagram page (Gouhar’s Kitchen), where she posts tutorials on how to make the traditional Nawayathi food.


Khubusa poli
Photos by: Nazeef Khaleel

She is giving a modern spin to her food to attract the young generation. “One of our most famous puddings is the ‘Khubusa Poli’ (a rich bread and egg pudding). I’ve tweaked the recipe and made my own version. It has become a crowd favourite,” says Gouhar.

Her YouTube channel has been slowly growing in popularity. “As people had free time during the lockdowns, we saw an increase in the number of younger people taking interest in learning our dishes. The channel has become a favourite among the newly-married Nawayathi women,” says Nazeef Khaleel, her son.

A resident of HBR Layout, Saaqib Musba is trying to popularise the Nawayathi food through his business, Big Daddy’s Kitchen, since last year.

Using Instagram and Facebook, he has been selling the ‘Haldi Paana Nhewri’ (steamed rice cakes filled with coconut and jaggery or coconut and chicken, wrapped in turmeric leaves), ‘Saath Padara Nhewri’ (a sweet dish similar to bebinca), and ‘Shaiyan Biryani’ (biryani made with local vermicelli noodles instead of rice) among other dishes. He has given English names to these dishes to make them relatable.

“Bengalureans have been very welcoming. I receive a lot of orders from non-Nawayathi people who are excited to try this cuisine they haven’t heard of before,” he says.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox