This delicious curry is made using fresh ‘Sungta’ (Prawns), one of the most popular varieties of seafood in Goa. Mildly spiced and cooked in a flavourful coconut base, the curry is most often served with freshly steamed Xit (Rice) although it is equally tasty with Goan Pão (bread). In the olden days, curries were cooked in clay pots, often using coconut oil to enhance their flavour. In spite of these traditional ways of cooking having gradually changed over the years, the delectable taste of the curry still remains.
“Is the masala for the curry ready?” asked Jaya kaki (aunt), fanning her face with the edge of her sari pallu, as she peeped out the kitchen window into the aangan (courtyard). “Call out to me as soon as you’ve finished grinding the paste,” she said to the maid, “I’ve to simmer the curry and then get on with steaming the rice. But first, I think I’ll have a glass of cool Panna (homemade mango squash). Leela, would you like some too?”
“No thank you, kaki,” said little Leela, as she was far too busy watching the maid prepare to grind the spice mixture on the ragdo (large mortar and pestle made of stone). In her hands, Leela played with a very special pawan (coin), tossing it from one palm to another. The coin was a heavy one, made of pure gold and passed down from one generation of the Nayak family to the next. The coin was kept in the family showcase at all times, a part of their most prized possessions. That morning, Aai (grandmother) had been polishing the coin, when she noticed that Leela was fascinated with the way it gleamed in the sunlight. Aai had agreed to ‘loan’ the coin to the little girl for the day, provided she took very good care of it and placed it back in the showcase before the family gathered for their evening prayers.
“Pass me the bowl of water Leela” said the maid, as she gathered up the pleats of her sari to sit beside the ragdo. The ragdo, an indispensible part of every Goan household, was a heavy black stone designed for crushing whole spices and coconut scrapings to a smooth paste. The maid began the ritual by greasing her palms with coconut oil. “To keep the sting of the bedgimirchi (red chillies) out of the skin” she claimed. Next, she drew the large steel plate that Jaya kaki had heaped with a careful selection of fresh red chillies and peppercorns.
Sometimes, the spices upon the plate would’ve been dry roasted and fragrant, as for the Xacuti. Today however, the spices were whole and raw, gleaming on the plate in the mid-morning heat of the aangan. Leela watched, as the maid placed a handful of the chillies and peppercorns into the black hollow of the ragdo. Trickling some water into the hollow to join the spices, she slowly began to grind the chillies to a paste with the heavy black stone. Each time the pestle was rotated, she quickly gathered the crushed spices back into the centre of the ragdo, adding drops of water to keep the masala smooth. There was an art in the way she worked, being able to crush the spices and yet ensure that her fingers didn’t become a part of the masala. Whole red chillies and black peppercorns came to life in the hollow of the heavy, black stone, giving way to a dark, red masala paste, its aroma rising to fill the aangan. Finally, having ground all the spices on the plate, she scooped the fresh paste into a small, deep vati (bowl) and handed it to little Leela.
The kitchen was filled with aromatic steam, rising from the large, deep pots that bubbled over the chul (stove). Shining copper pans and ladles hung from hooks on the adjoining wall. The large, open windows looked out onto the aangan and together with the high ceiling, helped to keep the summer heat out while the women chatted and cooked. Leela’s mother and aunts sat on mats spread out onto the floor, preparing the fish, peeling the watermelons, chopping vegetables and grating fresh coconuts on the adoli (a traditional, low stool with a sharp, serrated blade attached at the front). They chatted about the latest news in the village of Kavalem, laughing, giggling, arguing over the quality of the mangoes that season, all the while preparing delicious food for the entire family. The kitchen truly was the heart of the Nayak home.
Carefully navigating her way through two piles of freshly harvested ghosalem (ridge gourd), Leela handed the vati to Jaya kaki and then went out into the aangan to play. “Leela! What were you doing in the kitchen? We’re going to catch tadpoles by the stream! Why don’t you come along and guard our catch? We don’t want anyone else to steal them while we’re busy!” said Prakash, her elder brother, as he and the other boys ran past the courtyard. “Wait for me! Wait!” cried Leela, “Let me give this coin to Aai,” she said, hurrying back into the kitchen. But as she stood at the doorway, she realized with dread that she didn’t have the coin anymore! Sweat trickled down her forehead, her heart pounding as she tried her best to remember when she’d last seen the coin. Whatever was she going to do now?!
Read our next blog post to find out what happens to Leela’s precious gold coin! Till then, we hope you enjoy reading through the other recipes & stories in our little world- The Storyteller’s Kitchen.
This recipe has been given to us by my mom Kamakshi, who often makes this dish with Rawa (Semolina) fish fry and glasses of cooling Sol Kadi. Served alongside some salad, it’s an absolute treat of a traditional Goan meal!
- 1/4 kg (250g) fresh Prawns
- 1 teaspoon Salt, or to taste
- 4-5 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
- 1 small Onion, chopped fine
For the Vatap (Curry Paste):
- 1 cup freshly grated Coconut
- 4 large Red Chillies
- 1/2 teaspoon Turmeric powder (Haldi)
- 2 teaspoons Red Chilli powder
- 5-6 black Peppercorns (Kali Mirch)
- 1 small ball of Tamarind/Imli (or 1/2 teaspoon Tamarind Concentrate)
Clean and devein the prawns, then lightly coat them with salt and keep aside. In a pan, heat the vegetable oil and sauté the finely chopped onion in it until golden- brown.
Prepare the masala paste for the curry by grinding together the fresh coconut scrapings, red chillies, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, peppercorns and tamarind.
Add the masala paste and salt (to taste) to the sautéed onion. Rinse out any masala paste that’s stuck to the mixer (blender) with a little water and add it to the pan so as to obtain a curry-like consistency. Boil the curry on low flame, stirring regularly so that the coconut milk does not curdle. Once small bubbles appear at the edges of the pan, gently slide in the prawns and continue to boil the curry on low flame until the prawns are cooked through. Serve the prawn curry with freshly steamed rice or Goan Pão (bread).
Story Notes: Our stories, set in the early 1900s, are entirely fictional & inspired by childhood tales, local legends and books.