Fresh, plump ‘Sungta’ or Prawns, are coated in a deliciously spicy Rachead masala paste, dredged in semolina (rawa) and fried on a hot tawa (pan). The ‘Rachead Masala’ or ‘Racheado Masala’ is of Indo-Portuguese origin and is a great storecupboard essential to have on hand. These spicy fried prawns are a perfect appetiser to any meal, even more so when accompanied by a glass of cool Kokum sharbat, Goa’s traditional bright red summer drink!
“Lamb rund thonddgar dorya (Wide, deep, cool Sea)
Mojem voddem polltodi vor-ya (Let’s cross in my simple boat)!
Tandd voddem tanddela (Onwards boat, To the other side!
Ami Xirvoddea vochum-ya (We’ve to reach Xiroda).”
The plaintive singing of the boatman rose into the air as the Raandpin (cook) of the Carvalho family climbed aboard the old vodem (boat). The saffron-tinted Sun dipped lower in the evening sky and darkness began to fall over the Mandovi river. Waves lapped gently against the vodem as the boatman used his oar to push away from the muddy bank. The Raandpin sat cross-legged, holding a straw basket filled with fresh sungatan (prawns). “Borim Sungta Mevlya mugo aaj! (You’ve managed to find good prawns, dear lady!). “Oh! I’ve been visiting my daughter today and she insisted I carry some home, ” said the Raandpin. The boatman cut through the gentle waves with the heavy oar, leading the vodem further down the deep, green waters.
Calm settled over the river as stars began to twinkle in the clear sky. The boatman continued to sing softly, ferrying the elderly lady to the other side of the Mandovi. A heron, hidden in the tangle of Mangroves by the water’s edge, suddenly sent up a cry. This was followed by a loud splash as a large brown crocodile slithered down the bank, rushing into the murky depths of the river. The old cook, startled by the commotion, tried to spot the crocodile, hoping it wouldn’t swim closer to the old vodem. The small wooden boat didn’t seem to offer much protection in case the enormous reptile decided to attack. “Bhiyev naka go Bai (Don’t worry, dear lady)!” said the boatman reassuringly. “I’ve seen crocodiles twice the size of this one! They won’t harm us, especially since we pray to the Vhadle Mangge (enormous crocodile). It’s thanks to Him that we have a bounty of fresh fish and prawns!”
“Vhadle Mangge? I haven’t heard of such an animal,” said the old lady, apprehensively watching the river rush past the boat. “Oh, He exists! The powerful vahan (companion) of Lord Varun (the deity of sea breeze). He’s rarely ever seen but He’s been in the deepest waters of the Mandovi for a hundred years or more! And when we pray to Him, the crocodiles eat the larger predatory fish, making sure we have plenty of the smaller fish and prawns to eat. Haven’t you heard about the legend, bai?” asked the boatman. “I’ve seen plenty of crocodiles over the years but I haven’t heard about this creature yet,” said the elderly lady, balancing the basket of prawns on her lap.
Looking far across the horizon, the boatman began to narrate the legend in hushed tones. “A long time ago, before people came to live here, dense jungles covered all of Goa. The Mandovi cut through the wilderness, hiding many mythical beasts within its murky depths. And in the deepest waters lived an enormous Crocodile, with dark brown scales and amber eyes. He swam in the river undisturbed for hundreds of years until one day, He came upon a fisherman sitting by the water’s edge. Angry that the human had dared to steal fish from His river, the gigantic creature rose from the watery depths, His enormous head and neck towering above the old man. “
“The old fisherman, terrified at the sight of the Mangge, went down on his knees and pleaded with the Crocodile, desperately praying to the beast to spare his life!” said boatman. “What did the Creature do?” asked the Raandpin, trying her best to sit as far away from the sides of the boat as possible. “The enraged Crocodile loomed closer to the old man, growling and baring His sharp teeth!” said the boatman, raising his voice for dramatic effect.
“The poor old fisherman trembled, shutting his eyes, thinking the Beast was going to make a meal out of him and continued to pray. Pleased with the old man’s prayers, the great Crocodile decided to leave the fisherman unharmed. He swerved His large head sideways and with one last glare, slithered back into the green, watery depths of the Mandovi. Ever since, every family that lives close to the river offers prayers to the Crocodile for their continued safety and prosperity,” said the boatman, as the voddi sailed closer to the shore. “Some people make a mud sculpture of the revered Crocodile every year, using clamshells for His eyes and scales. They decorate the Crocodile with flowers to please the giant Beast in the river. Offerings of food are made to the Mangge, praying for His protection during the rice-threshing season,” said the boatman, tethering the rope to a hook and helping the old Raandpin to climb onto the pier. “See? There’s nothing to fear in the river!” he said, smiling up at the old lady as she took her basket.
Every time the Raandpin cooked with fish thereafter, she remembered the boatman’s tale.” Could a giant Crocodile really inhabit the deepest parts of the river?” she wondered. Far beneath the Altinho hill, an enormous being growled softly, disappearing into the murky depths of the Mandovi, waiting perhaps for the next time an offering would be made to placate His soul.
Rachead Sungta Fry Recipe
- 165g fresh Prawns
- 5-6 tablespoons Rachead Masala Paste
- 1 teaspoon Salt, or to taste
- 1/2 cup Semolina (Rawa)
- 5-6 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
Clean and de-vein the prawns. Marinate the prawns in the rachead masala paste and salt for 15 minutes. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan. While the oil heats, spread the semolina over a wide plate. Carefully coat each marinated prawn in the semolina and place in the hot pan. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan with prawns, making sure that each prawn has plenty of space to fry and sizzle.
Fry the prawns on medium heat. Once the prawns begin to curl and appear golden brown on one side, gently turn them over gently with a spatula and fry for another 2-3 minutes. When the prawns have browned evenly, take them out onto a plate lined with kitchen roll (tissue paper).
Sprinkle fresh lemon juice over the piping hot prawns and serve. They taste best when savoured as soon as they’ve been fried!
We always keep a jar of our favourite Rachead Masala in the refrigerator. It’s a great masala paste to make pan-fried fish, meat stir fry and even a quick chicken stir fry!
Story Notes: Our stories, set in the early 1900s, are entirely fictional & inspired by childhood tales, local legends and books.