‘Tonak’ is a flavourful curry made in Goa using a special combination of spices and fresh coconut scrapings. It’s made in various forms, from mildly-spiced vegetarian curries for festive days to non-vegetarian curries made with extra spice and heat. Mushrooms, Cashewnuts, Dried Peas, Red Lentils (Masoor), Black-eyed Peas (Chavli) and a traditional Goan variety of pulses called ‘Arsane’ are often used to make vegetarian Tonak. Oysters or eggs are used to make the spicier, non-vegetarian versions of the curry. In any of its forms, this traditional curry tastes delicious!
This recipe is inspired by our cousin Leena Sardesai. From Mackerel Croquettes to Fruit Buns and even delicious curries made with beans and shrimp, she’s fabulously talented at cooking up amazing, authentic dishes and helped us to cook this traditional Goan egg curry. We look forward to whipping up more of her recipes and hope you enjoy this one as much as we did!
“Mae! Tu kullyache tonak kidyak karina (why don’t you make crab curry)? Maka tate khavpak vaz yeta, ma go (I’m bored of eating eggs)!” said Francis, sitting on the mud floor of the small cottage. His grandmother, the Ayah (nanny) to the privileged Carvalho children, whacked him on the back of his head in exasperation! “Tashe mhanu naka (don’t say that)! We must respect and love any food that we’re served! Now stop sulking and bring your plate,” she said sternly as her little grandson sullenly got up to do as he was told.
The cottage was a very simple one, adjoining the vast Carvalho estate. Other important members of the household staff were given similar accommodation nearby, as had always been the tradition. For generations, the Carvalhos had been good and kind employers. But there would always be a world of difference between the family and their faithful servants. Crabs were an expensive luxury, to be relished by the household staff only on special occasions and festive days. It was far easier to source eggs from the chickens scratching around the yard outside the cottages.
But how was one to explain these social rules to a young boy of seven? Ayah sighed, stirring the curry simmering in the aidan (vessel). She looked around at the place she’d called home for many a year. Simple vessels were stacked next to a small chul (fireplace) along one side of the tiny kitchen. Even the daulo (ladle) she used regularly was made out of a simple coconut shell attached to a bamboo stick. She had always led a simple life and was content with the way things had been. But now and again, little Francis seemed to be questioning the ‘old ways’ and Ayah would have to do something about it!
Breaking eggs into the simmering tonak, Ayah covered the aidan and took the plate from her grandson, trying to think of a way to console the sulking boy. “Have you heard about the Simecar?” she asked, knowing very well that all matters of the occult interested the boy tremendously. “No Mae, what is it?” asked Francis, trying to hide his curiosity behind a rough manner. “Well!” said Ayah, rubbing her palms together as the little boy sat beside her. “Most small villages in Goa are quiet and often lonely at dusk. And every village has its own share of ghosts and spirits. This story is about a special spirit called a ‘Simecar‘.”
“The borders of every village are said to be guarded by a resident ‘Simecar‘. These spirits roam the village by-lanes by nightfall, carrying a long stick with ringing bells at one end. They serve as soothsayers for the locals, warning families of impending doom and farmers of unexpected rains. Although generally harmless, they can be dangerous when provoked,” she said, serving Francis some piping hot tonak and xit (rice).
“A fisherman was returning home one night, upset that he hadn’t been able to catch any crabs from the local stream. Lost in his thoughts, he made his way home down the dark pathways. All of a sudden, in the weak light of his lamp, he came across a frightening spirit, the ‘Simecar‘ of his quiet village. Breathing in deeply, he moved aside and watched as the Simecar passed by. But greed got the better of him and he reached out, plucking a length of the spirit’s grey hair. The spirit turned towards him in anger but the fisherman had hurried down the lane, trying to get away as fast as he could! When he reached home, he rushed indoors and placed the hair in the family’s Altar. Every night thereafter, he was able to catch piles and piles of crabs from the local stream! His wife and he sold most of the catch and still had more left over, enough to make delicious curries, pickles and fried delicacies!”
Ayah served her grandson some more food, delighted that the boy seemed to have forgotten his anger and regained his appetite! “A fortnight later, while the fisherman was out catching crabs, the angry Simecar forced his way into the fisherman’s hut! He walked up to the Altar, grabbed the length of hair lying there and burnt it in the flames of the candle. As he turned to leave, he left behind some crabs, as a ‘parting gift’ for the fisherman. The fisherman’s wife, frightened and distressed, placed the crabs in a large metal bucket and covered its mouth with a paath (wooden board). The crabs’ pincers scratched against the metal bucket, scaring the poor woman even more. Later that night, she narrated the incident to her husband, trembling with fear. When her husband slowly lifted the paath, all they found in the bucket was dark, red blood!”
“Avoiss!” said Francis, “Magir (what happened then)?” he asked, using his fingers to scoop up the last of his meal. “With all their greed reduced to dust, the fisherman and his wife never asked for crabs again! They thanked the Lord for having kept them safe from any further harm and lived out the rest of their lives, in peace and simplicity, relishing whatever simple food they could afford,” said Ayah, using the same plate to serve herself some supper. Days passed and the tale was soon forgotten. But the next time Ayah made Tatyache Tonak (egg curry), Francis quietly relished the curry with not a mention of the expensive crabs!
Tatyache Tonak Recipe
- 6 large Eggs
- 3-4 Cloves (Lavang)
- 7 Red Bedgi Chillies
- 1-inch piece of Cinnamon (Dalchini)
- 1 teaspoon Coriander seeds(Dhania)
- 5-6 Black Peppercorns (Kali Mirch)
- 1 teaspoon Turmeric Powder (Haldi)
- 1 teaspoon Salt, or to taste
- 1 cup fresh Coconut scrapings
- 1 medium-sized Onion
- 3-4 cloves of Garlic
- 4-5 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
- 1 small ball of fresh Tamarind (Imli), or 1 teaspoon Tamarind Concentrate
In a small pan, dry roast the coriander seeds, cinnamon, black peppercorns and red chillies. Dry roast until the spices turn fragrant and then keep aside.
In a large pan, pour in three tablespoons of the vegetable oil and heat on medium flame. Once the oil has heated through, add in the cloves and allow them to sizzle. When the cloves seem to bubble at the edges and turn fragrant, drain them and keep aside.
Into the same pan, add half of the finely chopped onions and sauté until it turns translucent. Roughly crush the garlic cloves and add them to the onion, sautéeing until the onion turns golden-brown. Then add in the fresh coconut scrapings and sauté until the coconut turns light brown and fragrant. Stir the mixture occasionally to prevent it from burning. Add in the turmeric powder and mix well.
Grind the roasted spices, sautéed cloves and the coconut-onion mixture with the tamarind (or tamarind concentrate). Use a little water, as required, to grind the ingredients to a fine curry paste.
Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil to the large pan and sauté the rest of the finely chopped onions until golden brown. Add salt to taste. Then pour in the curry paste and add a little water, if required, to obtain a curry-like consistency. Cover the pan and cook the mixture for five minutes on low flame. Always cook coconut curries on low flame to prevent the coconut from curdling.
When small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan, gently break the eggs directly into the curry. Cover the pan and cook on low flame until the eggs have turned translucent. Gently tilt the pan to allow the curry to splash over the eggs or use a spatula to gently spoon the curry over the eggs. If you try to stir the curry too much, the curry the eggs might break. Cook for another five minutes, garnish with fresh coriander leaves and then serve with rice or Pão (bread).
Hard-boiled eggs may be added to the curry if you prefer. We’ve chosen to make an egg-drop version of the tonak.
Our stories, set in the early 1900s, are entirely fictional & inspired by childhood tales, local legends and books. To watch a wonderful short film that inspired the story above, please click here. The story, called the ‘Ghost of Guirim’, is narrated in our Goan Konkani and has been portrayed very well!