My favourite festival at my favourite restaurant in Bangalore is back! Aquafest at the Karavalli started 24 years ago and has become an event to look forward to every year. A seafood lover is assured of a sublime experience till the end of this month! Karavalli (the land by the sea) has distilled the best cuisine secrets from the bunts of Mangalore, the Kodavas, the Malayalees, and the Goan Portugese to bring them under one roof. And Aquafest is the crown jewel, where twenty new Sea food preparations with as many seafood varieties, will be dished out from the kitchen as well as the ‘West Coast Grills Station’. And for those who love their classics, the Karavalli Signature Collection is also part of the festival.
The beauty of Karavalli is that little has changed over the past couple of years. The familiar surroundings always give me a homely feel. The landscaped garden outside with the pond and croaking frogs, the beautiful lanterns emitting a soft glow, inside, the richly upholstered chairs reflected in the large mirrors and the finally the cutlery…oh the beautiful black cutlery. The plates lined with banana leaves arrive and we serve ourselves from the array of pickles and chutneys (Tomato, Coconut and Mango Chammanthi) to compliment the Sandiges and Appalams. The problem with staring at a menu this flawless is that you never know what to pick. Luckily I was here on invitation by Chef Naren (#heroworship) and let him do the honors.
The Crab Milagu Fry set the tone for the day. Fresh, sweet and succulent mud crabmeat is pan roasted in a spicy pepper masala and served daintily over a perfect steamed flat idli. Perfect for those who don’t want to get their hands dirty while eating a crab! At this point it would be well to point out that half the battle for a seafood restaurant is won when you have a good supplier. The quality of your final product is directly linked to your produce. I don’t have to tell you that the reason Karavalli stands out time and again (Listed in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant’s) is because their seafood is exceptional.
The Kannu Vecha Meen Pathiri is definitely something I’ve never seen before on a South Indian menu. Almost empanada like – It reminded me of the sweet version called Karanji that Maharashtrian’s make during Ganesha Pooja. However this non-veg version uses a spicy fish mixture to stuff the wheat parcels with! Tiger Prawns are always high on my seafood wish list. The Chemmeen Elavanthenga Ularithiyathu is a unique preparation that uses kodampuli (souring agent) while sautéing the tiger prawns with slivers of tender coconut. The delicate tender coconut meat adds a sweet element to the otherwise tangy dish. Finger-licking good …don’t be shy to do away with your knife and fork.
Bolangir (sliver fish) is adored in Mangalore and Kerala. You will find different masalas used to coat the little fish before being deep fried to a crisp. An excellent accompaniment to a cold drink on a hot day – it’s the quintessential Mangalore appetizer. This version used the popular Jeera Meera (cumin-pepper) masala and tasted as good as it looked. A goan preparation of squid called Lucas Picantecon Cebolas offers another tangy addition to the appetizer section. The little pickled onions glisten pale pink next to the white squid meat that’s tossed in a tomato masala.
I have loved the Kane Bezule from Karavalli ever since I had my first taste of it. The smooth paste took me right back to when I was a kid and my grandmother hand ground the masalas in a mortar and pestle. The key to making an outstanding bezule is how silky smooth your masala is and the size of the kane. Too small and you run the chances of overcooking it, too big and the flavors don’t seep right in. As for the silky smooth masala – the minute you let it slide over your tongue, you know it has not been processed in a mixie with a steel blade. Chef Naren smirked when I mentioned this and led me to the kitchen where I witnessed where the magic happened. A gigantic granite mortar and pestle sat contentedly in the corner. Sourced specially from Mangalore for this purpose – the coconut grinder is a sight to behold!
If I was raving about the Kane Bezule, Arv was jealously guarding a plate of the Neitha Surmai. This one is a star. To be experienced, savored and I hope, put permanently on the Karavalli menu! Cubes of King fish are fried with a subtle kundapur spice mix and ghee (hence the ‘Neitha’). The masala is a dead ringer for the popular Chicken Ghee Roast but assumes a more divinely appetizing quality when paired with fish. The finesse of this dish lies in slow cooking the masala and letting it completely coat the fish without breaking the meat up. Anyone who has tried making Kunadapur Chicken Ghee Roast at home, will appreciate the skill and dexterity involved in churning this out!
We also tried the Kakka Irachi Varuval – fresh clams meat cooked with crushed shallots, ginger, green chillies and coconut slivers. Maybe a luxurious substitute to popcorn at your next movie outing 😉 The chef also sent out a Whole Crab in Goan Masala and the twenty minutes that I spent eating it might have just been the most meditative I’ve been in the longest time!
I honestly didn’t have space to try the curries and just had spoonfuls of each. The Sungta ani Torache Hooman is a mild homemade Goan prawn curry seasoned with sun dried mango. (How’s that for exotic?) and the all time favourite Allapuzha Meen Curry came glistening orange-red with chunks of seer fish spiced coconut, ginger and raw mango masala. Try the curries with Appams, Coin parathas, Neer Dose or the pillow like Ramasseri Idlies. Elaneer Payasam is the epitome of coastal India and I found it to be a befitting end to a meal that left me floating on cloud nine.
“Karavalli never fails to magnetize my senses to a place where food is a sacred experience imprinted with the wisdom of generations gone by. A plain thank you will never suffice…”
Ground Floor, The Gateway Hotel, No 66, Residency Road 1st Cross,
Ashok Nagar, Bangalore 560025.
Ph: +91 80 6660 4545 || Parking: Valet
Cost: Rs. 3200/-++ for a meal for two without alcohol
Pic Courtesy: Karavalli, The Gateway Hotel.