When I write about Saraswat / Konkani cuisine, many of my friends and followers have asked me to give more details on Konkani community. Hence I thought to give a few details on the same.
When I refer to Konkani, it is the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, a Hindu Brahmin community in India and a part of the larger Saraswat Brahmin community. They are popularly referred to as GSBs. They are Konkani people and primarily speak Konkani or Marathi as their mother tongue.
To trace some history, Saraswats denote the residents of Saraswati river basin who are referred to as 'Saraswats' in Mahabharata and Puranas were learned in Vedic lore. They concentrated on studying subjects like astronomy, metaphysics, medicine and allied subjects and disseminating knowledge. Due to geo-morphosis in the Himalayas, the Saraswati began to dry up and the Saraswats were forced to migrate to greener pastures. Some went to Kashmir in the north, others went eastwards. Few made their way to the Konkan and Goa. These came to be recognized as Gaud Saraswats or Dakshinatya Saraswats, to distinguish them from other Saraswat groups of North.
When the Portuguese traders followed by Christian missionaries started forcible conversions under the patronage of Portuguese government in 1560 A.D, most of the Saraswat families left Goa with their family deities, risking life and limb. They settled down in the adjoining Hindu principalities all along the Western coastal regions. Gradually, they migrated all along the coastal regions stretching up to Trivandrum.
Cochin GSB's are the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins who settled in former princely states of Cochin and Travancore. GSBs of northern Kerala are similar to GSBs of Canara in speech and customs, whereas GSBs of former princely states of Cochin and Travancore have developed their own dialect and Customs, which distinguish them from rest of GSB community. In Geographical terms, Cochin GSBs are those who live south of Trissur district of Kerala.
One of the marked difference (apart from dialect) in Cochin GSB’s and their northern Kerala / Canara counter parts is in the cuisine. Many northern Kerala / Canara Saraswat Brahmins are pesco-vegetarians. The inclusion of fish in the diet is not looked upon as non vegetarian. Legend has it that when the Saraswati River dried up, the Saraswats who could not farm, were permitted to eat sea food/fish. The fish were euphemistically called Sea Vegetable or “Jalkain” from -Jal Kaay. Oysters for example are sometimes called 'samudra phalam' – sea fruit.
Where as Cochin GSBs have adapted vegetarianism inorder to be accepted as Brahmins by Kerala society, this distinguishes them from rest of the southern Saraswats. The Cochin GSB cuisine is therefore vegetarian which retains many Goan characteristics. The main staple is rice and lentils(dal). This is supplemented with vegeatbles. Ambat, Gassi, Valval, Humann, etc are some traditional GSB gravies. Cochin GSBs prepare a variety of rice pancakes(Dosas) and dumplings(idlis). Santhan (a flat steamed rice dumpling) and Hittu( pyramid shaped steamed rice dumpling wrapped in sachet made of jack fruit leaves) is unique to Cochin GSB cuisine. Pathrode is another GSB delicacy which is made of colocasia leaves and rice.
There are a number of GSB temples in South Kerala along the coast from Cochin ( like Thirumala Devaswam - TD temples in Eranakulam, Kochi, Cherai, Thuravoor, Cherthala, Alapuzha, Purakkad, Kayamkulam, Kottayam(non-coastal), Kollam). All these temples celebrate an 8 day annual temple festival in which one of the high-lights is daily feast ( an elaborate lunch) called “Samaradhana” in every member of the community is treated alike, regardless of their social status while serving the temple feast.
Even though there exist a difference in dialect, there are many common links between Cochin GSB’s and the GSB’s from northern Kerala / Canara – such as common Gotras, Kuldevatha’s, Mutt’s and its pontiffs (Sri Kashi Mutt (Varanasi,Uttar Pradesh), Sri Chitrapur Mutt (Shirali, Karnataka), Gokarna Mutt(Partagali, Goa), Kavale Mutt (Ponda, Goa)). Most of the customs are common and it is quite normal to see marriages between these GSB sub sects. I got many relatives who are from North Canara.
My parents as well as my in-laws are strict vegetarians (I call it extreme vegetarians – as they abstain from taking even onions and garlic). While I respect those who adhere to these traditions, Me, my husband and son, having lived in various places in India and travelled abroad, have developed taste for good food and various traditions. Hence we celebrate Konkani events as well as Deepavali, Onam, Vishu, Christmas, Eid, Pongal and name it.
My humble policy – Never miss a good food.