“Tai, ithe sagla special aahe!” is the response I got at literally every stall at the Versova Koli Sea Food Fest, when I asked the servers what special dishes they had to offer. And they’re not exaggerating; this food festival truly is a fish-eater’s extravaganza. Cooked with authentic Koli masalas and a whole lot of enthusiasm, almost all the dishes look just as good as they taste.
This food fest is a visual treat; the lobsters, crabs, and prawns on skewers being roasted on open fires made my mouth water.
I could get a whiff of the fish and tandoors from over 50 metres away from the venue. But the aroma that emanates from the kitchens here is not that of stale fish. On the contrary, every piece of fish I ate here smelled fresh.
The kitchens, which are built within the stalls themselves, function like mini-factories and are constantly frying, roasting, and marinating. The marinade used is made of spice mixes that are an integral part of the Koli cuisine, and these masalas are not found in other cuisines.
You can tell that this three-day period is eagerly anticipated by the Koli community in Versova simply by the way the women dress! Many of them had draped matching saris, and all of them wore their best jewelry. If you are a fan of Marathi songs, you will be glad to know that tracks from old and new Marathi films are played here too, for a complete experience.
Most of the families that have set up stalls at the food fest have been doing so for years, so it is akin to a tradition for them. One of the organisers of the event told Bayside Journal that the number of stalls has increased this year. The servers and cooks are warm and welcoming, and will offer to tell you what spices and condiments have gone into a particular dish.
Bayside Taste Test:
Stall 1: Try the squid masala, which is a mildly-spicy coconut curry, and the Gaboli curry which looks oily but has a fantastic aroma of spices and sea salt. This curry is quite common, and you’ll find it at a majority of the stalls.
Stall 4: The Maakli masala, which is a green curry, was prepared excellently and the fish was well-cooked.
Stall 7: Try the spicy shellfish curry served with Chavlachi Roti (roti made of rice flour)
Stall 14-15: For those who prefer eating pomfret, this stall offers delicious tandoori pomfret cooked in green masala. This masala tastes good, both before and after roasting!
Stall 16: Those with a sweet tooth, your search ends here! This stall offers a traditional dessert – raw banana stuffed with elaichi-flavoured coconut, garnished with dry fruits. The dish served here uses just enough ghee. Those who would prefer a more decadent version should try this dish at other stalls.
Stall 19: The tuna masala at this stall was unlike any other curry at the food fest. Perhaps this was a result of the fish imparting its taste to the curry. The tuna is chopped into fine bites and cooked well.
Stall 21: Visit this stall right at the end of your meal because they offer a light and frothy sol kadhi!
Stall 25: Finally, something for the vegetarians! Try the chavli wada, which are pakoras made of a red leafy vegetable. Light and spicy.
Stall 40: The prawn samosas at this stall were a pleasant surprise. I expected them to be stuffed with mashed prawns. Instead, they had whole small prawns that will melt in your mouth.
Stall 49: The servers and cooks at this stall are very chatty! They made me a fresh plate of fried mandeli – a bite-sized fish that must be eaten in entirety.
Stall 57: The prawn biryani at this stall is promising.
- If you enjoy sipping on a drink while eating fish, carry your own alcohol. The drinks offered by the stalls are heavy on the pocket.
- Go with a large bunch of friends or relatives. That way, you can split the bill AND try more types of fish.
- Don’t fixate on one stall just because everything there looks fancy. Make the most of all the stalls!
- Fish that is more commonly cooked at home, such as Pomfret and Bombay Duck, are more expensive. This food fest is a great opportunity to try lesser-known varieties, especially because they are cooked in a style that most of us cannot enjoy at home.
Versova Koli Seafood Fest in Pictures: