Misssion Malvani

 It was my twenty-first birthday, and my dad had planned to take me out for a special lunch. He had an exclusive place in mind, and he had assured me that it would be memorable. I started going through the list of my favorite restaurants as our taxi arrived at an area which I wouldn’t exactly call foodies paradise. The restaurant was tucked in a small galli (by lane), and its ordinary exterior and mediocre interior dampened my spirits. This restaurant was a far cry from our usual haunts; this is no ‘Taj Hotel’ I thought quite deflated. In comparison our local Irani joint looked more like a three star restaurant. What was wrong with my dad, what was he up to?

The restaurant (it didn’t even deserve to be called as one) could hardly sit fifteen people, there were no menu cards in sight; menu wasn’t even chalked in on a wall. How was I supposed to order anything? But the guy sitting at the cash counter seemed to know my dad very well, and he bawled an order at the nearby attendant. Our table was cleaned with a rag, and the attendant averred that the restaurant was one of a kind in the whole city. My dad told him to get the ‘special’, and I started scrutinizing the place. I noticed that a steady stream of people was coming in to pick up their carry out orders; now that was a good sign, may be the food was not all that bad.    

I noticed a waiter approaching our table balancing two trays piled high with food. The special of the day turned out to be kombdi vade (Chicken curry with fried bread), shrimp curry, sol kadhi ( a digestive beverage usually enjoyed at the end of heavy meal) and a small mound of rice. The meal was a classic Malvani cuisine ; this was our everyday home food, and I was hoping for a spicy biryani, succulent kababs and creamy soups. I reluctantly took a bite of shrimp masala with a vada, and what an explosion of flavors it was. I was either in heaven or living a sweet (or rather a spicy) dream. I wanted to finish my food before I was thrown out of the heaven or rudely awoken by my sister. I saw my dad’s smiling face, and realized that I could indeed take my time to savor the food. As it turns out, that was the best food I have ever eaten to date. Today geographical distance prevents me from visiting that restaurant on a regular basis and I have no other way but to reproduce the recipe.    

I won’t claim that my recipe is a copycat of the original, but it came pretty darn close, and I was highly satisfied with the result. I am sure you will enjoy it too.   

Malvani Shrimp Curry   

24 large shrimps cleaned and deveined preferably in their shells   

1 medium onion sliced   

10 garlic cloves   

1 cup of shredded coconut (fresh/frozen)   

1 cup coconut powder /desiccated coconut   

10 black peppercorns   

1 inch cinnamon stick   

4 cloves   

1 tsp turmeric powder   

salt to taste   

4 tbsp Malvani masala if available   

6 pieces of kokum soaked in 2 tablespoons water or 1 tbsp tamarind pulp   


1. Sprinkle salt and turmeric on shrimp and keep aside for thirty minutes.   

2. Heat 4 tbsp oil in a small wok/ kadhai.   

3. Fry garlic cloves on a low heat and keep aside.   

4. Fry onions in the same oil till they turn brown and keep aside.   

5. Add 1 tbsp oil to the wok and fry coconut on a low heat. 

6. Roast peppercorn, cinnamon and cloves on a low heat.   

7. Grind onion, garlic, coconut and roasted spices to a coarse paste.   

8. Pour the paste with 4 cups of water in a saucepan and add Malvani masala. Once it comes to boil, simmer it for 20 minutes.   

9. Add shrimp to the pan and bring it to boil for couple of minutes. Add more salt if needed.   

Serve with rotis, dinner rolls or rice.   

Malvani masala:   

My mother’s recipe of Malvani masala contains more than fifty ingredients, and it takes about two weeks for the whole process of sun drying different ingredients, roasting and grinding them into a fine powder at a neighborhood food mill.  I found this recipe which is a close approximation of the original. Alternatively you can roast the ingredients specified in this recipe and skip step 6 above. If you don’t have all the ingredients in your pantry, simply omit them.   

Malvani Shrimp Curry

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