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Recipes from the Maharashtrian Koli community with fresh catch from the sea

Boats are repaired and nets are aired as fishermen belonging to the Koli community of Maharashtra welcome the fishing season in August. Here’s a glimpse into their kitchens

Seafood features extensively in Koli cuisine (Photo by Unsplash; representational image)
Seafood features extensively in Koli cuisine (Photo by Unsplash; representational image)

Yesterday was Nariyal Poornima, an auspicious day for the native fishing community of Maharashtra, the Kolis. They offer Sriphal (coconut) to the sea, praying for protection and expressing gratitude. “We wish for the sea to take care of us as we continue to harvest fish," says Anjali Koli, a Mumbai-based food blogger specialising in Koli cuisine. She documents recipes on her blog

Nariyal Poonima marks the beginning of the fishing season for community as boats are repaired and fishing nets are prepared. “New nets are purchased too," informs Kaustubh Haru, fisherman and founder of Kolin, a cloud kitchen venture selling Koli seafood, both cooked and raw, on the website

Stuffed pomfret (Photo by Kaustubh Haru)
Stuffed pomfret (Photo by Kaustubh Haru)

Haru says fresh catch from the sea includes pomfret, prawns, crabs and hilsa that comes to the estuaries of the Arabian Sea to breed in this season. Stuffed paplet (pomfret), gaboli (Hilsa roe) and prawn tikhat are prepared in their homes. A green masala paste comprising coriander, coconut, green chillies and some garlic is stuffed into the pomfret, then the fish is coated with semolina and shallow fried. Koli masala is used to make a spicy prawn curry. Gaboli has a kheema-like texture and is prepared by boiling Hilsa roe and cooking it with the green masala. Haru and the fisher folk from Mumbai are waiting for unlock directives from the Maharashtra Maritime Board before venturing into the sea this year.

However, Bombay duck or bombil is available in abundance now and Kolis use it generously. “It’s really crazy. Bombil is eaten in several ways—dunked in curries, crisp fried and half-dried bombil is especially loved for a Koli delicacy called Bambooke bombil," says Anjali. The gelatinous fish is caught fresh from the sea and allowed to semi-dry for two or three days in bamboo scaffoldings that line sea shores. This is used for Bambooke bombil—a thickish gravy cooked in a ground masala paste containing coconut, green chillies, kokum, koli masala and coriander. Anjali says the fish is so delicate that they don’t use a spoon to stir. The cooking vessel is gently tilted from side to side to mix the ingredients.

For a fine balance of dishes from the community, she shares two seafood recipes— one with dried fish and the other with fresh crabs:

Sode Dude (Dried prawn with bottle gourd)

Prawns with bottle gourd
Prawns with bottle gourd


1 bottle gourd about 500- 600 gms, peeled and cubed

Half cup dried sode or dried prawns

One-fourth cup grated fresh coconut

1 teaspoon cumin seed

2-3 green chilies

Half teaspoon garam masala

Half teaspoon Koli masala

One-fourth teaspoon turmeric

Handful of coriander

1 tablespoon oil

Salt to taste


1. First soak the dried prawns in warm water for at least 30 mins.

2. Then grind together grated coconut, green chilies, cumin seeds, turmeric, cilantro and Koli masala into a paste with minimum water.

3. Heat oil in a pot. Add the peeled and cubed bottle gourd into the hot oil. Now let in the rehydrated prawns or sode. Discard the water. Cook till the sode are cooked through and crumble when pressed between the finger. Tip in the ground masala. Add salt to taste and a cup of water. Sprinkle the garam masala and cook till fragrant. The Sode Dudhi should have a gravy just enough to scoop up.

4. This goes best with crisp rice roti, but try it with rice if you care for it or a roti of your choice.

*Vegetarians can substitute dried prawns with black eyed peas or white peas

*A mix of garam masala and red chilli powder can replace Koli masala.

Chimborya Chya Kanji (Crab Curry)


6 small chimbori/crabs cleaned and chunked at the market

Half grated fresh coconut

1 handful coriander, chopped

3-4 green chillies

6-8 garlic cloves

Half teaspoon turmeric

1 tablespoon Koli masala

2 potatoes, quartered

2 tablespoon oil

Salt to taste

1 glass water


1. Rinse lightly the cleaned and chunked crab. With a pestle slightly dent the claws. This denting helps the masala to flavour the claws inside out, and also helps to eat without damaging your tooth.

2. Grind to fine paste the coconut, cilantro, chilies, turmeric and garlic. Keep aside.

3. Heat oil in a shallow pan. Add the cleaned and chunked crabs to the oil. Give a stir to coat with oil. Add the quartered potatoes and shake the vessel around to distribute them. Cover and let it cook for 5 minutes.

4. Now add the ground masala on top and sprinkle the Koli masala. Top up with water and shake the vessel around to mix the masala and move around the crabs.

5. Cover and cook till the crabs go from grey to orange. Add salt to taste. Once the crabs are orange and the potatoes are cooked, remove and let the flavours meld for atleast an hour before you eat. This curry tastes better as it matures.

Tip: This is a coconut-based curry, so we do not add souring agent while cooking. The souring agent if used during cooking, increases the acidity of the curry and thins it down by coagulating the coconut. So it is best avoided at the cooking stage. Instead it tastes better with a squeeze of lime.

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