Aquafest has been an annual event at Karavalli, The Gateway Hotel, for as many years as the restaurant has been in existence – namely: 26. It is no mean feat that so many years down the line, this once a year food festival is still eagerly anticipated, looked forward to, and visited by seafood lovers. What’s so special, you ask? Well, how about a mix of well-loved Karavalli specials (check out the West Coast Seafood Grill section of the menu), alongside dishes that are curated just for Aquafest, for the run of the 2 week festival? We’re talking the best of seafood, from clams and mussels, to scampi and crab, and fish galore! Chef Naren, whose presence and influence are very much part and parcel of Karavalli’s fame and charm, and his team dig out home style and family favorite recipes they’ve come across over the years, to create a menu that features the treasures of the ocean, from Mangalore, Kerala, Goa (aka the Malabar and Konkan coast).
I visited on day 2 of the festival (yes I was that eager, plus traveling soon thereafter means it was my only chance!) and we got to taste 8 of the starters, 2 curries, and 2 desserts off the Aquafest menu. Scampi Tawa Fry (fresh Scampi grilled in spicy Mangalorean masala) was the first shellfish to make an appearance, and was eaten with the alacrity that such deliciousness demanded. Karuapila Konju (Tiger Prawns pan fried with onions, tomatoes and fresh curry leaves), was another delectable morsel. One dish that was different, and which I found rather innovative, was the Ari Kadakku (spiced rice dough stuffed mussels, tossed with local spices) – basically, mussel shells were filled with an idly-like batter that had been infused with mussel meat, and then steamed. Another different dish was the Yettida Biscuit Rotti, which was Mangalorean spiced pooris infused with minced shrimp, spiced copra, and semolina. I also loved the Goan Cafreal King Fish – the tangy, green masala and the beautifully cooked fish made me eat every bite!
Now amidst all this goodness, two dishes really blew us away. The first was the Bombil Rawa Fry (Bombay duck marinated with spicy chilly masala, coated with semolina and fried). I like my fish mild and Bombay duck has a reputation for being anything but. However, this prep, with the perfectly crisp coating and a liberal squeeze of lemon on it – oh! The second was the Neitha Denji (sea crab fried with Kundapur spice mix and ghee), a Kundapur masala crab ghee roast that had me diving in with both hands, fingers covered in that luscious ghee roast masala, cracking at the crab claws and shell to get to the sweet meat within. I am one of those finicky seafood eaters, and the fact that I went all out to get every last morsel is testament to my love for this dish! I was tired and looked like I’d done battle by the end of it, much to the amusement of my dining companion and Chef, but it was well worth it!
Meen Moiley, a Kerala style fish curry, and Marwai Pundi, a clam and rice dumplings gravy dish, were our two mains – accompanied by Neer Dosa and as anyone who has ever dined at Karavalli knows, the most out of the world Appams. For dessert, Chef served us Raagi Manni (a fascinating, Dodol-like dessert of raagi flour, jaggery and coconut milk mixed, set, and cut into pieces) that my dining companion loved, and the Mangalorean specialty of Kashi Halwa, a grated white pumpkin sweet that I was happy to round out my meal with. Aquafest is on until the 30th of November, so make sure you drop in for some sumptuous seafood! And umm, Chef, could you please put the Neitha Denji on your regular menu? 🙂
Details: Karavalli, The Gateway Hotel; INR 2500 plus taxes for two