Saravle – the poetry-worthy Konkani Muslim pasta!

September 10, 2015 Author: Vishwagujarat

Saravle, a Konkani Muslim pasta with roots in 13th century poems, is fit to offer the gods and gift brides.

Mohsina Mukadam has always been curious about India's culinary history. A food historian and head of the History department at Ramnarain Ruia College, Matunga, she even completed her PhD in food history. The subject of her thesis was to explore how Indian dishes and the approach to cooking evolved during the British occupation. Mukadam's research for the paper included studying the culinary lineage and cultural significance of a number of Indian dishes. Her curiosity made her look closer home but she only found little information. "There is little documentation of Konkani Muslim cuisine. But one does find references to dishes in literature, theatre and poetry," she says.

Mukadam found references to Saravle - a traditional pasta prepared by the Konkani Muslim community - in 13th century nuptial poems or swayamvar kavya. The pasta, made from wheat dough, is moulded into the shape of tiny rings by pulling tiny lumps of beaten dough off a stick. "The rings are so delicate, that in ancient poetry, they're described as pearls and jasmine buds," she says. To manage the right consistency, choosing the right grain is crucial.

Women from the community have developed a test to examine if the grain is conducive to preparing the dish. They will chew the grain and decide if it has the right elasticity to retain the ring shape. Summer produce usually allows the right flexibility. Hence, the dish is a summer favourite, along with papads, pickles and other Konkani pastas such as nakule, named so because of its resemblance to a fingernail.

While most food enthusiasts are more than familiar with its Italian counterpart, this indigenous pasta doesn't share the same fame. In Konkani Muslim households, however, most cultural celebrations are incomplete without a bite of Saravle. "When a girl gets married, the pasta is gifted to her by her parents. It is part of her 'rukhwat', a list of decorative items that a bride is gifted during the wedding," explains Mukadam. She recalls receiving a glass bottle filled with red, green and yellow-coloured Saravle at her wedding.

"It's seen as one of those things newly-wed women must be armed with. The idea behind it is that if she were to have unexpected guests, she can always prepare a bowl of Saravle for them," she says. That the pasta can be prepared as a sweet or savoury dish gives it full marks for versatility.

In this way, the pasta takes on an almost propitious status during festivals and celebrations. It's even offered to God as 'naivedhya' or religious offering and later distributed as Prasad.

But how exactly did this seemingly foreign dish make it to our shores? Mukadam decided to trace the Konkan region's history to find out. Arab settlers migrated to the coast as the ancient port of Chaul, near the village of Revdanda (near Alibaug) used to be an important trading port. Over centuries, many of the Arab immigrants settled down with local partners. This is how the Konkani Muslim community was born. They were largely a sea-faring community by profession.

"Consequently, Konkani Muslim cuisine became a marriage of local dishes and Islamic philosophies," explains Mukadam. Since the Konkan belt enjoyed strong and prosperous trade relations with China, Mukadam suspects that seviyan could've been an adaptation of the noodle "In-laws will serve seviyan to a man on his first visit to their home. Since the noodles are made of long strings, the tradition draws a metaphor about longevity. It is said to bless the young couple with a long life," she says. In many homes, this tradition is carried out by cracking open an egg over the seviyan. The origins of this stem from Chinese culture.

But unlike seviyan which travelled to India through Persia and China, Saravle, Mukadam explains, has Hindu origins. This she traced through its constant referencing in Hindi poetry. "Unfortunately, the dish has few takers nowadays since there are more than a few more convenient alternatives around. Even culturally it's been discontinued but you can find it at Konkani Muslim homes in Murud," she says.

Mukadam shares her recipe for a sweet version of Saravle with a disclaimer that dry fruits are optional. You could replace water with milk for a richer version of the dish.