AYURVEDA’S SATTVIC FOOD IS BOTH VEGETARIAN & VEGAN…here is a typical Sarth thali meal which is included in all packages for patients for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tourists taking a break here may go out to Malgudi Days nearby to feast on sea food, there are several eateries in the vicinity of Sawantwadi

By Tara Narayan

THERE is much to learn if you go away for a wellness holiday anywhere! Last time recently when I was at the Sarth Ayurveda Wellness Retreat at Sawantwadi I discovered a breakfast dish after my own heart and how come I haven’t tasted it before although I’ve lived 30 years in Mumbai that was Bombay once upon a time? What is gavan? The Sarth kitchen cook Anita made it for me one morning and it was superlicious…call it a rice dosa if you like, or gavan, I prefer gavan and sometimes folk all it gavane which must be in the plural form although I must tell you there is a village called Gavane too in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra.
But to stay with this velvety soft gavan which served to me with a bowl of potato-tomato sabzi…I thought it was the perfect healthy breakfast. Of course, I wished the rice batter had been red rice batter and not the ukde or white rice of some denomination used here. Funny or not funny, I was on an Ayurveda trip to find what ailed my body beautiful and supposed to be fasting, but here I was feasting at this lovely Bhojnalaya Sarth Ayurveda Wellness Retreat (which is managed by the NBR brothers Nitin and Amit Bandekar I presume)….during the monsoon time this spot must be one of the loveliest ever to do some rain watching!
Anyway, gavan is on the breakfast menu some mornings and I think I must have devoured three of the gavan. Actually, they are like south India’s neer dosa, light and airy “pancakes” which too are made of rice batter. The more organic and natural the rice the more flavorful the batter and gavan of course. I have always preferred down south India’s breakfast of repertoire of dosa thin and crisp or melt in the mouth soft usually served with coconut chutney (also onion-tomato chutney or peanut chutney if you’re in some upmarket wellness retreat), in Maharashtra peanut chutney proliferate with or without coconut, without coconut is nicer. Sometimes you may even get a green coriander-mint chutney. Chutneys are health food, okay, eat them every day, but go easy on the oil, salt, sugar and chilli. For some reason over the years I find that food is getting more and more thikat or chilli hot with the generous use of red chilli powder or green chillies finely or thickly sliced and added in. I find myself picking out the green bits of chilli to make a mess on the plate or in this case my banana leaf.
Gavan breakfast are best followed by some flavorful thin buttermilk, but here we got a herbal tea (brewed from a dry herbal mix which is handy for quick fixes). Most Ayurveda and Naturopathy places do offer herbal teas in the morning and some of them are wonderful morning pick-me-ups…I remember at the Modi’s Karjat Resort near Mumbai a cheerful boy would come around to each cottage to offer herbal tea at 6 am. The herbal came aromatic with lemon grass and was sweetened a wee bit with honey.
Later I learned their kitchen brewed a mix of fresh lemon grass, tulsi leaves, some fenugreek seeds, some coriander seeds maybe, fresh ginger….to arrive at the eminently desirable herbal tea (I’d exchange dairy milk tea for this any day and in fact think it’s a good idea to make the switch at home too, after all see how the prices of milk, tea and sugar have gone up recently). For the sake of better health parameters give up dairy products, that’s been the mantra for quite some time making the wellness circles the world over, not just in India. Never mind that we worship the holy cow and its bounty given to us at such great cost to the poor bovine animals currently roaming from dustbin to dustbin in our cities including capital city Panaji.
Like I always say no other animal of the animal or mammal kingdom drinks another animal’s milk except the smart aleck human being! (Sigh) Goa never had a dairy milk tradition, it always had a far superior coconut milk culture and it’s the coconut which is really the kalpavriksha fruit of all fulfilment, a veritable tree of life. I’ve said this before but to repeat it coconut milk is rich with lauric acid which comes closest to mother’s milk; and we know the fruit of the coconut offers many other gifts to humankind apart from quenching thirst with coconut water and feasting on coconut kernel malai or coconut kernel meat which was once upon a time offered as prasadam in our temples…that’s because in Hindu religious tradition the coconut fruit is seen as symbolic of the ego to be crushed before the lord.
At the Thaipusam festival which takes place down south and also in South East Asia in Penang and Kuala Lumpur annually, it is not only the Hindu Indians but the believers amongst the Chinese and Malay community who also join in donating hundreds and thousands of coconuts to Lord Subramaniam and in his chariot processions around town, the coconuts are smashed all the way down the street and everyone flocks for the offering of prasad! It’s quite a memorable scene although I used to rue that so much broken coconut was also going waste. But along with breaking a coconut one is supposed to offer up one’s ego of arrogance and pulchritude to the whoever one’s lord god is.
ALL of which reminds me that after feasting on gavan at the Sarth Wellness al fresco cafeteria in fact, there are many recipes of rice in traditional Indian cuisines although the flourish down south India more…in Maharashtra apart from gavan they also make these soft mal mal phulka of rice flour; there is also rice bhakri and you must know Lord Ganpati gets his snowy white steamed rice modak (stuffed with sweet goodies) every Ganesh Chaturthi. Out in village Gujarat I know we used to savor this steamed savory rice flour in buttermilk and called it “papdi-no-lot”, soft and mashed with ghani-pressed til oil, redolent of the ajwain seeds in it. Both in Maharashtra and Goa ukde chavalchye ladoo are much loved with their wee flecks of cardamom powder or seeds…much more.
Rice and rice flour are considered nutritious fare in Ayurveda, softer on the digestive system…rice flour is rich in choline which apparently prevents build-up of cholesterol in the liver. Don’t ask where I read this, but I remember reading it in one of my Ayurveda books and ever since I’ve loved rice over wheat (which we are so hung up thinking it is upper crust to eat wheat roti while the poor may eat their rice).
Well, let me tell you eating rice maintains superior liver health (this has stuck in my mind from somewhere and if anyone wants to confirm it, please do and at least rice is not genetically modified yet by the bastards who do these things out of hatred for Mother Earth). We have hundreds of varieties of rice in this country, please save them and grant them protection from greedy human monsters!
This is to say learn to make gavan at home one of these days, out in Mumbai I remember local stores used to keep “gavan peeth” that is rice flour, it has very short shelf life and must be used up quickly. Gavan are quickly made if you just soak the rice ahead of time, soak overnight, next day grind, add wee salt and turn out the rice pancakes with a hint of crispiness with a bit of oil or ghee smearing. Gavan are a Konkan favourite and in Goa I suppose one may call them “amboli” – rice batter crepes of India! Don’t confuse gavan with the south’s set dosa or uttapam – these are not a patch on Maharashtra or the Konkan coast’s gavan with very small differences. Serve with tomato garlic chutney or mixed vegetable korma.
It’s always superior to use traditional brown or red rice or flour, pinch of sea salt, jeera and water to make your batter. Cook like dosa of course. Can sweeten them up with a choon of freshly grated coconut and palm jaggery if you wish….ah, like Goa’s alle belle but I think these are made of refined flour or maida and eggs if I remember right. Rice pancakes are a world apart and far more worthy of appreciating…do the same recipe to make foxtail millet podi dosa or spinach and coriander dosa or a whole host of dosa to live for. Enjoy. Post my fleeting wellness holiday I’m switching over to rice gavan big time in my kitchen and so help me mahadeo!
Note: Easy recipe: Take 1 cup rice, soaked overnight or for four to five hours. Grind into batter with a little water a time. Shift batter to bowl and mix in bit sea salt, adjust consistency if required …keep batter aside for ten to 15 minutes before turning out the gavan not so thick and not so thin. Use a non-stick tava or pan which has been oiled a bit.
Some folk also like to add to the batter roasted jeera, finely chopped onion, carrot, green coriander, green chilli, curry leaves…even add some rava to the batter for acquiring crisper gavan. (Can serve gavan with aloo sabzi too, nice and juicy with tomato puree giving it a hint of delicious tartness.)

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