Christmas in Vasai | East Indian Food in India

East Indian Food in Vasai
The Periera Family - Christmas in Vasai
The Periera Family – Christmas in Vasai

Christmas in the sleepy, dreamy town of Vasai, with a loving East Indian Family in their beautiful home, surrounded by lush green patches of fruit plantations, home grown chicken, fresh water fish curry and homemade masalas for everyday cooking.

Sitting in the porch, gorging on some luscious homegrown papaya, I was playing with Craig, a lovely 3 year old boy and the 7th generation Periera in Vasai. Beryl and Cornwell, Craig’s parents, are my friends and I self-invited myself to their home for an old-fashioned Christmas with their family. Not too far from Bhayandar, amidst lush green surroundings, churches by the coast, big houses – this hamlet is in complete contrast to Mumbai’s fast life. Beryl, here lives, with her joint family in one of the many small villages in Papdy, Vasai.

Being a former Portuguese settlement, Vasai houses this community know as East Indians. Though Beryl speaks in a dialect of Marathi, it has words borrowed from Konkani and Portuguese as well. I remember visiting the place for the first time during Beryl and Cornwell’s wedding (2013) and falling in love with the vintage houses, greenery and of course, the delicious home cooked sorpotel and vindaloo. I was completely enamored by this one of its kind place and its people.

So years later, Gurjas, Saurabh and I packed our bags, reached Mumbai and after an exciting journey in Mumbai Local, got down at Naigaon. Once there, the topography of the city, completely changed, as we drove through lanes lined with big bungalows and huge lawns, old churches and kids playing football in an open field ‘wearing Santa caps’. Every house was decked up with Christmas decorations and the mood was just right for a leisurely Christmassy holiday.

Beryl’s Father-In-Law, Mr. Leslie Periera, welcomed us with little Carl (Craig’s toddler brother) in his arms. As we entered, Collin and Sarah (Cornwell’s brother and sister-in-law) were running around, busy decorating the house. Beryl and her Mother-In-Law, Mrs. Beatrice, were sitting at the porch with a fisherwoman, asking her to fillet a fresh water fish and some delicate Bombay Duck (Bombil). I sat next to them and tried my hands at peeling few prawns as well, a bit of novelty for a North Indian, you see.

What’s more fascinating was that not only the fish was caught from a local pond, it was also cooked in a masala, which Aunty (Beryl’s Mother-in-law) had made at home. Beryl made some ginger-garlic paste, cooked it with onions and tomatoes, added the masala and cooked the fish for a few minutes and finally garnished it with some curry leaves (from their own garden) and covered the lid of her stone cookware. Bombil was covered in salt, homemade masala, rawa (semolina) and then shallow fried. Along with rice, the curry and Bombay Duck made up for a sumptuous meal, exactly what one would want to eat in a coastal area.

Later in the day, Cornwell took us out for a walk in his Banana plantations behind their house. Then we visited Vasai Fort and few churches around. Vasai Fort, which was more or less in ruins, has now become more popular after getting featured in Coldplay’s Hymn for the Weekend song.

Before we could binge a little more, Mr. Leslie Periera gave us tour of their old family home, which was built in 1920. With colourful tinted windows, a chapel in the house, wooden floor and stairs, vintage crockery (which I picked up) and chiku tree beside the porch, this house was a quintessential representation of the times it was built in. The European influence in the architecture was quite apparent and the house still stands tall like the mansion, it once was.

This 98-year-old family home is right across the street from their current home, which was built by Leslie Uncle.

Post my trip to their loving home, I can assure you that all meals at their home were outstanding and it would be hard for me to pick one favourite. I absolutely loved the Prawn Pulav, Homegrown-Chicken Curry, Chicken Puffs for breakfast and freshly cut fruits. Hence, I would love to mention certain dishes, which were unique for me.

Mutton in walla (wet) masala, covered in a green masala made of green chilies, fresh coriander, salt, vinegar, sugar and ginger-garlic paste. Fresh, meaty and too delicious to have on its own, this was finger licking good and the masala reminded me of Goan Cafreal masala.

We also had Chicken Cutlet, which just like most of the food here, was a unique amalgamation of east meets west. The chicken was cooked and shredded and then mixed with potato filling, which was seasoned in a similar fashion as a vada (in vada pav). Covered in rawa (semolina) and shallow fried, Cornwell and the three of us had them, with a glass of Monkey Shoulder whiskey from Cornwell’s exquisite whiskey collection.

And of course, the star of all the meals was Pork Vindaloo. After washing the raw pork several times and drying it thoroughly, Beryl and Aunty marinated the meat with ginger-garlic paste, salt, homemade vindaloo masala and homemade vinegar made up of sugar cane juice. They marinated the pork for good two hours and slow cooked it for 45 minutes. Voila! The meaty, fiery, tangy Vindaloo was ready. The rich indulgent Vindaloo was superbly paired with soft delicious rotis, which were made of rice flour. From a spread of dishes, the only dish I served myself was vindaloo and roti and it was exceptional.

East Indian Food in Vasai
East Indian Food in Vasai

In between these mind-blowing treats, I visited Amit, another friend of mine, who also lives nearby. His lovely mother and sister greeted us with so much affection and even treated us to some delicious homemade Kanda Poha and Tapioca chips. The Plum cake at his house was one of the finest I’ve had.

Thereon, Amit took us to Fish Market run by local fisherwomen from the Koli Community. The market was a sight to behold, with innumerable varieties of fish, crabs, prawns, baby sharks, eel, snappers, flat fish, Bombay Duck and more such seafood delights. Amit also helped fulfil my wish of having a spicy roadside vada pav, by taking us to a small vendor who only sells vada pav throughout the day.

Back with the Pereiras, for Christmas lunch, there was a feast of Chicken Fry, Chili Chicken, Pork Vindaloo, Homemade Mango Pickle, Kachumber Raita and Chicken Biryani. Cornwell’s Aunty, who lives next door, had cooked some Chicken Biryani. The masala and fragrance of the Biryani was similar to Hyderabad’s famous Biryani but it wasn’t as spicy. Though we had this for lunch and dinner, I could very well have this for another meal in a row!

The best part about festival food here in Vasai is that its all home cooked. Even for the weddings in the community, all the ladies of the community get together and prepare the food. Even large numbers and if they order food it’s cooked at some or the other relative’s house, who runs from a small kitchen from home. I could see the sense of community is mighty strong here, wherein everyone knows everyone. People get together, share food and celebrate. Even the streets were decorated by all the young boys who got together and climbed trees to deck them up. One could walk into a house and greet the family and share a laugh. It was like a big extended family celebration. Even at 1 in the night, I stumbled upon two guys barbequing seekhs at their small kiosk on the road. People stopped by, greeted each other, had some kebabs and left.

I also loved going to Bombay Bakery, one of the oldest bakeries in Vasai famous for its Khajoor Cake and Chicken Puff Patties. The flaky pastry with juicy chicken filling was most definitely the star of the bakery.

I was extremely happy to witness the secure, loving, friendly and peaceful vibe of this hamlet of a place. And of course, the fresh air, clean water and farm produce was pure luxury. For me, this part of Vasai (Papdy) felt like Mumbai’s best-kept secret. Even though I’m writing about it, I secretly hope that tourists never discover it and the sanctity of the place remained preserved. I mean where else in India, would you find people enjoying homemade wines, eating fresh from farm produce, chilling with the entire community and basically co-existing peacefully! I didn’t want to come back home. And, just a simple thank you to the Periera family won’t be enough for their impeccable hospitality and love.

Insider tips:

Nearest Railway Station : Bandra Terminus

Nearest Railway station via Mumbai Local : Naigaon/ Virar

Nearest Airport: Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport

The best mode of transportation to reach Vasai from the Mumbai city is Mumbai Local.



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