It wasn’t quite love at first sight with the solkadi. It was a sweltering summer afternoon in Janata Lunch Home, a tiny coastal food speciality restaurant and somewhat of an anomalous institution in Mumbai’s hip suburb of Bandra. The afternoon grew hotter as plates piled up featuring fiery pomfret fry slathered in a red chilli masala and an equally spice-laden prawn curry and fans whirred out hot air and fried fish fumes.
At first sight, the pinkish-mauve milky liquid in a tumbler flecked with two coriander leaves brought to mind Gelusil dissolved in a glass of murky water. Yet, on first sip, trepidation gave way to surprise as the complex layers of solkadi slowly unfurled. The kokum lent it tartness, the fresh coconut milk, a mellow sweet flavour. A gentle heat from chilli and pepper, the aromatic turns offered by garlic and coriander. The only similarity with my first impression was that this wonderful drink was a digestive as well…only in a way more palatable form.
That hot summer afternoon found its right note in that glass of solkadi.
Kokum: from superfood to summer cooler
The popularity of this drink throughout the Konkan coast has as much to do with the weather, as the abundance of coconut and kokum. The latter is a fruit related to the mangosteen family which is dried and sold across the southwestern coastal belt. Apart from being a favoured souring agent in cooking used across dishes from red fish curries to Maharashtrian amti (a sweet and sour dal), the varied medicinal benefits and cooling properties make kokum a perfect base for summer sherbets and drinks like the solkadi. Today, kokum has found its way into many artisanal cocktails and craft tonics in India as well as restaurant kitchens as a star ingredient.
Still, the traditional solkadi continues to hold an important place at tables across the Konkan belt. From the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin cuisine of Goa to Mumbai and Malvan in Maharashtra as well as further south to Uttara Kannada, the solkadi is the beverage of choice for summer.
Where to get solkadi
Solkadi and the spice-laden seafood of the Konkan coast are like the yin and yang, each complementing the nature and flavours of the other. Specialty coastal food restaurants in this region whether they are of the fine dining variety, highway eateries or hole-in-the-wall fish thali stalls, will inevitably have solkadi to offer as a coolant. In Mumbai, try it at Gomantak (301, Miranda Chal, NC Kelkar Rd), Soul Fry in Bandra West (26046892) or Mahesh Lunch Home. Travelling to Goa? Both Ritz Classic (0832 242 6417) and Bhatti Village Family Bar & Restaurant (9822184103) offer solkadi along with lip-smacking coastal seafood preparations.
A recipe for solkadi
Typically made by combining freshly extracted coconut milk with kokum, green chilli, garlic and coriander and mint and diluted with water according to taste, this drink makes for a perfect umami balance as far as sweet, sour, heat is concerned. And there is an edge of spice which varies from recipe to recipe and family traditions… think pepper, jeera, a hint of clove…
This recipe by cookbook author and writer Saee-Koranne Khandekar is the traditional solkadi with a few tips on how to make it easier and quicker with an option to transform it into a thicker kadhi that can be eaten with rice.