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More than vada pao: The magic of Maharashtrian cuisine

It all started with a meal at Delhi’s Maharashtra Bhavan. I wanted some good Maharashtrian fare, and instead found myself staring at a dish of butter chicken. Where is the local food, I asked. The staff looked at me pityingly. People only want to eat butter chicken, a waiter replied.

This happened a long time ago, and I am told the menu at the State bhavan has changed since. But it triggered a war between me and some of my good Maharashtrian friends. I would tease them about their fondness for butter chicken, and they, in turn, would loftily tell me their State has food the rest of the country can only dream of.

I believe them. Ever since I ate some Kolhapuri mutton a friend served some years ago, I have turned into an avowed Maharashtrian food lover. And I now understand the frustrations of the Marathi community when it tries to explain to others the various facets of its cuisine.

“Even today, it pains me to hear things like Marathi food is ‘only spice’, ‘only coconut’ or ‘only vada pao and misal pao’,” writes Saee Koranne-Khandekar in her book, Pangat, a Feast: Food and Lore from Marathi Kitchens.

The author of this recently launched volume points out that she studied and interpreted the food of her community and her ancestors for three years before writing the book.

Vast and varied

“With this book, I hope to rekindle the flavours and food memories of Marathi people who have forgotten what they cooked and ate before potatoes and tomatoes and generic mix masalas took over; to bring them back to childhood kitchens, where every meal looked and tasted entirely different from the previous one,” she writes. “I also hope to open the minds of non-Marathi food enthusiasts who have not had a chance to sample the State’s vast and varied offerings, to appreciate the nuances of each region’s produce and cooking style.”

While eateries serving regional cuisine have been mushrooming across India, Maharashtrian food strangely still remains under wraps. Yet the food, as the author says, is really varied, and every region in the State — Konkan, Desh, Khandesh, Marathwada and Vidarbha — has its own cuisine.

Konkan food, for instance, is rich with fish and coconut milk, while Vidarbha is known for dishes prepared with whole grains and sun-dried vegetables. The food of Khandesh, bordering Madhya Pradesh, is mostly spicy. I once cooked a Khandesh mutton curry that had a spice list almost as thick as a telephone directory.

That there is a lot more to the food than misal pao becomes obvious when you read Pangat, or another book called Tiffin: 500 Authentic Recipes Celebrating India’s Regional Cuisine by Sonal Ved. Ved’s book also mentions several delicious dishes, including one called nariyal machchi, fish cooked with coconut milk and tamarind; and pandhra rassa, a white, flavourful lamb stock prepared with white sesame seeds, shredded coconut, poppy seeds and ground cashew nuts.

200 and counting

I followed a nice dessert recipe from Khichdi — The Taste of Mother India. Called vhanedali khichri, it’s a Konkan dish of wheat, channa, jaggery, grated coconut, milk, raisins, cashew nuts, desi ghee and cardamom, and is especially popular at weddings. “Usually prepared with broken wheat, some household traditions prescribe wheat and suji or rawa for ease of preparation. It is also used as a prasad called panchkajjaya prasad,” it says.

Koranne-Khandekar’s book includes some 200 recipes. You will find recipes for whole pomfret stuffed with coconut chutney, semolina-crusted prawns, stewed colocasia leaves with peanuts and lentils, onion and fenugreek salad in spiced yoghurt, goat meat in a spicy rich curry, crisp bread stuffed with jaggery and sesame, hot and sour minced chicken, crisp puris in syrup and lentil soup with ginger and lime.

She has another 500 recipes that she couldn’t include in this volume, she writes. I can tell you one thing. Butter chicken is not among them.

The writer likes reading and writing about food as much as he does cooking and eating it. Well, almost.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 6:21:26 AM |

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