Flavours from Maharashtra's forests

The Bombay Canteen’s seasonal menu based on Maharashtra’s forest bounty helps you discover the rich diversity of the Sahyadris and honour tribal eco-systems

July 18, 2019 09:43 pm | Updated July 22, 2019 06:26 pm IST

Three years ago, Thomas Zacharias stumbled upon shevla or jungli suran (dragon stalk yam) at a local market in Mumbai. This hyper-seasonal vegetable, found in Maharashtra’s Sahyadri hills, shows up for about three weeks during the monsoons.

The adventurous chef tried it raw, biting into its tender and hollow stalk only to be hit by a painfully itchy and stinging sensation. Then, a local vendor introduced him to kakad — a green fruit resembling an amla (Indian gooseberry). It helps detoxify shevla when cooked together.

Forest foragers

The executive chef and partner at The Bombay Canteen has drawn upon this traditional wisdom in the Crispy Shevla Tikki (₹375). The peanut-crusted tikki boasts of the yam’s delicious, meaty flavour. It’s elevated by the accompanying caramelised kakad murabba. The appetiser is part of ‘A Taste of the Wild’, an ongoing menu that celebrates the edible forest bounty native to the Western Ghats. “The idea is to familiarise them with the produce that grows only 100km from the city and yet is often unheard of. The tribal communities have been consuming it for years,” says Zacharias. This endeavour is a result of TBC’s collaboration with OOO Farms, a venture founded by four Mumbaikars — Shailesh Awate, Abhay Bhatia, Karan Khandelwal and Pranav Khandelwal. They distribute native, indigenous seeds to the farmers in the Sahyadris, train them in sustainable agricultural practices and create a market for the nutritious produce in the city. They also document Maharashtra’s rich diversity of wild produce. “It’s getting lost because of the reducing forest cover. So, we’re working with the tribal communities to regrow and maintain the forests,” says Awate.

Zacharias travelled with the OOO Farms team to interact with the locals, forage for produce together, cook with them and understand their culinary heritage. The wild ingredients have been sourced from villages dotting the regions of Palghar, Thane, Pune and Ahmednagar. These include slender green leaves of phodshi, moras bhaji (sea purslane), kantola (spiny gourd), a small ovaloid green fruit called pendhra, karvanda (conkerberry) and the flower of mahua (Indian butter tree). “This is uncharted territory for me because I hadn’t even heard of some of the vegetables. So, exploring their flavours was an interesting process. It was also essential to retain their integrity in the dishes,” adds Zacharias.

Flavour bonanza

The phodshi appears on the menu in two ways. Flecked with toasted sesame and dressed with red chilli-kasundi, it delivers a delightful crunch and verdant notes in Phodshi and Peanut Salad (₹350). The Soft Shell Crab and Phodshi (₹725) — wok-tossed in a dried shrimp masala and cherry tomatoes — celebrates the vegetable in its charred glory.

A riff on the popular traditional dish, the Kantola Litti Chokha (₹575) pairs the baked, sattu-stuffed wholewheat dough balls with kantola bharta and garlic chutney. The spiny gourd’s faint bitter notes, punctuated by its crunchy seeds, are amped up by the chutney’s pungency. The veggie shines in the crisp, fried Chatpata Kantola Chips (₹90) too.

The menu also features the Wild Food Thali (₹995) where you’re offered sharing plates from the a la carte section followed by a rustic feast served on a sal leaf plate. We seek comfort in the ambrosial ambemohar rice and kokum-flavoured Kulith (horsegram) dal along with the simple and robust Gharbandi Saag (a green, leafy vegetable). The accompaniments include pendhra pickle and khurasni (niger seeds) chutney with a pleasant, mushroom-like earthiness. This soul-satisfying feast is followed by the decadent Warm Mahua Toffee Pudding (₹450) with whiskey toffee sauce and brown butter ice cream. The mahua’s sweet, floral notes also cast a spell in the Wild Mahua Sour (₹600), a refreshing take on the Whiskey Highball cocktail. The ongoing menu is expected to change every two to three weeks depending on the availability of ingredients. Expect additions like wild varieties of bamboo shoot, mountain crabs and even fiddlehead ferns (yes, they grow in Maharashtra too). TBC is also hosting the Sunday Wild Food Market for guests to purchase these ingredients and experiment with them at home using the recipe cards created by Zacharias and his team.

Awate sums up, “This endeavour will positively impact about half a dozen villages in the Sahyadris. It also helps the tribal communities realise that they are the custodians of this heritage and encourages them to protect, conserve and increase the forest produce.”

A Taste of the Wild menu is available for lunch and dinner until August 31 at The Bombay Canteen, Lower Parel; The Wild Wild Sunday Daawat will take place on July 21; more details at insider.in and 49666666.

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