Exploring the Marathi Cuisine
One of the first things that a travel journalist explores about a place is not as much the landscape or people as the special cuisine of that region. Again, cuisine does not just refer to a Sada or Masala Dosa of Kerala or Vada Pav of Mumbai or the Pan Cakes of Odisha. These are food items available across the country or globe for that matter. A travel journalist has accomplished his/ her duty if he/ she has made the efforts to sneak into the kitchens of ardent natives of that particular region and aimed at connecting the very many unique food items with the celebrations and culture. Also, given, how cross cultural our states are, one encounters myriad culinary delights within just one state. My intention in this particular feature is to explore Maharashtra cuisine and its beautiful culture along the way.
Let us begin with what is known as the staple food of Maharashtra. As we all know, Maharashtra is one of the largest agrarian states in the country. Its staple food originates from the homes of countless farmers who heavily rely on carbohydrates for energy. It is famously called “Zhunka Bhakri.” Bhakri refers to Roti made of Bajra. And Zhunka is a Dal like curry prepared from Besan that is cooked with salt, chillies and onions. This is often accompanied with “Mirchi ki Chutney” or chutney made out of green chillies. This preparation is often eaten on a daily basis in various parts of Maharashtra. Among them are Kolhapur, Solapur, Nagpur, Jalgaon and Vidarbha. In the elite parts of Maharashtra, this particular food item is cooked with other spices and condiments, and served in big restaurants, corporate office canteens and so forth as a “Maharashtra special”. But in common households, a simple Zhunka Bhakri along with raw onions, a pinch of salt and a freshly prepared Mirchi ki Chutney is eaten with great delight.
The next food item on the list celebrates the sense of community. I’m sure not many are aware of this culture that marks out Jalgaon from all other towns. It is the famous “Bharit Party,” Bharit referring to “Baigun ka Bharta,” Eggplant Curry being a loose translation of it in English. Mostly, during summer nights, several families within an immediate neighbourhood gather in a garden to celebrate this party. Men folks build a bonfire and set up a grilled mesh to roast Eggplants. The eggplants are roasted while the families gathered sing songs and engage in interactive activities. After the eggplants are roasted properly, the skin is peeled and the soft part of the vegetable is mashed along with salt and spices. They then sit together and eat the Bharit along with “Jowari Bhakri” or Rotis made of Jowar that the women make before hand in their homes and carry in casseroles. A sense of belonging coupled with delicious food that one witnesses in Jalgaon is absolutely exemplary.
“Holi re Holi, Pooraanchi Poli,” is a famous line that Maharashtrians sing as they celebrate the colourful festival of Holi. “Pooran Poli” tops a typical Marathi cuisine list. Poli in Marathi means Paratha and Pooran refers to the ground mixture of Chana Daal or chickpea lentils, Saffron, Cardamom, sugar and nutmeg that is stuffed into the Parathas. This particular item becomes an indispensable part of the Marathi cuisine. It is served as a dessert along with Gur or jaggery on festivals like the Padwa, or Marathi New Year, Holi and so forth.
“Deva Shree Ganesha,” and “Modak” go hand in hand in this very colourful state of Maharashtra. Lord Ganesha being the principal deity of the state is loved, pampered and showered with great affection, so much so, that he even has his favourite sweet dumpling, the Modak. Be it a small pandal or a Siddhi Vinayak, the festival is marked by quintals of delicious Modaks being distributed among countless devotees. It is interesting to note that the ambrosia is prepared in different styles in different parts of the state. The standard method of preparing Modaks is by kneading dough. The stuffing that goes into the soft Modak consists of grated coconut, sugar and jaggery that is deep fried in oil. The dough is rolled on a floured surface and the stuffing is place at the centre. Then the soft floury exterior is given interesting shapes. In places like Mumbai and Ratnagiri, this Modak is boiled inside a pressure cooker. In other places like Pune, Nashik and Vidarbha, the same preparation is fried in oil or ghee. Often referred to as the Modakpriya (the one who likes Modak), Lord Ganesha definitely gives us all a chance to enjoy the unique and delicious sweet that sweetens the occasion manifold.
With Diwali come dishes like Chakli or Murukku. A widely available snack now, Chakli is made in almost every Marathi household on the occasion of Diwali, the festival of light. It resembles a Jalebi in terms of shape but it is crunchy and spicy in taste.
Another item that requires special mention is Karanji. The exterior is made of Rava and Maida. It contains a sweet stuffing of mainly coconut, sugar and honey is deep fried in oil. Being one of the “Panch Pakwaan” or five main dishes that are served to Goddess Laxmi during Diwali, the Karanji is a favourite among almost every Maharashtrian.
There are very many delicacies besides those mentioned above. For instance, the Tamda Rassa (Red Curry) and Pandhra Rassa ( White Curry), a spicy preparation very unique to South Maharashtra. It is often eaten with non vegetarian items like Chicken, fish and others. Then there is the “Thetcha”, a spicy chutney of red chillies, that forms an integral part of the Marathwada cuisine. The Sev Bhaaji and Pav Bhaaji that is available in almost every restaurant across the country. As we see, the Marathi cuisine ranges from extremely spicy delicacies to extremely sweet desserts and dumplings. But with every food item, there is a festival, a sentiment or some traditional culture attached. One must come to Maharashtra and explore the myriad culinary delights that the huge state has to offer.
NEEL KAMAL MISHRA
SOPHIA COLLEGE FOR WOMEN