Making the most of ingredients

Making the most of ingredients

Making the most of ingredients

Maharashtrian cuisine can be broadly divided into the coastal and the interior. The larger, coastal part of Maharashtra is called the Konkan, and boasts of a homogenous combination of Malvani, Gaud Saraswat Brahmin and Goan cuisines.

The interior part of the state, the Vidharbha area, has its distinctive Varadi cuisine. Like most Indian states, the main staple grain is rice. Fish is a regular feature in the menu along with a large variety of vegetables and the cooking medium used is groundnut oil.
Another distinct feature is the use of Kokum, a deep-purple berry that has a pleasant tangy taste and is most commonly used in an appetiser-digestive called the sol kadhi, which is served chilled. A healthy feature of Maharashtrian food is the oil that is used only for light seasoning to retain maximum nutrition. A special blend of spices called kala masala is often added to stimulate the appetite.

Among seafood, a favourite speciality is the bombil or the ‘Bombay Duck’. The fish  is dipped in batter and deep fried till crisp. Other popular varieties of fish are the bangda or mackeral and pomphret preparations. Ambat means thick, creamy coconut gravy that enhances the taste of the main ingredient used and could be vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Other seafood items relished by the Maharashtrians are crab, prawn, shellfish and lobster.

A marked feature of Varadi cuisine is the use of gram flour. It is used generously while preparing the zunka bakher, patha vadi and the vada bhath. For non-vegetarians, chicken and mutton are the general preferences due to the unavailability of fresh seafood.

Some popular vegetarian dishes are bharlivangi or coconut-stuffed baby brinjals, pachdi, the sweet and sour patal bhaji and a very nutritious stew made of sprouts called ussal.
As for the staple food, besides rice, all vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes are served with bhakris, which are soft rotis made of rice flour. Rice poories called vada and amboli – a pancake made of fermented rice, urad dal and semolina, are served on special days. Thaalipeeth is a nutritious multigrain and multi-pulse roti.

The most popular sweet dish is the puran poli, a must-have on the festival menu, especially during Gudi Padua – their New Year. Boondi laddoos and modaks are made on Ganesha Chaturthi – the main festival of the Marathi people. Shrikhand – thick yoghurt sweetened and flavoured with cardomom and saffron, is prepared during special occasions. Ambya chipoli is another common sweet made of mango pulp. Mangoes, found in abundance in the state, also find their way into a rice preparation called ambya-che-bhaath. Diwali brings along an array of sweet dishes like annarosa (made out of fermented rice), besan laddoos and chirote (made of semolina) and savouries like chaklis and kadboles are common fare. Traditionally, a wedding feast has to have five sweet delicacies. In Maharashtra, tradition has it that all foods during festivals be prepared at home.

Konkan cuisine has two styles of cooking – Konkanasht Brahmin cuisine which uses spices sparingly and contains more of coconut and the spicy non-Brahmin version. A little further inland, Konkan cuisine uses peanuts, sesame and coriander as the main spicing agents. And, its distinguishing feature is the coarsely-ground masala that tickles the tongue, giving it a unique taste. Konkan cuisine also uses a lot of charcoal-grilled onions that are ground with masalas. This lends a very interesting smokey flavour; and of course, coconut is liberally used in various forms – raw, grated, fry grated, paste form or milk.

Maharashtra’s capital, Mumbai, boasts of a great variety in snacks each of which is a mini meal by itself. They include bhel puri, pani-puri, paav-bhaji, vada-paav and the various tangy chaats – most of them being delicious, affordable and easily available on the streets.

Breakfast items unique to this state are different varieties of powa (flattened rice)
preparations, dry upma, dahliya and the famous sabudana khichdi – which is eaten mostly during fasts.

The thaat or the everyday Maharashtrian platter follows a regular pattern. The various accompaniments are set and served meticulously making thaat vaadany (serving) an art by itself. It starts with a bit of salt at the centre of the thaat with a small piece of lemon on the left, followed by chutney. Koshimbir – a salad made of soaked lentil is served next.
Then comes the bharit – raw or lightly cooked vegetables in yoghurt. This order is strictly maintained. The gravy items never precede the dry vegetables as the gravy is likely to run into them. Rice is then served at the centre, followed by vaaran (lentil) topped with thoop (ghee).

In a formal set up, the guests sit on floor mats, rugs or low, wooden seats and food is served in silver, brass or steel thaalis (large steel plates) and bowls placed on a chourang – a short decorative table. To avoid mixing of tastes and flavours, each guest is given a bowl of water scented with saffron to dip fingers in between eating the different delicacies.

The general cuisine and the methods of cooking involved reflect the lifestyle of the residents of this great state — simple living and practical adhering; making the most of the ingredients provided by nature.

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