By Naini Setalvad
Gujarati food is predominantly vegetarian, and offers a wide range of flavours with intelligent usage of myriad ingredients that are equally good for health, says Naini Setalvad
Being a Gujarati, if there is one statement I have heard a million times, it is ‘Chalo jamva’, which means ‘let’s eat’. The Gujaratis are known the world over for their elaborate cooking, the highlights of which are delicately spiced curries, and a myriad forms of breads, pickles, chutneys, savouries, and drinks. No wonder food is a central part of their lives.
Conversations at breakfast revolve around what to make for lunch, at lunch on what to make for tea, and at tea on what to make for dinner. A popular Gujarati saying goes: Cha bagdi toh savaar bagdi, dal bagdi toh divas bagdo, athaanu bagdu toh varas bagdu. (If the tea is not perfect the morning is spoilt, if the dal is not perfect the day is spoilt, and if the pickle is not perfect, the whole year is spoilt).
Though they have a widespread coastal area, the Gujaratis are predominately vegetarian, except for the Kharwa community from the coastal area which eats fresh and dried fish like the pomfret, surmai, crabs and even calamari.
Unfortunately, a lot of Gujarati snacks and savouries are deep fried, such as chakri, sev, ghatias, batata wada, and methi na gota. Your average Gujarati can have this ad infinitum at breakfast, lunch, teatime, and dinner.
But that’s only one side of the picture. There is a healthier side to Gujarati food. A Guajarati’s staple food every day is roti, dal, rice, vegetable, pickle and chass (buttermilk) served on a steel or a silver platter. An elaborate Gujarati thali consists of kachumber salad, green chutney, raw mango pickle, a sweet date chutney, a piece of lemon, marinated raw turmeric root in lemon and salt, at least two vegetables, roti and rice, plus dal or kadhi (yoghurt curry) and papad. The meal ends with buttermilk as a digestive followed by a paan (beetal leaf) and some mukhvas (mouth freshener). Most dishes are sprinkled with coriander and grated coconut. On occasions, a farsan (savoury) or sweets like shrikhand, mohantal, sheera, are part of the meal.
Like Bengali food, most Gujarati vegetable preparations have a touch of sweetness. A typical dinner consists of khichdi (mung dal with rice) with buttermilk and pickle on the side, or bhakri (thick wheat or bajri roti) drizzled with ghee, accompanied by a vegetable dish or curds, or thepla (a thin wheat roti made with spices, fenugreek leaves and curd). Gujaratis
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