By Naini Setalvad
While the street food of Maharashtra has travelled far and wide, the healthy and nutritious everyday fare of this region is less known. Naini Setalvad explores
As a child, our kitchen was run by Hira mausi and Gaya ben, one from the Konkan region and another from Vidharbha, and so I became very familiar with Maharashtrian cuisine, especially since I live in Mumbai. One of the most remarkable aspects of the cuisine is its diversity, based on the various different communities, castes, classes and regions of this large state measuring over 300,000 kms.
Here are some of the dominant communities and their distinctive foods:
Pathare Prabhu: This community from Mumbai has a very distinctive cuisine. It is spicy using onion, garlic, red chili with a small amount of coconut. Some popular dishes are battatyachi popti (fried potato chips), aluwadi (colocasia leaves with gram flour paste steamed and fried ), bombil (Bombay duck), kolambi (prawns similar to a Sheppard’s pie), sabudana wada (fried sago balls). The sweet dishes are appe (fried semolina with sugar) and basundi (sweet made from thickened milk). They commonly use ghaati masala (dry spicy chutney using dry coconut, salt and spices).
CKP or Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu incorporated foods from the different rulers of India as they worked as diwans (administrative heads of states). Their cuisine was influenced by the British as well as the Muslims. Kheema chi wadi is mince mutton and potato patties flavoured with onions and coriander, dipped in egg batter, rolled in bread crumbs and fried. They love fish, chicken as well as mutton, and are predominately non vegetarian though they use kadve vaal (bitter cluster beans or its pulse). The use of poppy seeds, and tamarind is quite common. They favour rice and rice rotis. Brinjal is a popular vegetable. A common snack is thalipeeth (lentil and grain flour bhakri(thick roti). A popular sweet is tel poli (wheat roti stuffed with jaggery and sesame)
Saraswat Goan: This community hails from Goa. They use a lot of coconut, coconut milk, cashew nuts, tamarind, and curry leaves. The food is less spicy than that of the other communities. Being Brahmins, they are primariy vegetarian, though the coastal influence has predisposed them to fish. Influenced by Mangalorean, Portuguese and Goan Catholic cuisines, they use locally grown vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, sprouts, lentils and fish. Rice is the predominant grain and they make rice bhakris (thick roti). The tamato saar (curry) is distinctively a Saraswat Brahmin curry. Coconut-based sweets are popular.
Marathawada area: This spreads over Aurangabad, Nanded, Hingoli, Parbhani, and Latur. The cuisine here is influenced by the North as Moghul rule was prevalent here. Pulaos and biryanis, bread and rotis made in tandoors and mutton-based curries are quite common in this area. The most popular sweet is the mawa jalebi.
Western Maharashtra area: This spreads over Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, and Sholapur. The dominant produce is sugar, pomegranates and jaggery, not forgetting the strawberries of Mahableshwar. The popular and fiery hot Kolhapur masala is from this region as is the mutton cha lonche (pickle). Kande pohe (flattened rice with onions) and phodnicha bhat (leftover rice tempered with onion, tomato and spices) are common for breakfast. Misal pav (bread with lentils) is a popular snack. Sweets like basundi (sweet made from thickened milk) karangia, shrikandh and modaks are popular here.
Vidharbha area: This spreads over Wardha, Nagpur, Amravati, Akola, Latur and Chandrapur where oranges, sunflower and cotton are grown. The food is very oily, spicy and dal-based due to its dry climate. Zunka/pitla (a gram flour paste with red chili, onions coriander and oil) and a bhakri (thick flat roti) made of bajra (pearl millet) or jowar (sorghum) with thesa (chutney made of peanuts, green chilli, garlic and salt ) are the local favourites. They use a lot of sesame seeds and peanuts, which are ground or roasted separately. Vegetables are scarce due to drought conditions but onions, potatoes, and eggplant are commonly used. Generally speaking, the region consumes more chicken than mutton. Varhadi Rassa (Vidharb curry) is normally made with chicken pieces. The vada pav with dry chutney is a popular snack. The sweet in this area is shrikhand (sweetened thick yoghurt with saffron, almonds, cardamom and sugar).
The Konkan area: This spreads over Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg and Goa. Crops grown in coastal Konkan region are cashew nut, coconut, rice, and mango. There is a lot of fish in this region and fish curry and rice is a staple diet among non vegetarians. The use of both tamarind and kokum (garcinia) is popular. Vegetarians partake of rice, lentil and vegetables. Colocasia leaves known as pattal bhaji are commonly used, as also a leafy green called tambdi bhaji. Occasionally, rotis are made from rice flour and are thick like bhakris. Malvani masala is a common spice used in this area. The sabudana khichdi (sago pillaf) is a popular snack.
The Kandahar area: This spreads over Nashik, and Jalgaon. Thanks to the Godavari river, the region gets a good amount of water leading to the cultivation of bananas, grapes, and guava. Today, there is a thriving wine industry in this region. The Nashik chivda is a very popular dry snack. So is the misal pav (lentils served with bread). The staple food is a variety of bhakris made from different millets like jowar (sorghum) and bajra (pearl millet). The most common vegetable is brinjal accompanied with varan (thick dal) and rice, which are eaten daily. Sweets are puranpoli (wheat flour with dal jaggery or sugar).
A typical Maharashtrian meal would start first with varan (thick dal )served with fresh steamed rice, lemon and a dollop of ghee (clarified butter). This is accompanied by koshimbir (salad with curd), suki bhaaji (dry vegetable) pale bhaji (leafy green vegetable) usal (sprouts) and a bhakri. Meat or fish is normally cooked only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
It’s impossible to fall ill on the simple day-to-day jehvan (food) of the Maharashtrian. Replace the fried snacks with fruits, peanuts and steamed, roasted or sautéed snacks like poha, sevaiya, or upma. This food is rich in vitamins, minerals, a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fat.
2 cups mixed sprouts or moth bean sprout
1 tbsp tamarind pulp or 3-4 kokam
1 medium sized potato chopped finely
1 tomato chopped finely
1-2 medium sized onion chopped finely
2 tbsp red chili powder
2 pinches of asafoetida (hing)
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp mustard seed
10-12 curry leaves finely chopped
1.5 tbsp oil
1-2 green chilies chopped finely
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tbsp goda masala or as required
1 tsp coriander seed powder
1 tsp roasted cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
2 cups water or as required
Salt as required
1 medium sized onion chopped finely
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
1 tbsp mixed farsan or chiwda
few lime wedges
Please note that that the misal pav in 2015 had won the worlds tastiest vegetarian dish in London
About the author: Naini Setalvad is a nutritionist, specialising in lifestyle and immunity disorders. Her foundation, Health For You, throws light on healthy food habits.
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