How Maharashtra cooks and eats

26 June,2022 08:36 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Nasrin Modak Siddiqi

A new book uses simple ingredients, memories and traditional tales to discuss the state’s recipes, with a special focus on GSB cuisine

Patolis are steamed in turmeric leaves

You missed the ramphals. Two weeks ago, we had a good batch," this writer*s nephew had said to her on a recent trip to the Konkan about the hyper-local fruit called wild sweetsop, that resembles the custard apple. Like most villages in the country, here too, minor changes in seasons define the local produce. Some fruit and vegetable ‘seasons* are blink and miss, available barely for a month. The elusiveness of availability means that Maharashtra*s indigenous produce, alsandes, triphal and alu chi pane, isn*t always discussed in the mainstream.

Roopa Nabar hopes her book, My Romance with Food (Popular Prakashan) focuses the spotlight on Marathi food, especially that which is central to GSB (Gaud Saraswat Brahmin) cuisine. Nabar says her culinary sensibilities were shaped during childhood trips to the village of Prabhanvalli, near Ratnagiri, an eight-hour bus ride from Mumbai, followed by a 20-minute bullock cart ride. The family house saw its spacious rooms connect to the massive kitchen via mystical corridors, allowing the aroma of wood fire cooking to waft through. On a regular day, the meal would comprise bhaatachi pej (rice porridge) with a spicy-tangy backyard vegetable preparation called dabdabit.

Alambi bhaji uses mushrooms and is a Konkan speciality

Nabar tells mid-day over a phone call that it took her years to realise that the type of wood and clay used infused the food with flavour and aroma. She discussed patolis (coconut stuffed rice flour pancakes) and how the haladichi pane (turmeric leaves), unlike the banana leaf, impart a flavour profile to the dish that is hard to replicate. "You need to develop a taste for it; it isn*t the same [taste] as turmeric," she says.

Nabar*s mother hails from Karwar on the border of Maharashtra and Karnataka; her grandmother comes from Ratnagiri and her mother-in-law is from Kolhapur. The book, divided into four segments, says it also includes recipes from old cuttings, adapted to suit today*s tastes. "My generation grew up accessing cookbook or magazine recipe cuttings. I wanted to pass that on somehow to the next generation. My son lives in the UK but yearns for the lingering taste of dalichi amti. Sure enough, many like him wish to stay connected to their roots," says Nabar.

Pomfret amti

She is of the belief that every household meal is influenced by the lady who helms the kitchen. "Unlike north Indian home pantries that are replete with nuts and mawa, the Maharashtrian kitchen is simple and unassuming. Basic food like poha is offered to God. We make puran poli during special occasions; it*s a must. We won*t shift to gulab jamun because it*s a festival. There are no portions size rules, no courses. Just a full magical spread of varan-bhaat, chutneys, koshimbir [salad], sandge [dry lentil dumplings], papad, usal [legume curries], bhaaji [vegetable stir-fries], and a dessert like mangaane [sweet rice porridge]. It*s the simple ingredients that shine through," says Nabar.

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