Mumbai food: Regional dishes you must try during this harvest season

Apr 14, 2018, 15:12 IST | Phorum Dalal

This weekend, as various parts of the country usher in the harvest season or their New Year, four chefs from different communities take us on a home kitchen tour filled with memories

Til pitha, coconut loskora (coconut laddoo) and handoh guri (in bowl)
Til pitha, coconut loskora (coconut laddoo) and handoh guri (in bowl). Pics/Datta Kumbhar

'We make a dish with 101 vegetables'
Gitika Saikia has been busy all week, preparing special dishes in the kitchen, finishing all her shopping for new clothes and cleaning the house before Friday, which is when they celebrated Uruka, a precursor to Manuh Bihu that falls today. After Uruka, we celebrate Goru Bihu which is dedicated to cows, as we are primarily an agrarian community. The cows are bathed in the paddy fields with a paste of turmeric, urad dal and milk. Chopped vegetables — bottle gourd, bitter gourd and brinjal — are thrown gently at them while they are fanned by branches of the makhioti plant. They get a royal treatment as the cowsheds are cleaned and decorated. Incense is also burned in the evening. On this day, we make special pithas for the animals," she explains.

Gitika Saikia
Gitika Saikia

On Manu Bihu, which is celebrated today, the jolpaan of pitha, kumol chaul and handoh guri are consumed. For instance, til pitha made of rice flour and sesame is prepared with jaggery for humans to consume. "Every community in Assam has a different way of making it. On this day, the tribe I belong to [Sonowal Kachari] eats pork, silkworm and red ant eggs with rice beer. And, all this is offered to the gods before a meal. Another important tradition is to cook a dish from 101 vegetables. The significance is that it cleanses the body. But, we do a little jugaad. Amongst tribes, we believe that eating red ant eggs compensates for all these vegetables as these insects have eaten into every vegetable!" says Saikia.

Meethe chawal
Meethe chawal

'Mom's meethe chawal rocked'
Every Baisakhi, since childhood, Amrita Kaur looks forward to her mother's meethe chawal. That, along with a gidda competition and a baisakhi mela made Baisakhi eventful in her Punjabi school in Indore. The food blogger, food stylist and home chef laughs over the phone, recalling her memories. "Since I was the shortest in class, I was always in the front row. And, we'd attend the Baisakhi mela too."

Amrita Kaur
Amrita Kaur

Baisakhi, a day of harvest, also marks the day on Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa Panth. Food is maa ki daal, missi roti and langar food of sukha sabzi like aloo gobi, chole with tandoor roti served with achari onions. "The sweet dish would be kheer. These days, they serve ice cream. My favourite is the meethe chawal my mom makes," says Kaur.

(Bowls from left) Aamer tok, chholar dal, shukto, lau chingri, kosha mangsho, chhanar payesh; on plate: (from left) shorshe pabda, (right) aloo jhuri bhaja, (bottom) gondhoraj pebu and lonka; (centre) rice with Jharna ghee. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
(Bowls from left) Aamer tok, chholar dal, shukto, lau chingri, kosha mangsho, chhanar payesh; on plate: (from left) shorshe pabda, (right) aloo jhuri bhaja, (bottom) gondhoraj pebu and lonka; (centre) rice with Jharna ghee. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

'Panta bhat is a lost recipe'
Poila Boishak for Romi Purkayastha reminds her of panta bhat, a lost recipe usually made for the day, which falls on April 15 this year. Used to be cooked in degchis on earthen fires, it is leftover rice mixed with water, covered and fermented overnight, and normally served with raw onion and fried red chili and a slice of crisp fried Ilish fish the next morning. "This lost recipe is an acquired taste," says the food blogger and food jockey. As she readies to indulge in a six-to-seven course meal in kansa (copper) thalis — a spread similar to one served on Sankranti — she says, "We always start with shukto which is a slightly bitter mixed veggie stewed in milk with veggies like karela, radish, drumstick, raw, banana, baigan and dal vadi."

Romi Purkayastha
Romi Purkayastha

Shukto is traditionally made with a spice called radhuni, which has a sharp fennel-like aroma and a celery seed texture. "But the celebrations [in our house, not necessarily everyone else's] are incomplete without patishapta, a crepe made from ground rice and maida and stuffed with coconut and jaggery. In our home, mum tops it with a mewa sauce. It's divine!" she signs off.

A typical sadhya includes brown rice, papadam, chilli and chips, sambharam, rasam, upperi, puli inchi, poriyal, pachadi, mango pulisherry, kootu curry, avayal, sambhar, parippu curry, kaalan and payasam
A typical sadhya includes brown rice, papadam, chilli and chips, sambharam, rasam, upperi, puli inchi, poriyal, pachadi, mango pulisherry, kootu curry, avayal, sambhar, parippu curry, kaalan and payasam

'Vishu Sadhya was a powerful memory'
Keralite Sandeep Sreedharan, owner & curator of Curry Tales, hails from north Kerala. On their New Year, as a child, he recalls being woken up at 5 am by his mother who would blindfold his eyes. "This ritual is called Vishukani. The first sight would be an idol of Lord Krishna, yellow blossom called komna and silver/gold or money for prosperity along with seasonal fruits alongside a diya." he says.

Sandeep Sreedharan. Pics/Ashish Raje
Sandeep Sreedharan. Pics/Ashish Raje

Most of the celebratory meals are similar to Onam sadhya, except for change of seasonal fruits and veggies. "On Vishu, we use a lot of mango, used to make mambhazha pulisherry (mango kadhi), and jackfruit in a savory and sweet preparation. Payasam is made with jack fruit, coconut milk and jaggery. From where we hail, we also serve non-vegetarian fare with the sadhya. It includes mutton varatharacha curry, fish curry and fish fry. "In the entire meal, the one taste that lingers on my palate is the dessert, a watery payasam served on the same banana leaf we ate our meal on. In spite of it being watery, we'd polish it off with our hands, where it would mix with the remnants of the savoury items. This is a powerful memory." he says.

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