Friday, October 26, 2007

Region Delicacies

The saying 'Anna he poornabrahma' aptly summarises what Maharashtrians feel about the food they cook. They consider 'anna', or food, equal to 'Brahma', or the creator of the universe. Food is God, to be worshipped. Little wonder that Maharashtrian cuisine not only fills the stomach, but also fills the soul - with content!

The cuisine of Maharashtra is largely influenced by the landscape, the people and the crops grown in various regions. It is not only memorable for its subtle variety and strong flavours, but also because of the legendary hospitality of Maharashtrians. In affluent homes, feasts often start at mid-day and end when the sun turns towards the western horizon.

The people are known for the aesthetic presentation of food, which adds extra allure to the feasts. For instance, in formal meals, it is a practice to sing sacred verses to dedicate the meal to God. The guests sit on floor rugs or red wooden seats and eat from silver or metal thalis and bowls placed on a raised 'chowrang', or a short decorative table. Rangolis or auspicious patterns of coloured powder are drawn around the thali or the chowrang. To avoid mixing flavours, each guest is given a bowl of saffron scented water to dip the fingers in before starting on the next course. There is a specific order of serving of savouries and sweets, curries and rice or rotis, and a person who does not know this is not considered to be well trained in the art of hospitality. Agarbattis spread fragrance everywhere and the host believes the satisfaction of his guests to be his true joy.

The traditional crops of the Konkan region, the West coast of Maharashtra, are coconuts, mangoes, cashews, rice and a variety of pulses. The region also grows a great quantity of kokum, a sweet-sour fruit. Fish is available in vast varieties and seafood is in abundant supply. All these ingredients find place in the traditional and exotic Konkani food. Be it the mild, naturally fragrant vegetable mixture served with local papads, or a spicy-hot fish and meat curry with a coconut milk base, Konkani food is a gourmet's dream come true.

South Maharashtra
This region is rich in sugarcane fields, rice farms and milk. Well-irrigated farms produce plump, juicy fruit and vegetables throughout the year.

In the winter months, southern Maharashtra becomes a crucible of bubbling sugarcane juice, heated to make jaggery and sugar. This season offers a feast of coconut kernels cooked in the syrup and eaten with peanuts and fresh chana. Winter also means plenty of milk, and typical milk sweets like basundi, masala milk, shreekhand and kheer. It is a social event in these areas to go to the riverbank for a picnic or row down the river to eat young roasted corncobs (hurda) with pungent chillies and green garlic ground to make a tongue-scorching chutney. Milk, nuts, rough bhakaris of jawar, hot meat curries and chilli-spiked snacks are favourite foods here.

Though the Konkan strip and southern Maharashtra have their own excellent cuisine, nothing can beat the exoticism and variety of the food offered by northern Maharashtra - Vidarbha and Khandesh. The central Indian plateau is not as lush as the coast; therefore, coconuts and mangoes do not grow here. But Vidarbha is rich in peanuts, rice and, most of all, citrus fruit, like oranges and sweetlimes. In the winter, lorry-loads of oranges criss-cross the highways, taking mountains of juicy tangerines all over the state.
Vidarbha's cuisine is spicier and more exotic than that of the coastal and southern regions. The ingredients commonly used are besan, or chickpea flour, and ground

Home to the Peshwas and Brahmin communities, Pune is a historic city. The food of these communities is delicate, sparsely designed and entirely vegetarian. Puneri misal, thalipeeth, puri bhaji and dalimbi usal are not only tasty and nutritious, but inexpensive to make. These foods are available at traditional Brahmin restaurants in Pune and Mumbai .
Pune's restaurants have sold this sort of food for centuries and preserved the ambience of the cuisine - laid-back, simple and served with care.

Kolhapur is as famous for its spicy meat curries as its Mahalaxmi temple or palaces. Popularly called 'Matnacha rassa', red-hot meat dish is served with robust chappatis, a white gravy to dilute its pungency or a chilli gravy for the bravehearts experts in the art of digesting pure fire. Frankly, this curry can make the ears sing, and is not for all.

The cuisine of Auguranbad has been highly influenced by the North Indian method of cooking, as a result of the long Moghul rule in the region.
Aurangabad's food is much like Moghlai or Hyderabadi food, with its fragrant pulaos and biryanis. Meat cooked in fresh spices and herbs is a speciality, as are the delectable sweets.

The city of Nagpur inherits a glorious history and varied rich cultural influences and has burgeoned in recent times as a gourmet city. There are unusual snacks, curries, pulaos and sweets to pamper avid eaters. The food is generally spicy, with a good amount of ghee, and peanuts, dried copra and dal are often the basis of the flavours.

No comments: