Food in Maharashtra is a smorgasbord of deceptively simple flavours and textures, showcasing local produce and ingredients with an ease that countries aiming for neighbourhood sourcing can only envy. Warning: Whether you’re vegetarian or non-vegetarian, do not read this on an empty stomach
Words: PRIMROSE MONTEIRO-D’SOUZA
Photographs: T KRISHNA PRABAKAR
What does it say about a place that, when you sit down to write about a journey of over two weeks, you can’t pick a single person who stands out? All you can recall in your mind’s eye is a procession of thalis, or well-battered plates, brought to your table by shadowy figures that you don’t really register. There’s mutton on that buffet of memories, in soothing gravies and a startlingly piquant loncha. There’s an army of vegetables and pulses, simply dressed with minimal spice and garnish. There’s fish, dusted with semolina, and mussels cooked in the heartiness of coconut and onion.
Food in Maharashtra is usually easy and quick to pull together, because traditionally, before the advent of the big cities, women across the state worked alongside men on the farm and had to get something together with little effort; the seasoning and garnish was likewise always something close at hand and seasonal, like herbs from the garden. Across the world, chefs are making a song and dance about using only ingredients sourced from within a 100-mile radius; across Maharashtra, local produce is procured and used with an ease that is a legacy of generations.
If we were to divide Maharashtra into a food map, five regions stand out – Vidarbha, Marathwada, Konkan, Paschim and Uttar Maharashtra. Paschim includes Pune and Kolhapur, Konkan encompasses Malvan, Vengurla and Mumbai, Marathwada has Aurangabad and its neighbours, Uttar Maharashtra includes Nashik and Jalgaon, and Nagpur is the food capital of Vidarbha. Marathwada and Uttar Maharashtra must wait their turn; our journey took us through the Paschim and Konkan regions and we managed to do a tasting of Nagpuri food. The sheer physical size of this state – comparable to Italy – spanning areas coastal and inland, hilly and flat, explains the variety of ingredients and preparations we encounter. We wonder how much of an impact its settlers over the years have had: Mughals, Gouds, Parsis, Siddis… the list is as vast as the state itself.
Everywhere, we found things both familiar and unfamiliar: a fondness for mutton in Kolhapur, a proficiency in cooking with seafood along the Konkan coast, a largely vegetarian diet in keeping with the Brahmin-ness of the Pune community, but also a light hand with the spices, a freshness that comes from never overcooking the ingredients and a hearty appetite among the locals that speaks well for the variety on offer.
What does it say about a place, a state even, that, when you sit down to write about a journey of over two weeks, you can’t pick a single person who stands out?
It says that the food is rather brilliant.
Our team travelled and ate its way through Pune, Kolhapur, Malvan, Vengurla and Mumbai. Get the whole story – the eateries, the prices, the brilliance of Maharashtrian food – in the September 2015 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine India. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.