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Forgotten cuisines

Friday, May 11, 2018

Foodies at the ARCHAEOBROMA conference spoke of the various types of cuisine that do not get the attention they deserve. Here’s a glimpse of some of these

PATHARE PRABHU Soumitra Velkar
Amongst all the stardust and glitter, the tiny native Pathare Prabhu community is one of the city’s best kept secrets. Limited documentary information available traces our journey into the city from Rajputana and Gujarat. The Prabhus, who claim lineage to the legendary Suryavanshi clan of Ram, made Mumbai their home in the early 13th century. We preceded the Portuguese and the British, living here for generations before the arrival of either.

Pathare Prabhu culinary tradition makes up for the lack of documentary evidence of their journey as well as subsistence in this city. The European colonist’s influence is evident from the numerous bakes and stews, an integral element of our cooking, along with liberal use of, ‘foreign’ ingredients like chillies and potatoes, even in old recipes. Sweets like churma and ghevar, not native to Maharashtra, are unfailingly prepared each Diwali, reinforcing our Rajput and Gujarati roots.

We adopted indigenous produce like kasraa (a tuber), maachol (samphire) and korlachi bhaji (monsoon greens) adding our own twists to yield truly unique dishes… Our love for seafood is legendary. Ingredients like prawn and Bombay duck often find unusual company in ripe bananas, beans and the humble Maharashtrian breakfast staple, poha.

Despite a wide repertoire of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, there isn’t a single restaurant serving our food. The only recipe book documenting our recipes is over 100 years old and is in urgent need of getting translated to modern times.

EAST INDIAN Andre Baptista
The East Indian Community, that claim descent from the earliest inhabitants of the seven islands, captures within the flavours of their cuisine traces of both indigenous and exogenous cultural forces that shaped the island city. Though some sources place the origin of Christians in the North Konkan to the early centuries of the Common Era, it wasn’t until the arrival of the Portuguese that the community assumed its more familiar Latinized form and structure.

Though differences in food practices of various subgroups of the community are conspicuous to a keen observer, local culinary traits of each are strongly represented on dining tables catering to urbanised and westernised palettes. The innate Maharashtrian identity is apparent in the cuisine’s extravagant use of spices while the ingredients, manner of cooking and names successfully combine European traditions with local elements...

ASSAMESE Gitika Saikia
In spite of celebrating its uniqueness, Assamese food is always regarded as ‘Bengali food’ or ‘Momo-Eaters’ or ‘Eat Everything that Moves’. Assamese cuisine is an interesting mix of Mainland Indian and its neighbouring countries. Being a landlocked state, it has significant influences of Bengali, Bihari and Oriya cuisines (in terms of ingredients) on one hand and specific herbs and exotic forms of protein from Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.

Urban Assam cuisine draws lot of similarities in its style of cooking, choice of meats, use of spices and so on. Tribal Assamese cuisines somewhat resembles the tribal food of its neighbouring seven states of the North-East, the population who has moved from the neighbouring countries. While in Assam, be prepared to be feasted with the best and don’t forget to get invited to a tribal home.

KONKANI MUSLIM Mohsina Mukadam
Konkani cuisine is a style of cooking derived from the coastal region of Maharashtra but within it there are many variations. These variations are based on region, religion and community. Konkani Muslims, as their name indicates, are followers of Islam from coastal region of Maharashtra. Their cuisine, on one hand, is similar to their Hindu neighbours’ in the use of local ingredients like coconut, fish and rice; on the other hand as the community traces its origin, directly and indirectly, to Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Middle Eastern influence is also visible. It is a blend of coastal Maharashtrian culinary traditions with Islamic culinary practices. It cannot be compared with the haute cuisine of Mughal period or lavishness of north Indian/ Punjabi style. Its beauty is in its simplicity and maximum utilisation of local ingredients. Till recently Konkani Muslim cuisine was not known outside the community but with the advent of social media many bloggers and home chefs are showcasing Konkani Muslim cuisine to the world.

KOLI Anjali Koli
When you travel along the coast of Maharashtra you will invariably be hit by a strong smell, it does different things to different people. To a Koli it is the smell of native land. Other communities that share the land and love for fish salivate and wonder what the Kolis do with all the varieties of fish, while those from the interiors of the country react by clasping their nose.

“We love our veggies,” Anjali said, “but only if they are scented with fish!” Kolis only eat pure vegetarian meals on fasting days, she added, as the audience smiled at the photograph of a thali laden with food.

An important point that Anjali made was about the amount of plastic in our sea today, which affects the fish and is creeping into our food chain. “Please, cut down on your use of plastic and stop polluting the sea,” she urged.

BUNDELKHAND Ruchi Shrivastava
Bundelkhand, an economically backward region hasn’t had its say since Independence, hence gets negated in most annals of history. But if you are willing to scratch the surface you come up with interesting facets that make you wonder at this foresight. A lineage of who’s who of ancient history have left their footprint on this arid land. Bundelkhand was part of Mauryas, Guptas followed by Kalchuries to Chandelas and Bundela dynasties. Bundelkhand has been home to many dynasties and had the distinction of being home to as many as 35 principalities in the modern era…

The need for survival has made them use the natural resources to its optimum. In Bundelkhand the forest bear fruits like Mahua and Kaitha and berries, which form the mainstay of their cuisine. Burdened with the possibility of so little, Bundelkhand has adapted and with ingenuity made that seem into plenty whereby each ingredient is being made to create a repertoire of savouries and desserts.

Bundelkhand was always isolated from outsiders and therefore has built its own strong cultural ties. This comes in form of poems, lok geet and festival songs, and is probably the only culture which uses expletives as part of wedding songs with food as part of it. The cultural aspect of this region has deep-rooted connection with its food.

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