This should have been my first ever blog post–purely because my recipes are mostly inspired by Gujarati Cuisine-the cuisine I grew up with and the cuisine I am most passionate about, however this post just touches the tip of the iceberg-on the subject “Gujarati Cuisine”
Gujarat – the home of Lord Krishna and Mahatma Gandhi –is a state in western India. The state of Gujarat has been geographically divided into 4 regions – North and South Gujarat, Kathiawad and Kutch, and with different regions come slight variations in the cuisine and these variations come in the form of eating habits, preparation techniques and climatic differences. Gujarati cuisine has distinct tastes of various individual spices-as a spice blend/mix is never used-the various spices are always kept separate and used as and when necessary. Each of Gujarat’s regions bring their own style to Gujarati Cuisine however retaining the distinctively sweet, salty, spicy and tangy taste all at the same time, and making Gujarati cuisine unlike any other Indian cuisine.
The cuisine of this region is predominately vegetarian, despite an extensive coastline providing sea food. Traditional Hinduism and Jain vegetarianism have been the major influences in keeping the Gujarati cuisine vegetarian. A typical and traditional Gujarati meal is always and should always be vegetarian – consisting of dhal or kadhi (a yoghurt based soup), rotli, rice and shaak (dish made up of a variety or single vegetable cooked with spices) and served poppadum’s, a salad and a variety of pickles
Staples include roti, kichdi (rice and split mung beans cooked together) chaas (type of lassi) and pickles, main dishes are vegetables cooked with the addition of various spices, Salt, sugar, lemon, lime and tomatoes are used frequently to prevent dehydration in an area where temperatures can reach up to 50C in the shade. It is also common practice to add a bit of sugar or jaggery to some shaaks and dhals – the sweet and tangy taste makes these dishes delectable.
Seasonal availability of fruits and vegetables plays an integral part in Gujarati cuisine. In summer when mangoes are ripe and widely available Keri no Ras (fresh mango pulp) is often the integral part of a meal. Spices used also change with the season-Garam (hot) Masala and the spices that make it up are used less frequently in summer. Regular fasting amongst the Gujarati community is limited to the consumption of milk, nuts, fresh and dried fruits.
Bhakri (thick roti) made with crushed wheat and millet – served with garlic and chilli chutney is an extremely popular, healthy and economical meal amongst the villagers during the winter months when all supplies are low. It is also a meal that is a good source of energy for those who have to work long days in the fields.
Mitais (Indian sweets/desserts), generally made from ghee, sugar, jaggery (a solid made from unrefined cane sugar), milk, milk solids, saffron, raisins, almonds, pistachios, and sweet spices were always served at family occasions – simply because it was an instant energy booster for families travelling long distances to attend occasions. However today these mitais are served as and when one pleases, however generally mitais are made for specific occasions like a prayer ceremony, wedding or around festive occasions like Diwali
Farsan (snacks/side dishes/light meals) is a distinct item of Gujarati cuisine, and they can be the side dish that compliments the main meal, some Farsan items can be eaten on their own as a light meal or eaten as a snack anytime or all the time. All most every Gujarati home has a pantry shelf full of Farsan items-at any given time. Some of the Farsaan items like the steamed varieties are excellent choices for a healthy-low fat diet and then the deep fried items are a perfect choice for a bit of indulgence.
Dhar (dhal) or Kadhi (yogurt based soup)-Bhat (rice)-Rotli (roti) and shaak (a vegetable curry) + pickles is the standard – no-frills everyday meal that can be found in most Gujarati homes and it is served on stainless steel thalis (plates) – for special occasions the above is complemented with an additional shaak, a farsan and even a mitai (sweet/dessert). There are generally 2 kinds of festive ‘Gujarati Thalis’ and they could be adorned with about a dozen or more different dishes. Generally dietary rules determine acceptable combinations of dishes-if the yogurt based Kadhi is served then a dry lentil dish is to be prepared (no tomato-onion gravy kind of dish) and the mitai accompanying this will be one that is either milk or yogurt based and if a dhal is being served then a wheat based mitai will be served. Gujarati cuisine is defined by its established spice, dairy and vegetable combinations thought to facilitate digestion-showing that much thought and reason goes behind each dish/meal.
With so much flavour, nutrition, variety and etc. in vegetarian food, world renowned writer – Madhur Jaffrey termed Gujarati cuisine as “The Haute Cuisine of Vegetarianism” in Flavours of India one of her TV shows about Indian food, and yet Gujarati food remains relatively unknown outside the Gujarati community-despite Guajarati’s being “one of the important regional Indian diaspora communities”.
I have been researching and preparing this post for close on to 5 weeks, and coincidently it coincides with a a “Chai Wallas” (tea stall owner) son having won the election in India-the worlds largest democracy. This “Chai Wallas” son hails from the state of Gujarat and and no doubt grew up eating Gujarati Foods and he will be sworn in as Indias next Prime Minister within the next few days.
NB: All of the images in this post have been sourced from the internet and credit goes to those individuals who have captured them