Every state in India has its own unrivalled cuisine. Gujarat, the state on the country’s western fringe, has its unique flavour. Folks of all convictions have pooled in to form various aspects of the Gujarati cuisine. The dishes of Parsis, Bohra Muslims, and Khojas (from Arabia) have all acquired a Gujju (Gujarati) essence in the long run. The food here also varies in keeping with a certain region in the state. The Kathiawar region is abundant in dairy products and pickles. Central Gujarat is more agrarian so dhoklas, vadas, bhakarvadis, and theplas come from this section. The influence of Jainism reinforced in no lesser way to interesting preparations without root vegetables such as onion, garlic, beetroot, and carrot.
Surat nu jaman (eat in Surat)
South Gujarat, with Surat at its heart, falls in the rainfall belt. Surat was the chief harbour on the west coast of India, which explains its interaction with the Persians, the Arabs, the Europeans, the merchants on the pepper route from the south, the textile producers of the west and horse traders from the north. Though with similar names, Surti cuisine is different from other Gujarati fares. Surti preparations use garlic while Gujarati dishes are devoid of it. Without any exaggeration, the food is delicious. Surat is also known for its vaghar or chhaunk tradition – tempering of food with clarified butter (ghee) and spices at the end of the preparation. It lends a distinctive aroma and taste to the dishes.
Popular dishes to relish
It would be interesting to note that Khichdi, initially a Gujarati rice preparation, became a widespread thing in the country after Prince Khurram (who later became Shah Jahan), the then Governor of Gujarat, introduced it to Delhi.
Gujarati food is unpretentious and can be prepared fast with little fat and spices. Asafoetida (hing) is used in plenty to aid digestion. The recipes have a sweet and sour flavour.
In general, the taste of food of Gujarat is uncomplicated and sweet. Festive meals comprise sweets like wheat-based ladoo or lapsi. The popular dish undhiyu is a complex preparation of a melange of vegetables in spinach gravy; ringana methi nu shak consists of brinjal prepared with fenugreek leaves. A runny curry of potato and tomato is called alu rasswala; another common item is bhindi sambhariya – mildly-spiced ladyfingers curry.
Cooking in tandem with seasons
The variety of preparations of the Gujaratis is not consistent throughout the year but fluctuates with the advent of seasonal vegetables and fruits. For instance, during the summer season, lip-smacking dish like ‘Keri no Ras’ or aamras puri are de rigueur.
Gujarati fare tantamount to a mouthful of flavoursome spices. The zests and flavours usually used in preparing sabzis include turmeric powder, cardamom, cumin, coriander, tamarind, saffron, jaggery, fenugreek seeds and leaves, mint, asafoetida, cloves, ginger powder, red chilli, chaat masala, curry leaves, green chilli and garam masala. Traditional blends of spices in different Gujarati preparations are thought to hasten assimilation of food. A mishmash of spices like garam masala is side-stepped or used in reduced amounts during summer months.
A thali meal
A traditional thali meal includes rice, theplas (flatbreads of atta, besan and fenugreek leaves), and two kinds of vegetables, two kinds of farsaans, pickles, papad and sweets. Chaach (buttermilk tempered with mustard seeds) is a must-have beverage and sweets like malpua, rabdi, jalebi or mung dal halwa are served along with the meal. Farsaans are goodies prepared in every Gujarati home. Each family boasts of its own special farsaan. These refreshments are eaten during the day and the meals are usually light at night. Thepla, bajra, rotlo, kadhi (yoghurt-based gravy) and khichdi are eaten during dinner in most Gujarati homes. Muthias are vegetarian dumplings made with Indian ingredients and spices. They may look and taste different but are steamed just like dimsums and eaten as snacks. Other must haves in a thali are kuchumber salad with freshly cut cucumbers, tomatoes and onions dipped in curd and green/sweet-n-sour chutneys for the farsaans, and pickles.
Gujaratis are passionate about food and they always make sure their guests are treated to gastronomic excesses. Savour the flavours and hospitality of Gujarati cuisine and its people while at it!