A guide to
the cuisine of
Rice is the staple food grain in Maharashtrian cuisine, similar to many other states in India. All non-vegetarian and vegetarian dishes of Maharashtra cuisine are eaten with boiled rice or with bhakris, which are soft rotis made of rice flour.
Food, in this culinary culture, is mostly sautéed, stir-fried or slow-cooked under pressure. Fish is shallow-fried and meats stewed until succulent. Vaafavne or steaming is a technique used frequently before items are fried.
Cereals such as jowar and bajri, and pulses like toor and Bengal gram are the staples throughout the state, except for the coastal areas where rice is more prevalent.
Another defining characteristic of Maharashtrian cuisine is a distinct sweet and sour flavour. Traditionally, jaggery or puran is the favoured sweetener, although sugar is used in equal measure nowadays.
A tropical fruit called kokum is used as a souring agent (primarily in the coastal regions) for dishes and imparts a unique pink or purple colour to the food.
Another commonly used souring agent is tamarind. A ubiquitous ingredient is coconut, used either in fresh or dried/ powdered form. Peanuts too are added to a wide variety of dishes and form the base for various delectable chutneys. Peanut oil is also used for cooking in the region.
The traditional way of setting a platter is known as Taat Vadhany in which all the dishes and accompaniments of a thali (platter) are arranged in a particular order. While salt is placed at the top-centre of the Taat (plate), the dessert occupies the left side of the base. To the left of the salt are served accompaniments to the main meal such as a lemon wedge, chutney, salad etc., and to its right are served the vegetables and the main course or curry, followed by papad and bhakris. Rice is always served in an evenly shaped mound, garnished with ghee.
One of the most beloved and homely dishes of the state is aamti—a Maharashtrian rendering of the common daal. This variety of daal is made out of toor. The use of kokum or tamarind, coconut and jaggery provide this dish with its characteristic sweet, tangy and spicy flavour. However, the most important ingredient is the goda masala - a unique blend of spices including cumin, cinnamon, pepper, coriander, ajwain, cloves and sesame (to name a few).
Another popular dish, which is as much a part of the regular household menu as of feasts and special occasions, is Bharli Vangi. The dish is prepared by stuffing raw eggplant with a lip-smacking mixture of coconut, peanuts, goda masala, tamarind and onions. The stuffed eggplants are cooked until they absorb the flavour of the spices and attain a soft texture. The dish is best enjoyed with bhakris or flatbreads made (most commonly) out of jowar, bajri and (sometimes) wheat.
Maharashtrian food is nutrient-rich and prepared in a manner to preserve the goodness of the ingredients. An example of such a wholesome dish is usal which is prepared with a variety of sprouted beans or legumes such as moong beans, green peas and black gram. The legumes are steamed under pressure and tomatoes, coconut, onions, ginger and garlic are added to it. This curried dish pairs incredibly well with soft bhakris and pavs (bread). Tomato Saar is a mild and soothing soup of tomatoes, coconut and spices.
Another quintessential comfort dish is Metkut Bhat. Metkut is a powder prepared out of lentils, grains and spices and is found on the shelves of most Marathi households. Metkut with rice or khichdi, tempered by a dollop of ghee is the perfect remedy for the ailing body as well as the soul.
Pav Bhaji and Vada Pav are two dishes that rule the realm of fast foods. Pav Bhaji involves a mix of vegetables cooked in butter and a special blend of spices, accompanied by a pav. A walk along the beaches of Mumbai would probably be incomplete without a Vada Pav, a popular street food of the city. It is essentially a deep-fried batata or potato dumpling placed inside a pav split in the middle. Misal Pav is a spicy curry made of sprouted beans topped with chopped onions, cilantro, farsan and a dash of lime, accompanied by a pav. Another quick yet wholesome dish is Pithla, known as the quintessential peasant’s meal, but has lately gained immense popularity among city-dwellers. Pithla is a quick dish whisked out of gram flour, onion, ginger, garlic and spices and eaten with soft bhakris. Poha, a dish that finds a place on the breakfast table almost all over the country today, is said to be of Maharashtrian origin. Poha is flattened rice mixed with a tempering of oil, curry leaves, onions, mustard seeds and peanuts.
The onset of monsoons in Maharashtra brings its own basket of savoury snacks. Alu Vadi is one such beloved snack made of collocasia leaves smeared in besan or gram flour, and then steamed and fried to reach the right amount of crispness. Sabudana Vade are crisp patties made out of sabudana (tapioca sago), potato and peanuts, and often eaten as a fasting snack. Another popular fasting snack is Sabudana Khichdi in which the sabudana is tossed in oil with potatoes, peanuts and herbs. Hurda bhel is a popular winter snack that is prepared out of tender jowar grains mixed with butter, tomato, onions, shev and peanut chutney.
Any discussion on a region’s cuisine is incomplete without a look at its royal fare. In Maharashtra, the Kolhapuri cuisine with its rich non-vegetarian dishes and spicy rassas (gravies) acquaint us with the flavours of the royal Marathi kitchens. Kolhapur was a princely state ruled by the Bhonsle dynasty that merged with the Indian union in 1949. Meat, mostly mutton, forms an important part of the Kolhapuri meal. Traditionally, shikar or game meat such as vension, wild boar and partridge also formed a part of the royal menu (before hunting was declared illegal). The characteristic spiciness and boldness of Kolhapuri dishes comes from a unique blend of spices known as kanda-lasun masala.
An unusually fiery variant of chilli known as lavangi mirch, native to this region, is bound to flare up one’s senses. Mutton Sukka is a spicy delicacy prepared by cooking meat in grated coconut and a blend of choice spices. Two delectable Kolhapuri curries crafted to tease one’s taste buds are Tambda Rassa and Pandhra Rassa, literally translated as red and white curries. While red chillies are the star component of the Tambda Rassa imparting its fiery red colour, grated coconut paste lends a smooth and creamy consistency to the Pandhra Rassa.
It is interesting to note that one of the earliest printed Marathi cookbooks, Rasachandrika, was published in 1943 by the Saraswat Mahila Samaj. This text, authored by Ambabai Samsi, features classic recipes of the Saraswat community. While predominantly vegetarian, fish finds a place in the culinary repertoire of this community as it is euphemistically treated as the vegetable of the sea. Another specialised cuisine of Maharashtra is the Saoji, native to the Nagpur region. Saoji style of cooking is practiced by the Halba Koshti community, who were traditionally weavers. The cuisine involves spicy mutton and chicken curries that carry a characteristic flavour. This distinctiveness emerges out of a special blend of spices the ingredients of which are a closely guarded secret within the community.
Scrumptious desserts are the markers of a versatile cuisine. Maharashtrian desserts are as wholesome and mouth-watering as its snacks and main dishes. One of the most popular and celebrated desserts of Maharashtra is Puran Poli which is essentially a flatbread (poli) stuffed with Bengal gram powder and jaggery (puran), served with a dollop of ghee. Shrikhand is another dessert of Maharashtrian origin in which hung curd, powdered sugar, and a flavour of choice (elaichi, kesar or mango) is whipped to reach a creamy and silky consistency.
Another delectable dairy-based dessert is Basundi which is prepared by boiling milk over a low flame till it thickens. Thereafter cardamom, nutmeg and dry-fruits are added to it. A discussion of Maharashtrian desserts is incomplete without the Ukadiche Modak, the favoured delicacy of Lord Ganesha. These are steamed dumplings of rice flour skin stuffed with a mixture of coconut and jaggery. Modaks are served as bhoga or prasad during Ganesh Chaturthi, one of the most popular festivals of Maharashtra.
Food is an integral part of Maharashtra’s cultural heritage. Its prominence increased in the 17th century with rise of Shivaji Bhosle who established the Maratha Empire. Maharashtrian food prepared in the royal kitchens was an extraordinary treat. The meal included a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes balanced with different tastes and flavours.
The CoastlineThe coastal region of Maharashtra is famous for its Malawani Cuisine. Malvan is a town in the on the west coast of Maharashtra. Here, coconut is used in almost every form - grated, dried, fried, coconut milk or paste. Kokum, amsul, tamarind and raw mango are some special ingredients that set this cuisine apart. Kombadi Vade and Solkadhi are two popular dishes of this region that one shouldn't miss. Another popular coastal cuisine is the Saraswat cuisine. It is famous throughout the western coast of Maharashtra.
Western MaharashtraThe western side of Maharashtra is divided into two culinary sects, the Pune cuisine, created by the Brahmin community and the Maratha Cuisine, from the Kolhapur-Satara-Sangli sector. The Pune cuisine predominantly has food derived from the settlement of Brahmins and therefore has a more vegetarian diet, with mild and sweet flavours.
MarathwadaMarathwada, or the central region of Maharashtra is a largely a farming and agricultural community, owing to the arid climate, and a nutrient rich volcanic land to grow crops on.
VidharbaThe cuisine in this region is dominated by two major tribes, the Varhadi and the Saoji. Both these tribes bring large bold spicy flavours to the table, yet are unique in their cooking styles and techniques.
KhandeshThe northern frontier of Maharashtra, also known as the Khandesh, is the land of the “kala masala”. “Kala” translates to black, in Marathi. It is named so because the masala consists of various roasted and charred ingredients which give the resulting masala a brownish-black colour. The use of this masala is the distinct identification of a Khandeshi meal.
Since they occupy a vast area with distinct geographical differences and food availability, the Marathi people from different regions have produced a diverse cuisine. The diversity extends to the family level because each family uses its own unique combination of spices and ingredients.
— Savoury dishes —
— Sweet dishes —