Cuisines of Maharashtra

Beaches and mountains, caves and temples, forests and cities - Maharashtra is blessed with an abundance of natural wealth and cultural heritage. Food is an integral part of Maharashtra’s cultural heritage, and no visit to the state can be considered complete without sampling a variety of its specialties.

Thanks to its varied landscape, the culinary heritage of Maharashtra too varies as you go from the golden sands of the Konkan, up through the gentle Deccan plateau, to the scorching heat of Vidarbha in the east. Unlike many other Indian cuisines, one rarely finds traditional Maharashtrian food in Indian restaurants outside the state, although it has as just much to offer. Subtle and understated, the flavours of Maharashtrian food are heavily dependent on the seasons - raw mango (kairi), kokum and coconut make their appearance in the heat of summer, deliciously crispy gram-flour batter coated, deep fried vegetables in the monsoon and rich sesame and jaggery based sweets in the winter. Fish curries and rice are a staple in the coastal belt, while spicy mutton curries are a favourite in the east. Every festival is an occasion to cook, and naturally eat, something special to that season. And of course, the street food traditions like the ‘Bhel Puri’ and sandwiches of Mumbai are without parallel.

Every meal should take you on a journey of exploration, and there is as much to meet your taste buds as there is for your eyes to feast on with the traditional cuisine of Maharashtra!

Maharashtrian Delight
  • Ladoos
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    Little dollops of sweetness: Traditional Maharashtrian ladoos

    A peep into any Maharashtrian kitchen and one can be sure to find some kinds of ladoos stored on the kitchen shelf. Ladoos are ball shaped sweetmeats having great mythological significance and prepared as an offering in all rituals.

    An integral part of Maharashtrian cuisine, there are special ladiesfor every occasion. Again, like all indigenous preparations, the ingredients used are associated with local and seasonal produce and also have a long shelf life. Most of the ladoos can be stored up to 15 days without refrigeration, though eating them when freshly rolled is a mouthwatering experience. Most mothers at some point, try to hide ladoos from their children, only to find empty ladoo jars, guilty faces and sticky little hands later.

    One may find similar or common ingredients in many ladoos. The proportion of the ingredients and cooking style gives each ladoo its distinct taste and texture. Castor sugar, sugar syrup or jaggery are the sweetening agents and ghee (clarified butter) the fattening agent used in most ladoos.  In the age of ready to eat food, a variety of ladoos are still regularly rolled in Maharashtrian households throughout the year.  Here is just a small sampling of must-try ladoos during Maharashtrian festivals.

    Ladoos for festive occasions

    1. Motichur ladoo: Soft to semi soft, these ladoos are mostly made commercially due to complex preparation. Gram flour batter droplets are deep fried in ghee, soaked in sugar syrup and then rolled.

    2. Boondi ladoo: Similar to motichur ladoo, the only difference in the taste is due to difference in the texture owing to the size of the droplets. These ladoos are semi hard to hard.  It is a tradition to display humongous size boondi or motichur ladoos as a part of wedding display (rukhvat).

    3. Besan ladoo: Even though besan ladoos are must on festive days they are regularly made at home. These ladoos are rich and heavy, made by roasting coarse gram flour in pure ghee and adding castor sugar. Flavored with cardamom and raisins, these ladoos are soft and just melt in the mouth.

    4. Rava Besan ladoo:  Combination of rava (semolina) and coarse besan (gram flour) the preparation is similar to rava ladoo using sugar syrup. This ladoo has a great significance as an offering on the thirteenth day ritual of a deceased person.

    5. Til (sesame) ladoo : These are small ladoos made especially for Sankranti festival in the month of January. Til ladoos are made with til (sesame seeds) and sugar /jaggery or combination of both. There are two variations - one is hard and in the second variety peanut powder is added which makes them soft.

    6. Ladoos for fasting days: Like all other occasions specific ladoos made with Rajgira and Sabudana are eaten on the days of fasts in Maharashtra.

    7. Rajgira (Amaranth) ladoo: These crunchy ladoos are a combination of rajgira and special jaggery with a hint of peanuts. An ideal supplement to fight anemia, these ladoos are hardly made at home and are available in every grocery store.

  • Pickles
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    ‘Pickling’ dates back to thousands of years in India and this ancient process also has a very eminent position in Maharashtrian cuisine. Though various pickles are made all over India, Maharashtra takes the premier position for a variety of mango preserves.

    In recent times, advanced preservation systems provide us frozen mangoes, pulps or even hybrid mangoes at an instance. However, in absence of refrigeration,  preserves like pickles (lonche), chatni, sweet jams (moramba, chunda, sakharamba) were one of the best ways to do so. However, pickle making has continued to be an annual household activity.

    The preservation is primarily done by adding high quantities of oil and salt. However the sweet ones are preserved using sugar syrup and sometimes by maturing in the hot sun. Though winter is more appropriate time for pickling, seasonality of mangoes makes it a summer activity too. These preserves are normally stored in stoneware airtight jars in kitchen stores and small quantities are dispensed as and when required. It is very important to avoid any kind of water contamination especially wet spoons to prevent spoilage. As with other traditional products even this activity is receding due to busy lifestyles and availability of ready pickles in the market. Even with expert commercialization trying to match homemade tastes, one has to accept that the grandmother’s recipe is always a welcome treat. By adopting certain convenient changes like ready pickle masalas, one can always try a hand at it and preserve some ‘Pickle’.

    When you visit Maharashtra, stop by a grocery store and pick up a ‘pickle masala’. Simply follow the instructions on the packet to make your family a wonderful, traditional and authentic Maharashtrian pickle.

    Kairi lonche, made with raw mangoes, is one of the most popular and common preserve made during summers, in almost every Maharashtrian house hold. A tangy pickle with a particular taste, a few decades back the masala used for marinating was prepared at home. However it’s now common to use the packaged masala available in the markets under different brand names. As required for preservation, the quantity of oil added is high. A variation called taje kairi lonche (fresh mango pickle) is also made using minimum oil and is consumed fresh.  Kairi lonche forms a very integral part of any traditional meal in Maharashtra.

    Ripe Mango Moreamba or Sakharambaiscertainly a delicacy in itself, it is the closest way of relishing and storing mangoes for a prolonged period even after the season is over. Since it is made with alphonso mangoes, it satisfies the urge of the now addicted mango taste buds. Closely associated with mango jam it’s a quick fix served with the chapati (Maharashtrian wheat bread) in absence of vegetable or curry preparation or even a sweet dish.

  • Summer Treats to Beat the Heat
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    Summer Treats to Beat the Heat

    Summers are sweltering times in almost all areas of Maharashtra – from the dry heat in the plateaus of Nagpur and Aurangabad to the Sahyadri mountains’scorching days to the humidity of the coastal Konkan. Come summers and these dietary patterns gently transform. Obviously, the Maharashtrians do well to gradually prod their meals to cooler, gentler foods. When summer sizzles, the state goes seasonal in its diet. Mangoes make their appearance, not only as the ‘king of fruits’ to be devoured in the form of the Alphonso but also in drinks, pickles, lentils and desserts. Apart from ripe mangoes, the coastal regions see a pronounced use of chair (raw green mangoes) and kokum (mangosteen) in their diet.

    Sol Kadhi is a summer favourite in the Konkan belt. The word ‘sol’ stands for kokum in Maharashtra and Goa and ‘kadhi’ means curry. Kokum, which goes by the botanical name of Garcinia Indica, is a tropical fruit which resembles a plum but is rarely, if ever, eaten as a fruit. This deep-purple, sweet-and-sour berry is always washed, curried or boiled to be made into a sherbet (drink concentrate). Sol Kadhi is a summer blend of coconut milk and kokum. Often consumed chilled as an aperitif before your meal, it is also made into a coastal curry to be poured over fluffy white steamed rice and it is sometimes drunk after the meal at room temperature.

    The reason Sol Kadhi becomes a summer favourite is because it gets the stomach juices to start flowing. This means it helps move forward our sluggish summer appetite. Secondly, the cooling blend of coconut milk and kokum is known to balance out the tummy heat and ease the indigestion often caused by summer. The kokum berry has been used in India for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine for relieving digestive and gastric issues as well as a remedy for digestion and fever.

    Raw mangoes, kairi, are known for their heat-resistant properties making them a favourite for the refreshing pale-green beverage called Kairi Panhe. The green, unripe mango is a rich source of pectin. This chemical gradually diminishes after the formation of the central seed in the mango as it ripens. It is the very sourness of the raw mango that is healthy – it speaks of the strong presence of oxalic and citric acids. Raw mangoes are also known to be an excellent source of vitamin C that helps in the formation of new blood cells and aids other blood-related disorders.

    Kairi Panhe is also a Maharashtrian summer favourite. Kairi, the Marathi word for the Hindi aam (mango) plays the leading lady here. The panhe is made from raw green mangoes during summer as a healthy, quick thirst-quencher to fight the intense Western sizzling summer. Rich in sodium chloride (with its generous dash of rock salt) and iron, lost in our bodies due to sweating and dehydration, the panhe is a relief from summer fatigue and even heat-stroke. 

  • Monsoom Foods
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    Monsoon snacks to warm up in the rain

    With the onset of the monsoons, the landscape of Maharashtra is transformed, the dusty brown slopes and fields are suddenly lush green, in under a span of two weeks. With this change in the weather and nature, Maharashtrian cuisine too shifts into monsoon mode. Warming teas infused with spices, crispy deep fried bhajjis and hot sprouts stews like misal are served across the state in homes and also in little pop-up shacks (tapris) along all major roads. No monsoon outing to a hillside is complete without getting soaked in a waterfall and then drying off in a tapri with a piping hot plate of bhajji or a vadapav and a steaming cup of masala chai. Here is a list of must-eat monsoon snacks when visiting Maharashtra!

    Bhajji is a snack similar to fritters, also called ‘pakoras’ in other parts of India. A unique Maharashtrian speciality are ‘khekda bhajji’. ‘Khekda' means crab. Although the name suggests that these fritters are made with crab, they are actually made with onions.They are called ‘khekdabhajji’ because of their crab-like shape. Bhajjis can be made from an assortment of assorted vegetables like capsicum, green chillies, potatoes, cauliflower, fenugreek leaves, spinach leaves and even pulses like moong dal (green gram).

    Served as appetizers or a side dish in a meal, the KhekdaBhajji is unique because it is made with dry gram flour instead of a wet batter, thus giving the onions their distinctive crab shape. Easy to make at home, and or as a roadside snack, bhajjis are the ultimate monsoon treat in Maharashtra.

    Vada-pav is a favourite Maharashtrian monsoon snack and is popular during travels or movie intervals. There are established chains and eateries serving vada-pav in cities and on highways, and it is gaining global recognition as the ‘Indian Burger’. ‘Vada’ is a potato patty dipped in batter, deep fried, andserved sandwiched in a sliced bun-shaped Indian bread baked in local bakeries i.e. pav.Vada-pav is served with a spicy red chutney, made of garlic and dry coconut, and fried green chillies. One of the most popular Maharashtrian street foods, this tummy filler is very easy on the pocket too.

    A Maharashtrian speciality , ‘misal’ literally means mixture. Misal is a mixture of pharsan (dry snacks mix made with gramflour, peanuts etc), potatoes, and onion, served with aspicy moth bean currycalled ‘Kat’ and pav.Though categorized as a snack, it is pretty much a meal in itself.Misalpav has plenty of regional variations within Maharashtra like Kolhapurimisal, Solapurimisal, Punerimisal, Nagpurimisal.The essence of the variation lies in the secret of thefresh and dry masala used to make the ‘Kat’. Also the level of spice and oil varies in different places. Every city has its own misalplace serving the regional specialty.A simple preparation,Misalcan be eaten at any time of the day although it is mostly a breakfast preference.

    No monsoon snack is complete without being washed down by a piping hot cups of ‘Masala Chaha’,  tea flavoured with elaichi(cardamom) and ginger. The spices give the tea added warmth and flavour, perfect for a rainy day.

  • Diwalipharal
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    Festive food to brighten up Diwali

    Amchya kade pharalala ya’ (come to our house for the Diwali delicacies) is a common invite given to each other during Diwali. Pharal includes a variety of long-lasting traditional savouries and sweets prepared specially for Diwali.  A few days prior to Diwali, the festival of lights, the main shopping areas of a city begin to fill up with shopaholics - not just looking for dresses and accessories but also the right choice of items that must go into the preparation of the pharal.

    The process begins a month or fortnight before the festival, initiated with the selective buying of ingredients as well as sorting the grains and milling the flour, followed by the actual preparation of the goodies and storing them in an out-of-the-reach way in an effort to keep them away from pecking family members till the grand day of the festival’s commencement. After an early morning oil bath (abhyangasnan) and a burst of crackers on Dhanatrayodashi, the first day, these delicacies come out, to be attacked with relish till the last day of the festival. The woman of the house takes pride in displaying her month-long efforts by offering these goodies to friends and relatives, each showcasing unique mastery and specialty.

    While in modern times it has become a single-woman kitchen, traditionally this activity of making pharal used to be the collective effort of 5-6 ladies in the house. Catering to 40-50 members of the joint family with all the specialties, while handling other household chores, required an unbelievable level of dexterity. In a perfect display of management practices and theories, pharal preparation would be a well-planned and coordinated activity with each lady member having her own share of duties.

    Though every part in Maharashtra will have their own additional authentic specialties and styles of preparation, here are some common and popular ones from thepharal platter:

    Tongue Tingling Munchies

    Chivda: A variety of chivdas are made by frying or sautéing different types of pressed rice (pohas) or puffed rice (murmura) tempered with mustard seed, curry leaves and turmeric, spiced with red chilli powder or green chillies  and enhanced with other ingredients like dry coconut , peanuts, cashew, raisins, etc.

    Shev : Mildly spiced crisp thin noodles like chips made from spice.

    Chakli : Most popular and a must in Diwali pharal, this coil-shaped fried savory is made with mildly spiced mixed flour of various grains and lentils in Maharashtra and rice flour in South India.

    Kadboli : Drop-shaped spiced fried savory made with mixed flour from various grains and lentils, best eaten with homemade white butter.

    For Those with a Sweet Tooth

    Ladoo: Sweet round balls made in assorted variety.

    Rava Ladoo: Made with semolina and sugar syrup, flavored with cardamom, raisins and sometimes freshly grated coconut.

    Besan Ladoo: Rich and heavy, it is made with gram flour in pure ghee and castor sugar and flavored with cardamom and raisins.

    Motichoor Ladoo: Made on a commercial basis using ghee, deep fried gram flour and sugar syrup.