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Region: Maharashtra
Culinary Delights: Zunka Bhakar, Pathawadi, Vada - Bhat, Puran Poli

Maharashtrian meals are scientifically planned and cooked - the golden rule being that the cooking medium must not be seen. The vegetables are more or less steamed and lightly seasoned so as to retain their nutritional value. There is almost no deep frying and roasting. Coconut is used in cooking and as an embellishment.

Jaggery and tamarind are used in most vegetables or lentils so that the food has a sweet and sour flavour while the 'Kala Masala' (special blend of spices) is added to make the food piquant. As opposed to the coastal cuisine, where fresh coconut is added to the dishes, in the Vidarbha region powdered coconut is used for cooking.

Varadi Cuisine

Distinguishing features of the Varadi cuisine are the dishes made of 'Besan' (gram flour) like 'Zunka Bhakar' and 'Pathawadi' and the Vada-Bhat. Non-vegetarian food is also very popular in this region. As seafood is not easily available over here, chicken and mutton are commonly cooked.

Aesthetic Presentation Of Food

The people of Maharashtra are known for aesthetic presentation of food. In formal meals, the guests sit on floor rugs or red wooden seats and eat from silver or metal 'Thalis' or plates and bowl, placed on a raised 'Chowrang', which is a short decorative table. To avoid mixing of flavors, each guest is given a bowl of saffron scented water to dip fingers in before starting to eat the next delicacy.

The Art Of Setting Food On The Platter

In Maharashtra, even an everyday meal consists of several accompaniments that are set out in a particular manner in the 'Taat' (platter). The "Taat Vadhany" (method of setting food on the platter) is an art. It starts with a bit of salt at the top centre of the Taat. On its left is set a small piece of lemon. Then follows the 'Chatni' (spicy accompaniment made of ground coconut and green chillies), 'Koshimbir' (salad), and 'Bharit' (lightly cooked or raw vegetable in Yoghurt) in that order.

The vegetable with gravy never precedes the dry vegetable because the gravy will run into it. Once everyone is seated the women of the house will serve the rice, pour a little 'Toop' (clarified butter) and 'Varan' (lentil) on it and then the meal begins after a short thanksgiving.

A Marathi meal is not complete without 'Chapatis' or 'Bhakri' (Jawar or Bajra Roti). Chapatis usually go with 'Bhaji' or fried vegetable, which is usually a combination of one non-leafy vegetable and a leafy vegetable. A "Bharleli Vyaganychi Bhaji" (Brinjal) for example, is generally served with a "Pale Bhaji" (a leafy vegetable like Methi or Spinach). As in south India, in Maharashtra too every meal is winded up with curd rice or buttermilk.

A wide array of condiments like pickles and 'Papads' are also served along with every meal. Maharashtrian meal is incomplete without Papads, which are eaten roasted or fried. A typical feature is the Masala Papad in which finely chopped onions, green chillies and Chat Masala are sprinkled over roasted or fried Papads.

The Mouth-Watering Deserts

Maharashtra also has its share of awesome desserts like 'Kheer', 'Shrikhand' and 'Basundi', and with the advent of the festive season one can find a plethora of goodies in every Maharashtrian home.

Delicacies For Special Occasions

During a festival the presentation of food becomes even more elaborate. The platter or Taat is adorned with various patterns of Rangoli and white flowers around it. Food is served amidst devotional chants and the fragrance of incense sticks, in order to create an auspicious ambience.

The most popular dessert of Maharashtra is the "Puran Poli", which is a 'Roti' stuffed with a sweet mixture of jaggery and gram flour and is made at the time of the Maharashtrian New Year.

During Ganesh Utsav, every Maharashtrian welcomes Lord Ganesh into his home and offers "Modak" - a favorite sweetmeat of Lord Ganesh that is made only during this festival. Shrikhand, a sort of thick yogurt sweet dish, is a great favorite at weddings and the Dussehra festival. Traditionally, a wedding feast has to have five sweet delicacies, of which a "Motichur Laddu" (sweetmeat balls made of gram flour) is a must.

Some of the choicest Maharashtrian festival dishes are "Khamang Kakdi", "Masala Vangi" (Stuffed Brinjal Fry), Cauliflower "Vatna Rassa" (Cauliflower Curry), "Varan" (Dal), Mixed Bhajis (mixed vegetables deep-fried), etc.

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