Hidden Gems of Maharashtrian Cuisine: Khandeshi and Varadi Cuisines.

By Harshada Sandhan

Food has the capability to take us down the memory lane. We all have profound Childhood memories! Most of them from school,holidays and all the carefree moments we could afford then! Food finds a distinct place in them. We still remember that Mom's Special Cake or Nankhatais, or the special signature dish only the cooking enthusiast Uncle knew how to make and needed much pestering to get him into the kitchen! Of all those tiffins and lunches shared over school benches.Of wondering why is it that their Idlis turn fluffier than mine. Of the fight to grab the last bit of leftover birthday cake brought and flaunted as an extra tiffin....The food memories are endless. Even now the aroma of a particular masala curry from a neighbors home makes us miss Moms cooking. And its to these memories that Homemade food eventually triumphs over any fancy meals! It's the food we grew up on. A food lovingly made by our parents with an intention to nourish us. My Grand mom used to say, you don't just cook food, you add in your energies to it. So a food made with good intentions and love not only tastes yummier,but also gives extra pleasure and nourishment to the one who eats it. No wonder we Indians have Mom Made Dal Chawal or Rajma Chawal as our favorite Comfort Food!
The Food memories,especially the home cooked meals we grew up on are distinct. Its what our Moms and Grandmoms cooked for decades together. These are the tried and tested recipes,passed on from generations. Such Mastered recipes is what we call modern day Regional Cuisine! A food unique to what an individual grew up on! A food that is distinct to the local flavor,ingredients and culture.
India is a country with a diverse landscape. And equally diverse is our Culinary Culture, that is partly influenced by distinct local produce,resulting from a varied climate and topography and religious preferences. No wonder we have a distinct cuisine representing each state. And many sub cuisines within the state. They say in India, the taste changes every few Kilometers.That is amply demonstrated by the local highway Dhabas which serve rustic regional food. You ll be surprised at how each Dhaba has its unique taste for the same dish.
Take the example of Maharashtra. When someone says Maharashtrian Cuisine, most of us see a Thali with Shrikhand Poori,Kothimbir wadi,some subjis very dictinctive to Pune or say Brahmani Marathi Food.For a non Veg spread, it ll be Malvani Rassa,Seafood,solkadhi and at the most a Kolhapuri Pandhara Tambda rassa. But this "Maha"(literally means Big/Huge) State where I hail from has a variety of cuisines to offer, each distinct from other. Not many knew about regional Khandeshi Maratha food from Nasik,Dhule,Jalgaon etc. until recently the Wine revolution and local Vineyards brought influx of tourists and weekenders to try world class wines and local food.
A Mumbaikar by birth, I was introduced to Khandeshi Usal in the days proceeding my wedding. It was a spicy surprise initially,but then the journey began.. To explore the unique taste, the culture and eventually perfecting the cooking for such an enchanting Cuisine. It was very surprising for a person accustomed to a bland dal khichdi to eat a Khandeshi khichdi that was so spicy, laced with peanuts and a fragrant Kala Masala and topped with no ghee but raw peanut oil! Or making a Mutton curry masala with a paste almost black charred onions and humongous amounts of garlic. All of these cooking and eating experiences were unique and the end result was a culinary delight, though with a spicy tadka,or should I say A Tarri!(Tarri-Red spicy Oil floating on top of every Khandeshi Curry. Thts Mandatory) Normally we relished Pooran polis only during Holi , but now they were a part of Makar Sankranti,Pola festival in Shrawaan month,Akshaya Tritiya(with Aamrras) ,Holi and every Pre Wedding functions.And mind you, its not just Pooran Polis, we call it Pooranacha Swayampak(Pooran Meal), that came with Pooran Poli,served with milk, Rice and Katachi Amti that was made with drained water the Chanadal was cooked in and masala, and crisp pakoras and Nachni Papad Kurdai for the crunch. Dal Baati was a Rajasthani dish ,until we made Dal Baafle at home without ovens! Khandavi to me was the best savory item cooked with Besan ,until I met its competitor, Patoda chya Wadya and Amti. Papads were just urad ,rice or sabudana,until we had nachni papads n wheat germ based noodle papads called kurdaya that expanded n bloomed when dropped in oil. Bhakris were usually made by rolling , but here we literally patted a huge plate full just with our palms. And Brinjal also came in beautiful green color and the Vangya Che Bharith that was made also had a Tarri and tasted really earth with Bhakris.
With all these Khandeshi infusion, not only did my taste evolve ,but my entire cooking got revolutionized.
Another equally flavorful cuisine comes from the center point of India, the Nagpur City. It's the Varadi Cuisine. It's a perfect mix of aromatic spices with a slightly higher heat of chilies. Any local will proudly flaunt the uniqueness of their Wada Bhat and the spicy Saoji Rassa. We didn't have much exposure to this faucet of Marathi food,until we tried it at The Gateway Hotel in Pune. We were bowled over by the sheer presence of such a local variety in a high end chain like Gateway though I honestly expected a bland attempt to please the tourists rather than sticking to rustic taste. But I was wrong. Though the spice level were maintained optimal, unlike the authentic one which is too much for a non local to bear, the recipe flavors and cooking style stuck to original. And that's what we loved and appreciated. And most generous was the Executive chef Dinesh Dadlani, who shared us many of their signature Varadi Recipes. (Click here on the link to view them)
So the next time you say Regional Maratha, hashtag it with pride!

You can find all our exclusive #Khandeshi Maratha recipes here:

Khandeshi Special Recipes


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