As a person with a penchant for non-vegetarian preparations, there are very few places in the city whose vegetarian food is able to pleasure my meat-eating taste buds. Soam at Babulnath, Mumbai is one such restaurant!
I have savoured Soam's fares with family and friends over the years. But, the special thing about the visit this time was the Kathiawadi menu that the restaurant is showcasing. This was coupled with a very informative #TasteAndTalk session with APB Cook studio founder & Indian cuisine expert Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal to enlighten food enthusiasts like me present about nuances of Kathiawadi food. Pinky Chandan Dixit, the affable owner of Soam too graced our session with her insights on Kathiawadi food she has been relishing since her childhood days.
An eye opener for me was the fact that Kathiawadi food is not sweet like what I have experienced by way of various Gujarati thali joints in the city but it has a spicy flavour profile. This is due to the fact that Gujarati food though primarily vegetarian varies vastly with landscape of the state and can be largely classified basis the five prominent regions of the state - north, central, South, Kuchchh and Kathiawar. Each region showcasing a distinct flavour profile (not sweet always) through use of local produce that is a result of and compliments the climate of the region.
The quintessential Gujarati thali or vegetarian food platter is reflective of the cuisine of northern part of the state with its sweetened flavour profile of curries, lentil preparations and stir fries. That's about it to briefly explain which part of Gujarat the thali comes from but in this article I will be focussing on food from Kathiawar.
Kathiawar region is a protruding peninsula as seen on the map of India in the western part of Gujarat state. It is in what we know as Saurashtra region and is bordered by sea on three sides- Gulf of Kuchchh, Arabian Sea & Gulf of Khambat. Rajkot, Junagadh, Jamnagar, Porbandar are some of the prominent places in this region.
So while I have filled you in on the geography of the region here is a gist of the region's culinary style:
- Although blessed with a sea vicinity, the region is parched and presence of fresh vegetables, gourds and tubers is restricted only to the 2-3 month winter season. Hence the onset of winters witnesses the making of the famous mixed vegetable and tuber delicacy, Undhiyu.
- Thus Kathiawadi cuisine heavily relies on lentils like chana dal (Bengal gram) especially besan(gram flour) made from it, adad/ urad dal (split black gram) and toor dal (pigeon pea) for sustenance throughout the year. The dals are spun into fried farsaan like gota, muthiya, sev, gaathiya, chorphalli or steamed farsan like dhokla and much more.
- The scorching temperatures also play a huge part in lending a spicy touch to the food by way of red chillies being used extensively for the cooling effects of capsaicin compound contained in them. As fellow blogger Shital Kakad quipped, if the gravy has a red colour you know you are in Kathiwar since the Kathiwadis are known for use of red chillies in their dishes.
- Onions, garlic, fenugreek (methi) are the other prominent ingredients to lend flavour to savoury dishes.
- Sweet delights are prepared with jaggery and not refined sugar.
- Ghee is the preferred form of fat for cooking though generous amounts of peanut oil is also used. An accompaniment of jaggery and molten ghee with food is considered a must to balance off the heat from red chillies in spicy dishes.
- Breads are mostly made from millets like jowar, bajra but at times wheat may also be used. Bajra rotla, bhakra, dhebra, wheat chopdas are some of the famous flat breads of this gastronomy.
- As the region is arid, the lack of water results in gravies and beverages being dairy based. Kadhi, a dish entailing watery yoghurt thickened with besan/gram flour and beverage called chaas or buttermilk are quite popular.
Soaking into all these insights about Kathiawadi food, I relished the following preparations during my #TasteAndTalk session with Rushina at Soam:
DAKOR NA GOTA: With dals being the mainstay of Kathiawadi food, it comes as no surprise that these gota/pakoda made of besan formed part of the Kathiawadi menu at Soam. Fenugreek leaves, fennel seeds and coriander seeds were main flavouring agents for these crunchy, deep-fried lentil spheres.The recipe originates and is popular in the temple town of Dakor and is especially prepared on ocassion of Holi. Accompanying these fried goodies was a bowl of red chilli powder sprinkled yoghurt.
MATHIA CHUTNEY: I would term this the Kathiawadi 'Chips & Dip'. Again the chips are deep-fried lentil crisps sprinkled with salt & red chilli powder, while the dip was a sauce like consistency besan chutney tempered with mustard and cumin seeds. A grated, raw papaya salad as accompaniment provided a refreshing tart touch to this lentil heavy appetizer.
KATHIAWADI DAHI WADA: This was a spicy rendition of the urad dal fritter doused in yoghurt. Since Kathiwadis love red chillies, the yoghurt was laced with loads of red chilli powder and also a touch of green chilli-coriander chutney & tamarind-date chutney. The adad/urad dal fritter had an imposing flavour of fenugreek and was dense in texture unlike its North and South Indian counterparts which have a more airy texture.
Dhokla is a quintessential Gujarati farsaan and its Kathiawadi version at Soam entailed not one or two but five different dals, hence the name "panch" meaning five and "mel" meaning combination. Urad, masoor, moong, tur and chana dal are soaked, ground and the batter is fermented overnight. The batter is steamed and cut into cubes and tempered with curry leaves, mustard seeds and cumin seeds.
LASANIYA RINGNA BATATA WITH CHOPDAS: This speciality dish comprised of baby brinjals (ringna) and baby potatoes (batata) cooked in a garlic (lasan) laden onion-tomato based gravy. The dish was tart, mildly piquant and flavourful. Whole wheat laccha parathas or CHOPDAS as they are known in Kathiawar served as perfect accompaniment to devour this preprartion.
KANDA GAATHIYA NU SHAAK WITH CHOPDAS:
In Kathiawadi gastronomy it's a common practice to pair farsaan with a gravy or stir fry to add a layer of flavour and texture to the dish to make up for absence of most vegetables during dry months. For this dish spring onion bulbs as well as greens were sauteed lightly in garlic and served garnished with crispy besan gaathiya/vermicelli. Again chopdas were served to eat with the dish.
UNDHIYU: Kathiawadi undhiyu is spicy as compared to it's Surati counterpart. And this exactly how the Undhiyu served to us was, complete with additions of paapdi, kand, batata, mathia, green chillies and fresh coriander leaves. This undhiyu had restraint use of oil but was super flavourful.
VAAL KAND NU SHAAK WITH PURIS:
Vaal or butter/lima beans were cooked along with kand or purple yam in a yoghurt based gravy that was flavoured with whole spices like cloves and cumin seeds. The dish had a creamy overtone and paired well with piping hot fluffy puris.
My meal concluded with the restaurant's decadent creation of crispy, mildly sweet saffron scented puris came generously packed with melt-in-mouth crumble of Motichoor ladoos and creamy, sumptuous Rabdi that acted as sauce moistening up and bringing the dessert together. A sprinkling of pistachios as garnish lent a note of nuttiness amidst all the sugar rush. This sweet dish is not a traditional Kathiawadi preparation but rather a sweet spin off on the otherwise popular savoury street food pani puri.
I had a wonderful experience learning about, tasting and experiencing Kathiawadi food. If this cuisine leaves your taste buds salivating too then head to Soam right away.
Till then Happy Eating...
- Regional Indian Food & Travel enthusiast