Our Pathare Prabhu Evening...A Cultural Journey
When one talks of Maharashtrian food,there really is such a wide variety.Every community has its own distinctive masala and cuisine.One such community is that of Pathare Prabhus who currently are about 7000 in number,lesser than Parsis! Nikolai Kirtikar told us about their history.Pathare Prabhus trace their descent from King Ashwapati (circa 700 B.C) who was a monarch of Nepal and from solar lineage of Lord Ram.His kingdom included what is now Nepal and extended to present day Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.The descendants travelled down to Gujarat (Somnath temple area) and finally to Mumbai.Their journey contributed to the unusual dishes you find in the community.Their language too has words from the Gujarati and Marwari language.
Members of this community owned places like Fort,Palav Road (present Girgaum road),Laini (present day Princess Street),Girgaon Back Road(now V.P.Road) and Navi Wadi.Malad,Bhayandar,Kashi-Mira,Uttan,Kelve Mahim and Chene were places that were their strongholds.Amajor part of present day Khar is still owned by them.They built landmarks like the Mahalakshmi Temple,Bhau Cha Dhakka ( Ferry Wharf),Kirtikar Market and Prabhadevi Mandir at Dadar and the Gora Ram Mandir and Kala Ram Mandir at Thakurdwar.
Prominent members include noted statesman and freedom fighter Mukundrao Jayakar and Rao Bahadur Narayan Velkar who was instrumental in starting the Central Library at the Town Hall,Mumbai.
Today everyone knows Kunal Vijayakar of The Foodie on Times Now,actress Smita Jayakar (whose house has a astounding Gauri festival celebration),the late political leader Pramod Navalkar,actors Shreyas Talpade and Mahesh Kothare.
We were there to know more about their food from Bimba Nayak.Her whole family got together to give us a meal that we will forever remember.This togetherness we saw in 2012 at the Pathare Prabhu Festival at Khar where they had stalls.
At the core of Pathare Prabhu cuisine is their Sambhar Masala.....different from the Tamilian one.It has thirty two spices.Barring a few dishes,they don't use much coconut as compared to coastal Malvani cuisine.Their dishes can be cooked in a jiffy.They have more stews with more onions and less tomato.They have non vegetarian food the whole year through.As compared with other Maharashtrian communities,they have more meat.Even to the vegetarian dishes,they tend to add prawns.In earlier days when game was allowed to be eaten,venison and rabbits were on their menu.
We were six guests.....Kalyan and Kainaz Karmakar,whose food travels you would have read for sure,Pervin Billimoria whose Parsi Bombil recipes were published in Bombay Times recently and Kurush and Rhea Mitra Dalal who are archaeologists.Kurush also runs Katy's Kitchen,his mom Katy Dalal's legacy.Rhea runs Gyaan Exchange which organizes cultural events such as the Assamese lunch by Geeta Saikia and the Cyrus Cylinder event
With all our varied backgrounds,it was no wonder that the evening turned out to be such a delightful journey!
First we had starters.....The Bhanole made below is made of cabbage,onions and prawns.My community to makes this and we have a veg one with cabbage and gram flour and a nonveg one with kheema and egg.This is baked in an oven
There were Bombil (Bombay Duck)cutlets and Jwala Bhaji (tiny shrimp).Yet another appetizer was the Mumbra which was Yellow Banana stuffed with Coconut....simply delightful!
It was Guttari Amavasya.....the last day before Shravan when a whole lot of nonveg food is consumed (and drink also but none of us drink much) before going all veg.The dinner was representing just that.
Bimba showed us ancient books she possessed...a Marathi recipe book Grihani Mitra by Laxmibai Dhurandhar and a Gujarati recipe book Vividhvani which Kainaz and her mom Pervin Billimoria loved.The latter contains 2180 recipes,first published in 1867,Bimba has the forth edition of 1926!
She had prepared the classic Maharashtrian salad....Khamang Kakdi,cucumber with green chillies and peanuts
There was a vegetarian Pineapple curry.There was also a Pepper Caulifower dish.
The choice of non vegetarian curries blew us away....each one different.Above is the piquant Prawn Loncha which reminded Kainaz of the Goan dish Prawn Balchao and Parsi dish Prawn Patio
The Pomfret Bhujna was onion based.We make this as a dry dish in our community,using prawns and egg,tomato and onions
The Fish Roe was fantastic!
You can see the Gujarati connection with the Patwad made of a roll of Colocasia leaves which are steamed first.This is called Patrel by Gujaratis and we make this in our community too (Alu chi Wadi).The difference is that the Pathare Prabhu version has prawns! They also have a nonveg version of Undhiyo called Ghada which has mutton.This was earlier cooked in earthen pots buried under sand.
Pathare Prabhus also make bread at summer time to go with mango juice.It's their version of sour dough bread which I first learnt of from Kalpana Talpade who has CD versions of her cuisine.
As if we hadn't eaten enough,Bimba rolled out the desserts....Yellow Bananas stuffed with coconut and
Roth (made of semolina,a dish as a result of Gujarati Muslim influence)
It was a truly spectacular experience,having a meal where the family got together to showcase their community with the youngest being 13 years old (Sufiyaan who is 100 percent sure he wants to be a chef) and the eldest,Bimba's aunt who is 86 years old!
This is a tale about a Maharashtrian community cuisine which is a result of migration.Unity in our diversity. Can't help thinking how important it is that to preserve all our communities! The elders have done enough.Now it is the younger generation that must carry it forward.