We,The Masala People

We celebrated Masala Day (20th May) at the Sodabottleopenerwala at Phoenix Mills,the creative brainchild of Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal who has formed a calendar of Indian Food Observance Days.Masalas are a reflection of our culture and our values.I am not just talking of the myriad ingredients that go into each spice blend that make each community's signature masala unique.I am talking about the way we are, as Indians.A mix of various states and diverse cultures yet the focus of all is more on the family rather than the individual,on togetherness and not the self.Somewhere one's identity may get a bit blurred in the greater mosaic but it's well worth it.Like our masalas.They are about a whole lot of spices and herbs together, in contrast to the simple spices of Western cuisine (which are nice in their own subtle way). We create a whole new dimension of flavors,colors and textures with our Masalas.We are like this only!!

The evening was exciting.Rushina set the ball rolling by talking about masalas made in her grandparents' courtyard and how she loved to hang around that place to soak in the aromas.Her grandmother would collect ingredients from different sources and store them in her sarees so no wonder that she smelt of spices wherever she went!
      Rushina introduced each speaker.She discussed the need for each of us to learn about other cultures and imbibe them into our daily menu

Saee Koranne Khandekar,author of Crumbs and a food consultant talked of the Maharashtrian Goda Masala.Each community has its variation and each family has its own subtle variations.Saee's family (they are Brahmins) makes a version with less dagadphool to suit their dispositions.
        Saee pointed out to the addition of masala to street foods as well like Gola and Frankie.My favorite these days is the Guava Icecream that comes with a chilli mixture.
        Saee spoke of her family household help Bhimmawa who made delicious bhakris smeared with coarse seasalt in her hut at the back of their house.She made a smoky masala with onions,ginger,garlic,cumin,coriander and coconut that was added to vegetarian and non vegetarian dishes as well as a standalone with bhakri or rice.
        Saee uses spice mixtures made by her mother and underlined the importance of recording the recipes for making them in the future....a legacy we should leave for our children.

Roopa Nabar (expert on G.S.B cuisine and YouTube star) spoke next about how masalas are the soul of our food and how essential oils the spices exude give rise to aromas that complete the satisfaction of a meal.Masalas are not just for tempering and cooking but also for garnishing.She stressed the need for premixed masala packets,specially for those abroad, for matters of convenience.She uses the Saraswat Sambhar masala (Dhane Mirchi Cha Masala) made by her mother which is made of four simple ingredients:chillies,methi,pepper and coriander seeds.

Smita Hegde Deo (cookbook author and YouTube star)  is from Karwar but her husband Abhinay's family is from Kolhapur and she can make both cuisines really well.She spoke of the zanzanit (superspicy)Kolhapuri Kanda Lasun Masala and narrated how her experience was on tasting it as a young bride whose tastebuds were attuned to milder Karwari flavors.Today she relishes all their dishes and has created a Kolhapuri fish dish suited to her family's tastes,using sea fish instead of river fish.For vegetarian dishes,crushed groundnuts and jaggery is added. She uses masalas made with age old recipes that have passed on for several generations in Abhinay's family.May is the  month they make these masalas.Nothing in the market can match it but at times,one has to use those

Soumitra Velkar spoke of his favorite Pathare Prabhu Sambhar masala.Earlier,he used his grandmother's recipe to make the masala but now he sources it from his cousin Shruti.There are two versions to the origin of the word 'Sambhar".One,that the ingredients are in equal proportions (sama bhar) and the other theory that it was named after Sambhaji,son of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj who created it.Almost all Pathare Prabhu dishes have the PP Sambhar though it is added in different proportions.At the beginning,his non PP wife was quite appalled at this!  Having had a host of his dishes (Gode,Khadkhadle and Aatle),I can say that each dish has a unique taste.Soumitra spoke of how watching ingredients change form while cooking fascinated him.He thought that if children watched the actual process of masala making,it would get them more interested in masalas

Rhea Mitra Dalal spoke of the Parsi Kairi Sambhar masala (which has chilli,garam masala,mustard seeds and salt) which was used to pickle mangoes and is added to several Parsi dishes including Dhansak.Her favorite spice is Radhuni which is wild celery and has a strong parsley like flavour.It is used in Panch Phoran (Bengali Five Spice) which is available in several shops thanks to someone's documentation.Rhea too stressed on the importance of noting recipes.Her favorite spice market? Khari Baoli in Old Delhi which is there since the 17th Century and the ninth or tenth generation run the shops

The masalas had been mixed in hot oil and bread provided to dip into the mix for tasting.Neena Doshi had got two distinct masalas: Methio Masalo (Gujarati) and Mudi Masala (inspired by Kolkata Jhal Muri). The lovely Zenia Irani Parikh gave us samples of  Dhansak masala.

My community (Twashta Kasar) uses Kasari masala which contains Bedgi chilli,dhania,jeera,mustard seeds,peppercorn and cardamom among other things.I got mine made recently at the Lalbaug Mirchi Gully where you can view spices being roasted and pounded.We add this to Prawn Curry,Mutton Curry and vegetarian dishes like Birde.

Thank God for our Masalas!They serve as a source of antioxidants and add more color and punch to our lives! Now where's my cuppa masala chai??!!