Friday 18 August 2017 News Updated at 03:08 AM IST
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A taste of Gujarat - Deccan Herald
A taste of Gujarat
Bindu Gopal Rao
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As I admire a beautiful plate of panki, a bright yellow spice-filled pancake wrapped in banana leaf, placed before me, a thought crosses my mind that Gujarati cuisine is more than just dhokla and khandvi. Made of rice flour, besan, curds and salt with an assortment of spices, panki has a soft and lovely texture that instantly melts in my mouth. This state in western India is known for some lip-smacking delicacies that are famous across the world.

On my recent trip to Gujarat, I tried to gain an insight on the vast repertoire of Gujarati food, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of the region.

If there is one state in India that is known for its vibrant colours and creativity, it has to be Gujarat. As the Gujarati saying goes Surat nu jaman ane Kashi nu maran (He who dines in Surat, dies in Kashi and attains salvation), the Gujarati’s love for food is indisputable. Known for its high nutritional value, the cuisine employs different cooking techniques and makes the best use of its homegrown produce.

Regional variations
The taste and preparation of each dish in this cuisine depends a lot on the region it comes from and the climatic conditions. Gujarati food varies from one region to the other. North Gujarat, Kathiawad, Kutch and Surat are the four major regions of Gujarat. As Kathiawad runs low on vegetables because of its dry and arid climate, farsan features predominantly in Kathiawadi food, which tends to be on the spicy side. Kathiawadi meals also have generous lashings of onion and garlic.

Sudhakar Angre, executive chef, Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace explains, "There is an underlying sweetness to many of the popular Gujarati dishes. There is a lot of difference between the cuisines from the south, north and Saurashtra regions. Apart from a plethora of spices, a pinch of sugar or jaggery is added to the food, to give it that spicy-sweet flavour. The food from the south of the state varies and has a little bit of Maharashtrian influence. In south Gujarat, the consumption of jowar is high, while bajra and maize are consumed more in Saurashtra and north Gujarat.” he adds.

Go Vegetarian
Gujarati cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, reflecting the strong influence of Jains and the Vaishnavas in the region. A traditional Gujarati thaali has a sweet and spicy dal, rotis, rice and vegetables with salad, farsan, traditional sweets and chaas (buttermilk). These dishes vary throughout the year depending on the availability of seasonal vegetables and fruits. For instance, during the summer when mangoes flood the markets, keri no ras or aamras becomes a highlight of a meal. Generally, had with rotlis (small rotis) or pooris, aamras is essentially fresh mango pulp laced with some sugar and cardamom.

A traditional Gujarati thaali appeals to all five senses. It is a perfect marriage of flavours and textures and culminates on a sweet note with a variety of desserts - mohantal, doodhpaak, shrikhand or basundi. Dishes that are everyday staples in each household include a sweet and tangy kadhi, made of buttermilk and besan and karela nu shak or bitter gourd curry. The undhiyo (a one-pot slow-cooked vegetable curry), ringan no olo (Gujarati-style baingan ka bharta) and sev tameta nu shak (spicy, tangy and sweet tomato curry topped with sev) are popular seasonal fares. Gujaratis love their mid-meal snacks and appetisers. A traditional Gujarati meal is incomplete without farsans, dhoklas, khandvis, fafdas and handvos.

Ingredients matter
What is food without spices? Like in every Indian meal, spices play a pivotal role in most Gujarati dishes. The commonly used spices and seasonings include turmeric, green chillies, saffron, kokum, tamarind, cardamom, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, mint, asafoetida, cloves, green garlic and ginger.

A distinctive feature of Gujarati food is that many of the traditional dishes have a combination of tastes including sweet, salty, sour and spicy at the same time. Since it is a coastal state, the climate here is often humid and dry, which is why there is an extensive use of ingredients like sugar, tomatoes, lemon, kokum and curd, as they help keep the body cool and hydrated.

Non-vegetarian fare
Non-vegetarian dishes in Gujarati cuisine are fewer compared to its vegetarian repertoire. The non-vegetarian dishes are customised and modelled on vegetarian delicacies. Mutton, chicken, fish and eggs often replace vegetables in seasonal dishes like undhiyo. Jinghlanu shaak (shrimp curry), marghana mamna (chicken kofta curry) tarande saucende (fried fish in tomato sauce) and boomla batakanu shaak (Bombay duck and potato curry) are some of the non-vegetarian dishes.