Much ado about undhiyu? The Gujarati winter delicacy on The Finely Chopped YouTube channel

                                              Where I chat with Pinky of Soam on Undhiyu 
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Sometime in the early 2000s I went to a brand marketing workshop organised by the Bombay Ad Club at the World Trade Centre in Mumbai’s Cuffe Parade area.

The workshop was conducted by a former Ogilvy Bangalore person. He had only one rule for the workshop that afternoon.

“Do not use any branding jargon through the workshop”.

A lesson on the value of simplicity and clarity of thought that I took to heart and tried to follow in everything I do in life. As I read somewhere else, people resort to jargon only when they are confused about what they want to say.

The other thing I remember from that afternoon was a dish that I tried for the first time in my life. This was there in the buffet laid out for us. It was a slightly sweet, slightly piquant, very mildly tangy dish of greens. I took a second and a third serving after my first taste of the dish. Which was strange since I rarely touched greens voluntarily those days. I was in my early 20s then and lipid profile tests were not a part of my life yet.

The label beside the dish said ‘undhiyu’.

The next time I came across this dish was when I went to a Gujarati owned food store called Regal Store at Bandra’s Pali Naka. K’s mama (maternal uncle) was with me.

K’s mom’s side of the family are Parsis who have come to Mumbai from Surat in Gujarat. Her mama is a rare vegetarian Parsi.

He suddenly looked at the counter beside the cashier at Regal Stores and exclaimed ‘Undhiyu’!

This year's Undhiyu supply at Regal Stores

Turned out that Regal Stores stocked undhiyu which you could buy and take home. They still do and it’s Rs 190 for half a kilo this year.

Mama explained to me that undhiyu was a dish that they used to enjoy during winter in Surat.

I picked up a pack for him at Regal and we took it home. We had the undhiyu for lunch with rotis.

“Did you like it?” I asked.

“It’s acceptable” mama said, not a man given to lavish praise, “not the same as what we grew up on”.

But then things never taste as good as they do in our memories do they?

A few years later I joined twitter and realised what a big thing undhiyu is for Gujaratis. Come winter and I would see Gujaratis on my twitter timeline go berserk about undhiyu. They would plan undhiyu and puri parties. Diss places in Mumbai serving undhiyu saying how this would never match what their mothers or (for the older folks) their wives would make. As an outsider, you couldn’t blame me for thinking in those months that undhiyu is the only dish that Gujaratis have in their repertoire.

Finally some of these tweets and tweeps seeped into my life. Anaggh Desai, one of the most popular twitter Gujaratis that I know, kindly sent home some undhiyu that his mom had made. This was for, what else, an undhiyu party that he was throwing at home which we couldn't make it to. I had earlier been to his home to have a lovely home cooked Gujarati meal made by his wife. (You can read about that here). This time I happily sat at home and worked my way through the bucketful of delicious undhiyu that Anaggh had sent for us.

I recently met Pinky Dixit, the owner of the popular 11 year old Gujarati, yet non-thali, place Soam opposite South Mumbai’s 250 year old Babulnath Temple.

Pinky and I got talking about undhiyu since winter is setting in and they have introduced undhiyu into the Soam menu. 

I had my first taste of the Soam undhiyu at the terrace of Rushina Munshaw Ghildayal's mom's house where Soam had catered for the party for Rushina's book launch. Rushina has recently curated a Kathiawadi food festival with Pinky of Soam and I wrote about it here.

Pinky explained to me that undhiyu is a winter dish because certain vegetables used in it such as green garlic, tuvar or toor (a dal/ lentiwhich is harvested in winter and dried and used in the rest of the year), surti papdi or val (beans) and freshly harvested yam are available during this time. They get some of these vegetables over from Surat apparently for the undhiyu in Soam.

Undhiyu at Soam and what goes into it

A throwback to a time when dishes in India were seasonal. A time our grannies would identify with. 

At the risk of sounding like an old timer, vegetables used to be seasonal while I was growing up too. The high point of winters in Calcutta is that the shingaras (samosas) had fulkopi (cauliflower), which you would get only in winter, then. So different from today when you get seasonal vegetables like cauliflowers, peas, brinjals and so on through the year, even if they are tasteless.

Pinky told me about how folks in Gujarat would wait all year for undhiyu in winter. Just as they would look forward to summer when aamraas would be made (mango pulp). 

Thankfully mangoes are still a summer fruit in India. Different from the other summer fruit, water melon, which you get through the year in Mumbai at least. Insipid artificially flavoured and coloured stuff.

God, I am sounding like our 84 year old Jamshed Uncle, who strongly believes that the food produce of today lacks the taste and flavour of what he has grown up on.

Pinky told me that when they go on road trips to Gujarat in the winter, they see people smoking  the undhiyu in pots, in fire puts dug under ground. This undhiyu version is called umbariyu.

It is not possible to cook undhiyu under the ground in modern cities of course. Pinky tells me that people hardly cook undhiyu at home now. This is because undhiyu has to be cooked in large quantities according to her to get the taste right. Modern nuclear families don't allow for this.

A bit like biryani.

Chatting with Pinky at Soam during the shoot

Which probably explains why people like Anaggh’s wife, or his mom, cook undhiyu only when there is a gathering of at least 4 people and are at their most inspired when there are at 20 or more people to cook for.

Which also explains why the Gujaratis get so excited about undhiyu and puri parties.

If you are more health conscious you can have the undhiyu with rotis instead of deep fried puris and Soam does an oil-free (sacrilegious some would say) steamed undhiyu too. They also have a Jain version with no garlic or onion or potatoes.

Mumbai’s many Gujarati restaurants, from thali joints to a la carte places like Soam, offer undhiyu during winter.

Just be forewarned that like most Indian dishes, there is no consistency when it comes to undhiyu too!

No two houses make the same undhiyu Pinky tells me and there apparently are regional variations too between cities in Gujarat.

So it seems that the chances of a Gujarati approving an undhiyu in a restaurant is as slim as that of a Bengali approving of a restaurant alu posto!