Roopa Nabar shows that when it comes to Maharashtrian of Indian food for that matter, love needs no filters.
|The condiments that make it to the left side of a GSB dinner plate according to Roopa Nabar. More on this later|
Dining with the GSBs of Mumbai
"You are smelling of fried fish," said the missus when I returned home at midnight yesterday. When a Parsi says this, then she means it as a term of endearment.
I had just got back from dinner at the house of Roopa Nabar.
The dinner did start with steaming and gigantic slices of fried rawas (a popular local fish from the seas), served by our hostess before she set the table for the epic dinner that followed. We broke off pieces of fish with our fingers on our plates, the way the Dothraki would I suppose in the Game of Thrones. The fish was fried beautifully. It was juicy inside and had a light rice batter coating which had a slight spicing and a touch of sweet too which reminded me a bit of the flavour profile of the bread crumb coating of the fish crumb fry of Bengal.
I was the only Bengali in the room that evening. Roopa is Maharashtrian. As were most of the other guests. Except Dr Pradeep Rao, who had invited me on behalf of Roopa for the dinner. He and his wife are Mangaloreans, but he is a Mumbai boy and speaks Marathi fluently. The excited discussion that followed after the fish was finished off by us, was all in Marathi.
Twenty years of living in Mumbai, and the fact they spoke softly and interpreted things for me too, helped me understand what was being discussed.
Was the sugar used 'typical' to the cooking Roopa's community? Or was the use of garlic so, for example.
I gathered that they were dissecting the food as loudly and passionately and meticulously as we Bengalis do when we get together for a meal. It is an Indian thing you could say!
Roopa belongs to the Gaud/ Gowda Saraswat Brahmin community who live across the Konkan coast of India and whose ancestors are said to have lived around the mythological river Saraswati in the Himalayas. Some are said to have migrated to Bengal too.
|Find a host who feeds like Roopa does|
Roopa told me that her husband is GSB too, though his family hails from Kolhapur. Hence the spices used in his family, as well as the cooking methods, are slightly different from those in her parental home which is in a village in the border of Maharashtra and Goa. The GSBs had soaked in the local food culture wherever they went and that is reflected in these differences, she added . Not all of Roopa's relatives are GSBs.
Some are PPs for example. PPs are Pathare Prabhus. The community that is said to be one of the original communities to have settled in Mumbai and who trace their origin to Rajasthan. Popular theatre personality, comic, writer and 'foodie,' Kunal Vijayakar is a PP. He is also Roopa's cousin and the one who had introduced me to her a few years back.
Since that day, Roopa would often often comment on posts that I would put up on social media. Posts on food from Maharashtrian restaurants in particular. And posts featuring the mocha (banana blossom) dishes from Bengal.
"I must make you taste my version," she would write. Roopa is not just a home cook by the way, she has her own YouTube food channels too.
Tales from the hearth and the heart
Roopa lived up to her promise yesterday, and how!
Despited all the spirited banter that was going on between folks who were friends and family (I was the odd one out and then maybe not, as I knew everyone), she managed to explain to me that the food that she had prepared was GSB no doubt, but had influences from all over. The Konkan/ Malvani GSB side of her family. The Kolhapur GSB side of her husband's. Touches that she has picked up subliminally from the PP side too, and from others she has come across over the years.
She has made these recipes her own, just as every Indian home cook does in their kitchen. We add our own stamp to what we cook. We do not follow templates. For us, food is all about soul. Which is why no two grandmothers, or mothers, or (very occasionally) fathers and grandfather's, versions of the same dish will be similar. Life would be so boring if it were.
I am sure there are gaps in what I told you about the story of the GSBs as well as that of Roopa and her family history. I guess those stories are for her to tell. Let me tell you about the food instead.
|Rawas fry and my wife's favourite perfume on me it seems|
I have told joyous fish fry that started off the evening. Let me tell you about the fried prawns that followed. Once again, bursting with juice just as the fish was, not overcooked at all; mildly spiced and thus making making the prawns the hero.
I sent pictures of both the prawn and the fish fry to my wife on Whatsapp. It was silence from my end after that. The mother of dinners had begun.
|Mutton curry. #tultule|
What should I tell you about first? The mutton curry that she made I guess. The one where 2 kilos of mutton (goat meat) had been slow cooked for over 1.5 hours till the meat was rendered softer than the kiss of a rose. Tultule indeed, Bengali for tender, I am dreaming of it still, 20 hours later. That is what slow food is all about you could say.
Or should I tell you about the coconut milk based prawn curry, the curry which got its tartness from unripe mangoes added to it. The curry which mesmerised me so much that I just smiled back like someone on a happy bhaang trip while Roopa earnestly described the dish to me.
When she finished, I smiled and said, "none of what you said registered as the curry has blown me away but thank you for your efforts."
Or should I tell you about the tisrye (clams) that she made. Clams which slept snugly with pieces of amsol (kokum) and a light green masala.
I once came across a French gentleman, who gave the example of their escargots (snails cooked in butter, garlic and parsley) when I fed him the masala clams from a Gomantak restaurant in the city and said, "the masala is lovely but where is the respect? Where is the seafood. Where are the clams"
While I shared his angst, I am sure that he would have clammed up and asked for the recipe if I had fed him this version instead.
"Everything...green chillies, ginger, coriander, pepper powder, grated coconut, salt, turmeric..is just finely chopped and added to the clams along with caramelised onions in coconut oil and cooked with kokum petals added at the end," Roopa would have obliged happily.
That's when the Frenchman would realise, much to his chagrin, that unlike in the sauces of France, we do not have everything written down for cooks to follow. It is andaz or individuality that fuel our kitchens. That every new cook in an Indian home is a successor and not a follower of the law of the kitchen, and that is what makes our food special. (The phrase successor and not a follower is inspired by a line used by Dr Daisaku Ikeda, president of the Soka Gakkai International)
It was not all surf and turf at Roopa's last night, though she has promised to make me a fully vegetarian meal one day. I have mixed feelings about that. I have a reputation to protect!
Oh, one more thing. Not a single dish that she cooked had an excess of chillies in it and none made me sweat.
|Green peas with tender cashews|
Wait, did I tell you about the usal (dry sabzi) that she made with fresh green peas and unripe cashews and how they tasted like something from the Garden of Eden? That's how innocent and unsullied the flavours were.
Or the kerful that she made? Marathi for mocha (pronounced like chocolate). It tasted a bit like the Bengali mochar ghonto in terms of the inherent sweetness of the dish and the flavours of coconut in it. Yet the rampant use of garlic and black gram (some in Bengal put this too but not in the equal proportion as Roopa had) told you that were not in a Bengali granny's kitchen. That you were in the west.
Roopa told me that she had made this dish specially for me. I could have hugged her.
|Kiss me kismur|
There was more and I am sure that you are very hungry by now, but I must tell you about the very refreshing sol kadi that she made. Or the flavour packed kismur, the condiment made with with tiny prawns. A popular bar snack in Goa I am told. And the green chutney which had with unripe mango in it and which had all the guests weeping happily as they remembered a time when they were toddlers in their grandma's kitchen.
|Sol Kadi cheers|
There were two types of the rotis (flat breads) with very different textures. The coarse jowar bhakri with low GI and the very soft, Parsi rotli-like, ghadiyachi chapattis, a form of layered rotis. And my rice of choice these days, the low GI red matta rice, to go with prawns.
There was Roopa's seviya kheer that followed, majestic Alphonso mangoes and (yay!) Sweet Bengal roshomalai and mishti doi that Kunal had brought over,to bring the night to an end.
|Sweet Bengal. Jai Maharashtra.|
I realised that these are the social outings that I cherish these days. At the house of someone who loves to feed. With people who love to eat. With no agenda or brief.
The meal reminded me of the Koli lunch that Anjali Koli had fed my mother and me a month back and the Bengali one that my aunt had cooked for Kainaz and me in Kolkata. And the Mangalorean GSB one that Pradeep's cousin, Shobha Kamath, had fed us in Mangalore sometime back. And the many meals that we have had off late at our friend Shaswati's house. The meals I had with Mitaliee Dutta and Puspanjalee Dutta in their respective housed in Guwahati. And at Shri Bala's in Chennai, Debjani Banerjee's on Kolkata, among many.
|Roopa keeps feeding you|
Love needs no filters
You could say that the best and most memorable meals in life are those had at someone's hearth or kitchen. Where the food is served in glass bowls, hard working casseroles, melamine bowls or good old stainless steel pots and pans.
Where the food might smudge the edges of the dishes they are served in. Where the protein or vegetable served is smothered under sauce or gravies. Where the food is packed to the brim, with no white space left on the plate, as the host wants to feed you more than you can humanly eat.
Where the food is not Instagram friendly, and yet is as pretty as it gets.
|Oh, there were mackerel baked in turmeric and triphal too|
I am dedicating this post to Kal who blogs at Kulture Kween and who most sweetly and kindly sent me this email today and which was so reassuring when one felt a bit of self doubt about where the blog was headed. Thank you for the vote of confidence.
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