A few weeks ago Manisha, who writes The Chronicles of the Sassy Fork invited K and me to lunch. She said it would be at a Pathare Prabhu residence and the meal was going to be cooked by Soumitra Velkar and his family. A chance to go feast at a Pathare Prabhu table?! I was going whether or not K could make it! The date was fixed and I had to wait. We'd had a grand dinner at Bimba Nayak's house some months earlier so I had a pretty good idea what I could look forward to.
Finally it was time to drive across the city to the Velkars' residence and luckily K had the day off too. I think I drooled all the way there...
The PPs (as they are called) are among the oldest settlers of Mumbai and have contributed greatly to making Mumbai the city it is, much like the Parsis. They laid the foundations on which this city grew into the Megapolis it is today. Common landmarks like the Bhau cha Dhakka and the Mahalakshmi Temple were built by them.
I had heard catering stories from the hubby about PP clients and how, for one party held at Shree Pant Bhavan at Chowpatty (a huge building owned and occupied by the community) they set up the kitchen in the lift of the building! Now this building housed a car showroom in the old days and the lift was massive enough to carry the cars up to the terrace where they could be parked - probably the only building in Mumbai in those days with a lift of that size! As it turned out, the son of that client was present at lunch with us today :)
Getting back to the lunch - we started with a rose sharbat with sabja seeds, and then a string of starters, one more delicious than the next. There was Bhanole, Kolambi Pie, Bombil Bhajji, and absolutely delectable Khimyachya Shingdya.
Rose and sabja sharbat.
Bhanole is an interesting dish that comprises cabbage and prawns, and is baked. Baking is a commonly used cooking technique in PP cuisine and this is a superb example of how well they have adopted and adapted a western technique to suit their palate and cuisine.
Kolambi Pie - another example of how baking is a favoured cooking technique. This is a sort of shepherd's pie but with prawns and a nice robustly spiced version.
Bombil Bhajji or bhajiyas - I love bombil or bombay ducks and my favourite way to have them is in the classic rawa or besan coated fry. This bhajji was a revelation! I could have curled up with a hot mug of coffee, a good book and a steady stream of these babies hot off the kadai and been very content indeed!
Khimyachya Shingdya - mince stuffed pastry crescents. Many communities in western India make crescent shaped stuffed pastry snacks and they're usually filled with either a sweet coconut filling or a savoury green pea or tender tuvar or pigeon pea fillings. Called karanji, ghungroo, ghugra, newri, these are quite ubiquitous in the region. When I discovered that the ones on the table today were stuffed with minced mutton my day was made :)
Eventually we moved on to the main courses. Phew! I was already stuffed but I wan't going to miss out on anything today.
We started with Mutton Gode served with pav, and a fantastic koshimbir (finely cut salad) of red onions, white radish, green chillies, fresh coriander and lime juice topped with crisply fried dried bombay ducks. I haven't eaten much dried fish and this koshimbir was a superb place to start.
The Mutton Gode - I love mutton and if it has been cooked with big chunks of potatoes my Bengali heart simply sings. This mutton preparation reminded me a lot of the sublime flavours of the Sunday mutton cooked in numerous Bengali households where the gravy is light and subtly flavoured. Though more robust than a Bengali mangshor jhol, I could easily have made a meal of the Mutton Gode with a mound of rice and a raw onion on the side. Like most of the coastal Maharashtrian communities the PPs also have their signature spice blends and the Mutton Gode had Parbhi Sambhaar masala in it. This masala has spices like naag kesar and hing in it. It also contains ground wheat and chana daal which work as thickening agents.
A rather unusual dish on the menu was the Ananas Sambhare. Made with coconut milk, cashew nuts and pineapple, this sambhar is quite unique with the sweetness of the fruit paired with the spice of their sambhar masala. I am not at all into fruits but I did taste it before gamely passing it on to the hubby who quite liked it.
Bombil Methkutache, Bombay ducks in a light but spicy gravy, this preparation has Parbhi Methkut, another spice blend that's typical to the PPs.
Only a true fish loving community would come up with a recipe that uses the bones of a fish as the star ingredient and just like the Bengalis use the head and the bones of some fish to make specific delicacies, the PPs have the incredibly delicious Katyache Bhujne. This dish had the spinal bone of the huge Ghol stewed in onions, chillies, coriander and garlic. The flavours of this preparation were very close to a version of the Bengali machher jhol that my mother and grand mother used to make. The only additional ingredient in their version was chopped tomato. I took two helpings of the bhujne and relished it with rice.
The PPs are very fond of prawns, and you will have noticed there were many prawn preparations on the menu today. This is the Kolambi Khadkhadle and it was finger licking good. By the time I got to it I was stuffed beyond belief, but I wasn't going to miss it.. so I soldiered on after a five minute break ;) Once again there was a good dose of garlic with red chilli, turmeric, some hing and the Parbhi Sambhaar masala creating a well spiced and delicious dish.
Cheek or kharvas - This is a dessert that is a favourite among Maharashtrians and is one of the hubby's top favourites too. Made from the 'first' milk of the cow, or the colustrum, and lightly flavoured with cardamom and nutmeg. Paired with it was a rose flavoured mawa (reduced milk). The hubby had two, or was it three helpings of dessert before I stood at his side and ensured he didn't have any more!
That we were stuffed goes without saying. That we were sated is an understatement. That I am in love with PP food is a fundamental truth. Quite in contrast to the spice and coconut heavy cuisines of coastal Maharashtra, the Pathare Prabhus have a lighter hand in the kitchen and I think that is what allows them to eat such a lavish spread without batting an eyelid!
There is a growing awareness of local cuisines in Mumbai and Soumitra Velkar along with his wife and mother, is doing a splendid job of showcasing his community's food to an eager audience. I cannot thank the Sassy Manisha enough for this fabulous treat :)