The best way to eat this thali is not straight off the plate. It begins with a Sanskrit prayer loosely translated as - May this food be a blessing for all of us.
And then you are free to dig into whatever most appeals to you. One can start with the Ananas Sambare, pineapple simmered in coconut milk, cashews and flavoured with a hint of cardamom and sugar, this dish is a sweet surprise; the khatta-metha flavours with a tropical touch will leave you asking for more.
Seafood and coconut were introduced to their cuisine when they came to Mumbai in 1290s. The origin of Pathare Prabhus can be traced to Mewar and they migrated to the Bay via Gujarat with Raja Bimbha. Being a warrior community, they have an affinity for non-vegetarian and their cuisine drew inspiration from Gujarat as well as Koli, Agris and Bhandari communities of Mumbai.
The Gujarati Undhiyu, a dish with mixed vegetables, got a Pathare Prabhu makeover with the addition of fish and is known as Vanga Vatana. Even the plump fritters called Pangoji are made with fenugreek and prawns. On an average, a seafood item is consumed on a daily basis, even for breakfast. It comes as no surprise that the star dish on this thali is prepared with white pomfret. Bhuzane Pomfre with steamed rice is the ultimate comfort food for Pathare Prabhus.
Bhujane Pomfre has an intriguing preparation method of tempering with cold oil and spices before the dish is cooked. On a flat-bottomed utensil, oil and spices are deftly mixed using fingertips – the most important step in the cooking process. Next, the pomfret pieces are added and coated with the spice-oil blend. The fingertips are washed by slowly pouring water that collects in the utensil. The dish is now ready to be cooked and is placed on the stove with a lid. The fish will be completely cooked, but a punch of rawness is retained by the other ingredients lending this dish a rustic and mouthwatering flavour. The fish can be replaced with boiled chunks of potatoes or boiled eggs if they are more readily available.
Chimbori Kalvan is made with the choicest crabs available in the fish market. They are mud crabs and need to be carefully washed as part of the pre-prep. Once cooked, they acquire a bright orange colour and taste sweet, sharply contrasting with the spicy curry. Our seafood trail on this thali will end with the Prawns Khadkhadle; the name is derived from the ‘khadkhad’ noise that the prawns make while being cooked in a vessel. While we are on a non-vegetarian trail, let's make a pit stop at the signature mutton speciality - Tazlyatle Mutton. It derives the moniker from the cast iron vessel or kadhai, known as Tazla, that''s used used to cook it. Basically, it's mutton on the bone flavoured with onions, ginger, garlic and garam masala - the simplicity in cooking belies the complexity of flavours.
The sweet Kaju Poli along with Guragli are reserved for special occasions. Infact, Guragli - a poori made with rice flour and a tinge of vanilla - is lovingly prepared on days when the son-in-law of the family visits or during Ganesh Chaturthi. Traditionally, food is served to the son-in-law or offered to God on a pure silver thali.
The news is, there are no restaurants that serve food from the Pathare Prabhu community and this delicious experience still remains a soulful home-cooked experience. If there are two words to describe this food, they are - simple and tasty!
With inputs from Ketaki Jayakar, an accomplished laywer and food enthusiast of the Pathare Prabhu community from Mumbai.
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