Updated: Sep 2, 2018
It’s, perhaps, what crosses every Gujarati man’s mind every 7 seconds. Every Gujarati woman’s too. It's a four-lettered word that’s mostly prefixed by a ten-lettered word 'vegetarian' - Food.
A movie might be trashy, but if the intermission-Samosa is hot, crunchy, yummy, then the evening is considered well-spent. At a wedding, there will be more emotions erupting by the buffet than by the mandap. A morning walk is considered agreeable if it ends with a hearty breakfast. That’s Gujaratis for you. They will go any distance to discover new food joints. And, then, debate the food across the table with endless gusto. The DNA of Gujaratis probably has a bustling kitchen in it.
So, imagine the collective passion for food I saw in the land of Gujaratis. Here, eating is an event; Life and entertainment revolves around food.
Nothing less than the best will do. The state has excellent milk and grain produce. Food is always freshly made and served. Leftovers from even the previous meal are considered stale and reject-worthy. And, the dishes are imaginative, rich and bursting with flavours. If it ain’t sweet and spicy and ghee-laden, it ain’t Gujju food.
The best way to experience Gujarat's generous hospitality is through a culinary journey. I found comfort in the rudimentary flavours of the wholesome millet meals in thali joints of busy bazaars and highways. And, I was bamboozled by the tasty, inventive street fare as much as the hysterical, food-crazed crowd in Khao gallis [food streets], which are the high energy nightlife spots of Gujarat.
To truly enjoy the food of Gujarat, you dig into it with your bare hands, slurp and salivate, lick off your fingers and burp your appreciation loudly. For a messy eater like myself, I was home.
BREAKFAST & SNACKS
Jalebi & Gathiya
The sweet and savoury combination of jalebi and ganthiya has, in modern day, become popular as The Gujarati breakfast. But local Gujaratis eat the simpler khakras and theplas. Handvo, pattice, dhokla, khandvi, gota, all double up as farsan [snack] and breakfast.
Dabeli has made its way into most urban supermarkets in India. But it’s origins are in Kutch. And, here it is its simplest, authentic best. A Gujarati burger of sorts with a garnish of pomegranate and roasted peanuts. You do find its fancier urban cousins that are butter baked and stuffed with cheese and dry fruits.
‘Mandvi Dabeli’ in the main bazaar area of Kutch has the best authentic Dabeli. Rs.7 for regular/ Rs.10 for large.
There is bhel. And, then there is Palitana bhel that is only available at the foothill of Mt. Shatrunjay, Palitana. The best way to eat it is on returning from the rigorous jatra up the mountain. The flavor is bliss when you are exhausted and dehydrated. The bhel has pomegranates, raw mango, lots of tomatoes and a special masala that gives it it’s unique flavour. Wash it down with a glass of fresh sugarcane juice. A kind of blessing for completing the religious climb and offering your respects to the Jain God, Lord Adinath.
Janta Bhel House is a good choice. Take-home packets at Rs.150 for 1 kg.
It’s a combination of fulka, paratha, shak [curry], kathol [lentils], khichadi-kadhi, dal-bhat, and kachumbar [chopped salad]. And, most definitely papad on the side.
The amazing thing about a thali is that it can be a simple, wholesome meal, or it can be an extravagant, rich, never-ending affair.
Rotla [bajra rotis] and ringna no olo [quite like baingan bharta], sev tamatar subzi, gatta nu shak is the rustic fare.
Agashiye, House of MG, Ahmedabad's Gujarati thai at Rs.995+tax is a wonderful induction. Carry a spare stomach.
A whole range of pickles and eat-alongs, like golkeri, chundo, kacchi keri and fresh green chutney and sweet & tangy date chutney. Jaggery is always an accompaniment. And, there is an unexplained love for vagharela marcha [sautéed chilis].
Life doesn't begin in Gujarat till a cup of 'cha' is sipped. Really sweet, really milky chai that shows off the good milk produce of the state. I hadn’t tasted tea my entire life till I hit a roadside dhaba [shack] in Gujarat 10 years ago and thought to myself “Oh, that would make a great milkshake!” The most commonly heard phrase in the state is a wistful 'Ek cha male toh..." [Oh, if only I could get a cup of tea...]
Tip: Best to ask for a sugarless tea and add sugar to your liking.
Chaas or buttermilk is the beer of Gujarat, considering it’s a dry state. It’s perfect for the strong heat and for a land that has copious amount of quality milk.
You have it when you are thirsty, before a meal, after a meal, along with a meal and when you are bored. Told you, it's like beer.
My cab driver claimed that there are serious faceoffs over how many glasses can be downed.
Churma Laddoo [featured here], Srikhand, Lapsi, Sheero, Halvo are the rich, nutritious and ghee-guzzling traditional desserts that are actually part of main course.
Delicious ice-creams are the new age desserts, lots of local brands dishing out fresh flavours.
Tawa ice cream is a new entrant in the famous Manek Chowk khao galli in Ahmedabad. You get your money's worth in just watching it being made.
Don’t leave without this!
It is a fiery raita [yoghurt] that’s got chunks of fried garlic and enough oil in the vaghar [garnish] to get the oil industry excited. It goes well with thepla, paratha, rotla or any local bread. My absolute favourite.