This book collates the traditions, rituals and cuisine of the Thanjavur Maharastrian community
Jaishri P Rao documents the 350 years’ old rich culinary and cultural heritage of the Thanjavur Maharashtrian community
Jaishri P Rao has spent over a decade collecting information on the traditions, rituals and cuisine of the Maharashtrians settled in Thanjavur.
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Her initial idea was to bring out a booklet for the community, but the information proved too voluminous. The result of her research has now been published as Classic Cuisine and Celebrations of the Thanjavur Maharashtrians.
Culture across the pages
Chennai-based Jaishri took up this task after her elder son was employed overseas and younger one joined university. “The Thanjavur Maharashtrian diaspora is spread across the globe, and assuming that both my sons would one day leave the country, I wished to preserve our community’s unique cooking traditions and cultural heritage for the next generation,” says Jaishri.
The book features over 150 recipes, many of which are offered as naivedya (prayer offerings) during festivals, besides everyday dishes and delicacies.
As festivals and religious rituals are a quintessential part of Maharashtrian culture, the author has structured the book chronologically, starting with the festival of Gudi Padwa in the month of Chaithra (March/April) and ending with the festival of Shimga Puneva (Holi) that falls in the month of Phalgun (February/March).
“As the community follows all rituals and celebrates festivals with fervour, I decided to follow this structure, where I mention the festival, talk about the rituals involved, and the dishes associated with a particular celebration,” says Jaishri.
In the section on Gudi Padwa, she lists staple heritage dishes such as puran poli, chinch bhath (tamarind rice), limbacha bhath (lemon rice), vaangi bhath (brinjal rice), ambode (a deep-fried spicy snack made with dal), pitla (mixed veg and lentil curry cooked in tamarind water), kadi (buttermilk-based curry) and other recipes.
Over three centuries, the Thanjavur Maharashtrians have also created new dishes, influenced by the Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka cuisines. “Pitla and daangar (urad dal flour blended with curd) are typical Thanjavur Maharashtrian dishes, evolved over a period of time.
“Early migrants also replaced certain ingredients with locally available ones. For example, copra (dried coconut) is widely used in many Maharashtrian dishes, but in our community freshly grated coconut is roasted and then used to get the copra taste,” she says.
Coriander seeds, cumin and coconut are the dominant spices used in this cuisine. “ We use various spice powders toasted in a minimal amount of oil to flavour the dishes.
The simplicity of preparation with a good balance of spices is the hallmark of Thanjavur Maharashtrian cuisine,” says Jaishri.
A classic combination is ambat bhaaji, daangar and kaatracha misiringa (mor molaga Thanjavur style). “Ambat bhaaji is a signature dish of our community. This spinach sambar is prepared with a liberal amount of toor dal, spiced with green chillies and seasoned with mustard, dry chillies and fenugreek. In sweets, puran poli, doodh poli and besan ladoo top the list.”
Methkoot and daangar are typical examples of the protein-rich diet of this diaspora. Methkoot is a powder made using a mix of lentils such as toor, channa, moong and urad. Coriander, cumin and dry ginger are used to flavour this powder, which can be used in multiple ways as an accompaniment or even mixed with curd or tamarind water.
“The book has been well received by the diaspora, especially the younger generation, and it has also won the Best Vegetarian Cuisine Book in the World Award by Gourmand International for the year 2020,” says Jaishri.
The book and Kindle versions are available on Amazon.