Maharashtra is blessed with nature’s bounties. It’s a diverse landmass with tropical forests, rugged mountains, plains with rich black alluvial soil, rivers and also some arid areas. This ecological diversity is the reason due to which variety of crops, fruits and vegetables are grown in the state. Maharashtrian cuisine is austere yet full of flavor and colour. There’s a right balance of vegetarian and non-vegetarian variety not to forget the delectable sea food. Maharashtra comprises mainly of five regions viz. Konkan, Paschim Maharashtra, Khandesh, Vidarbha and Marathwada. The cuisine in each region is influenced largely by the predominant agricultural produce of the region. There’s also some localized variety like the Malvani and Saoji cuisine, the former from the coastal Sindhudurg district and the later from Nagpur district.
Maharashtrians are disciplined about eating their meals. Maharashtrian families prefer to dine together. In urban areas, families dine at a dining table, mostly on weekends due to hectic urban life. In rural areas, meals are consumed sitting on the floor. On festive occasions food is generally consumed sitting on the floor. Festive meals are prepared and served with lot of pomp. Diners sit in a row called as ‘pangat’ on a well laid seat – typically a wooden stool called as ‘paat’. In affluent homes, meals are served in silver, copper or brass thaali called as ‘taat’ kept on a wooden altar called ‘chaurang’. Rangoli is laid around the Taat. During the holy shravan month and Ganapati festival, meals are served on banana leaf. It is expected to wash hands and feet before meals. In the Konkan region, mostly in upper caste homes, a ritual called ‘chitravali’ is performed before consuming the meal, a hymn is recited by diners, then some water is sprinkled around the thaali and a morsel is set aside as an offering to god. Diners begin their meal by first eating waran bhaat (dal and rice) followed by puri, chapatti or bhakri eaten with vegetables, thick gravies and curries accompanied by pickles, papad and preserves. Unlike the western system, sweets and desserts are served right in the beginning and consumed during the meal but after the waran bhaat. Eating with left hand, talking or laughing while eating and wasting food calls for undue attention and is not welcome.
Food is served in a predetermined order in the taat. Dry vegetables and curries are served in the right hand side whereas pickles, condiments and side dishes are served to the upper left hand side of the that. Sweets, snacks and breads – Ladoo, Puran Poli, Shrikand Poori, Jalebi, Papad, Bhajji are served on the lower left side of the that. Rice – masale bhaat, waran bhaat, sakhar bhaat is served in the center of the that.
Region wise food specialties
Konkan – consists of the state capital Mumbai and the five coastal districts of Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg. The region predominantly produces rice along with a variety of vegetables, lentils, millets and seasonal fruits like Chickoo, Mango, Jackfruit, Cashewnut, Bettlenut and Coconut. Fishing is an important means of earning a livelihood along the entire Konkan coast. The vegetarian food here is largely influenced by the use of rice, coconut and cashews, while the non-vegetarian food is primarily seafood which is soured by Kokam instead of lime, vinegar or tamarind. The popular Maharashtrian vegetarian dishes like Ukdiche Modak (steamed rice flour dumplings with a filling of fresh grated coconut, jaggery and cardamom powder caramelized together), Valachi Usal or Valachya Dalimbya (Broad Beans in thick gravy), Bharleli Vangi (stuffed eggplant), Kajuchi Usal (Cashew in thick gravy), Puran Poli, Ghavne or Ghavan (non-fermented cousin of dosa), and Amboli are from the Konkan region. These dishes are austere yet full of flavor. The popular non-vegetarian seafood dishes are Kalvan (Fish Curry), Fried Fish, Kolambi Masala (Prawns Masala), Khekda (Crab) Masala and sundried fish dishes like sukat, sode and javla. These are spicy in taste. The Malvan region in Sindhudurg district has a unique variation called as the Malvani cuisine popular for dishes like Tikhla (fish in thick gravy), Vade Sagote a.k.a. Kombdi Vade (Deep fried spiced puris made from flour of mixed millets eaten with Chicken curry). Solkadi is a popular after meal cooler in the Konkan region.
Mumbai technically belongs to the Konkan region but due to the cosmopolitan nature of the city and surrounding areas, many different cultures have influence on the cuisine of Mumbai e.g. South Indian, Gujarati, Punjabi, Mughlai, Parsi along with Continental and Oriental cuisines. The Maharashtrian cuisine of Mumbai region is popular for its fast food – Vada Pav, Bhajji, Misal, Pav Bhaji and Bhel.
Paschim Maharashtra (or the Deccan plateau) – are the plains rich with black alluvial soil mainly consisting of the districts of Pune, Ahmednagar, Satara, Sangli, Solapur and Kolhapur. The region is known for its abundant production of milk and sugarcane, fruits and vegetables, onions and potatoes. The popular dishes like bhel, misal, kat vada a.k.a vada usal, pithale bhakri and Thalipeeth are from this region. The popular non-vegetarian Kolhapuri Tambda (Copper Red) and Pandhara (White) Mutton Rassa is famous all over Maharashtra. It is eaten with Bhakri (bread made of millets or rice).
Marathwada – includes the seven districts of Aurangabad, Latur, Osmanabad, Jalna, Beed, Parbhani and Nanded. Prior to the rise of the Maratha Empire, this region was largely under the Muslim Bahamani rule and thus their cuisine has great influence on the food of this region. Marathwada is popular for biryani and pulav. The cuisine of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka also has influence on food in the Marathwada region being neighboring states.
Khandesh – the four districts of Nashik, Jalgaon, Dhule and Nandurbar form the Khandesh region. The region is rich in the production of fruits and vegetables, especially grapes and banana. Khandesh also produces sugarcane and milk in abundance. The region also grows abundant groundnut and brinjals. Groundnut thus has an influence on the cuisine here. The popular vegetarian dishes of Khandesh are Shev Bhaji, Wangyache Bharit (mashed Eggplant) and Bhakri, Khandeshi Khichadi (Spiced Lentil Rice), Golyachi Bhaji and Gulachi Puri. Popular non-vegetarian dishes are Khandeshi Kala (Black) Masala Chicken or Mutton.
Vidarbha – the thirteen districts of Buldana, Washim, Hingoli, Akola, Amravati, Nagpur, Yavatmal, Wardha, Bhandara, Gondia and Gadchiroli form the Vidarbha region. The cuisine of Vidarbha region is known as the Varhadi cuisine. It has influence of spices, dry coconut and besan (chickpea flour) thus making it a spicy cuisine. Besan is used more in vegetarian dishes whereas the non-vegetarian Saoji dishes of chicken and mutton are made up of spices like black pepper, dry coriander, bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. The most popular Saoji dish is the ‘Varhadi Rassa’ which is spicy chicken or mutton in thick gravy (rassa). Patodi Rassa Bhaji, Kalnyachi bhakri, Vada bhaat and Varhadi Thecha constitute staple diet of the region.
Some popular Maharashtrian preparations
Snacks – Pohe or Kande Pohe (spiced flaked rice), Dadpe Pohe, Upma also known as Sanja or Uppit (spiced semolina), Chivda, Vada Pav, Kat Vada, Bhajiya (Fritters), Misal, Pav Bhaji, Thalipeeth, Alu (colocasia) Vadi, Kothimbir Vadi, Suralichi Vadi, Ukad, Ghavan, Amboli, Dheerde, Sabudana Khichadi, Sabudana Vada, Moong Dal Vada, Mirchi Kachori, Bhadang, Bhajanichi Chakli, Kadboli, Talalele Garey a.k.a Phansachya Salya (Jackfruit Fries), Shev and Bakarvadi.
Coolers and Appetizers – Solkadi, Kokum Sherbet, Taak (Buttermilk), Mattha (Sweetened spiced Buttermilk), Panhe (Raw Mango Sherbet)
Soups and Consommés – Tomato Saar, Kokum Saar, Varan, Phodniche Varan, Kadhi, Katachi Amti.
Vegetables and Lentils – Batatyachi Bhaji, Aluchi Patal Bhaji, Phanasachi Bhaji, Kelphulachi Bhaji, Valachya Dalimbya, Bharli Vangi, Pithale, Zunka, Matkichi Usal, Vangyache Bharit, Shev Bhaji, Valache Birdey, Masurchi Amti, Chauli (Kidney Beans) Batata (potato) rassa, Kurma Bhaji, Kobichi Bhaji, Methichi Bhaji, Palak Shepuchi Bhaji and Panchamrut.
Rice preparations – Masale Bhaat, Narali Bhaat (Sweet coconut flavoured rice), Phodnicha Bhaat, Khichadi, Kolambi Bhaat (Prawns Biryani), Vada Bhaat, Sodyachi Khicadi (Rice with sundried prawns).
Non-Vegetarian and Seafood – Kolhapuri Mutton Tambda and Pandhara Rassa, Varhadi (Saoji) Chicken or Mutton Rassa, Khandeshi Black Masala Chicken or Mutton, CKP, Pathare and Daivadnya style Mutton and Chicken. Kalvan (Fish Curry), Fried Fish, Tikhla (Fish in thick gravy), Barbequed Fish (Prawns, King Fish, Pomfret, Salmon, Bombay Duck, Red Snapper, Oyster, Squid, Clams, Lobsters and Crabs)
Pickles and Condiments – Mango, Lime, Chilli, Prawns pickle, Thecha, Panchamrut, Dry coconut and garlic chutney, Kuleeth Chutney, Raw Papaya Chutney, Curry Leaves Chutney, grated dry coconut, crushed groundnut and garlic chutney, Methamba, Papad, Sandage, Mirgunda, Kurdai, and Chikodya.
Jams, Jellies and Preserves – Moramba (Mango jam or Murabba), Sakharamba (Sugared Mango), Amba poli and Phanas poli.
Sweets and Desserts – Shrikhand (Sweetened and flavoured Yoghurt), Sheera (Sweet Semolina), Aamras (Alphonso Mango Pulp), Basundi (condensed milk), Mastani (popular milkshake of Pune), Jalebi, Puran Poli, Gulpapdi, Santra Barfi, Amba Barfi, Coconut Barfi, Sutarpheni, Kandi Pedha, Masale Doodh (Dry fruit flavoured milk), Ukdiche Modak, Bhoplyache Gharge, Anarse, Karanji, Gulachi Poli, Malvani Khaja, Chirota, Motichur Ladoo, Besan Ladoo, Rava Ladoo, Dinka Ladoo, Shev Ladoo, Kharvas, Sevai Kheer, Alepak, Shankarpali, Mahim Halwa, Dudhi Halwa, Gajar Halwa and Badam Halwa.