Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Gastronomic Gujaratis

Genre: Life

A word of caution: Please do not ask for English transliteration of the words mentioned in italics in the narration below; not because I dont know them, rather because they simply dont exist.

Tell the two words- "Gujarati" and "Food" to anybody and immediately the third word that will come out as reply is "thepla". However those who think Gujarati food starts with thepla and ends with dhokla- think again.

The variety of food found in Gujarat and Gujaratis probably surpasses that found in food all over India combined. A typical Gujarati spends his morning jogging for an hour followed by a feast of jalebi-fafda, eventually consuming twice the calories he burnt while jogging! However if the person happens to be in Surat, the breakfast will invariably be locho- a speciality not to be found anywhere else in India. To a person who can barely distinguish between a khaman and a dhokla, if I tell that a locho is something that can be classifed between the two, he will only end up pulling his (or my) hair! But that's how it is- Gujaratis have made such a huge number of gastronomic inventions that the variety is eventually mind-boggling.

If there is one area which has seen maximum number of innovations by Gujaratis, it has to be Chinese food. Ofcourse all Gujarati Chinese food is pure vegetarian, there is Gobi Manchurian, Chinese Samosa and even Chinese Bhel! Feed any of these dishes to a Chinese guy and he will surely faint. The innovations do not stop here- while everywhere else in India, pani-puri (which is same as golgappa of the North Indians and puchka of the East Indians) is served with a teekha pani and a meetha pani, Ahmedabadis would have none of it. So here we have pani-puri served with a variety of no less than seven different flavours of pani. You name it, we have it! Even the humble vada-pao of Mumbai has not been spared. While the original variety simply has a vada stuffed inside a pao with dry and wet chatni thrown in, the Ahmedabadi vada-pao comes with a pao fried in liberal amount of butter and lasoon chatni and the vada dollopped with tomato ketchup!

There is no doubt about the fact that food brings out the best in Gujaratis- one visit to Law Garden in Ahmedabad or Chowpatti on the banks of the Tapi in Surat or any other khau-galli in Gujarat or Mumbai for that matter will prove this fact. Food unites Gujaratis cutting across age, caste and economic status. So, you will find local farmers sharing space with hip teenagers in their swanky Hondas and Skodas at the traditional bullock-operated sugarcane juice centre near Maroli Sugar Factory on the state highway at an hour's drive from Surat. So famous is this non-descript joint that travellers on the National Highway take a detour to visit it and families from Surat and Valsad specially plan an outing to this place in sugarcane-cultivating season. And the popularity is not unjustified- after all here you get the freshest possible sugarcane juice extracted in the traditional way and served on cots laid under peepal trees in a tranquil field; and at Rs. 2.50 per glass, it's a steal! The same is the case with the bhajia wala at Tithal Beach- once the Gujaratis get attractes to a place, the attraction lasts for generations.

It is this love for food of the Gujaratis that has made even the multinational companies take special interest in keeping them happy. So, on entering a popular mall on the Sarkhej-Gandhinagar Highway, you will come across a huge signboard of McDonalds- written in Gujarati and Domino's and Pizza Hut outlets serving Jain Pizza. It is for same reason that a sleepy town like Valsad which is till date struggling to have one good cinema hall or a shopping complex, already has a US Pizza outlet!

Gujaratis may have been experimenting recently with international cuisine but that has certainly not changed the love for the native dishes. Even today, a visit to Surat is never complete without a dish of Undhiya or nobody who visits Baroda misses to have the Cold Cocoa- an ingenious chocolate based cold drink that originated here and grabbed the attention of the entire nation when Amul started selling it in tetra-packs and cans; however anyone who has tasted the real thing once will swear that this commercial variety does not taste even half as good. The same goes for goti-soda and malai gola- both having their origins in Rajkot.

It is this undying love that distinguishes Gujaratis from everyone else and at the same time unites Gujaratis from all over the world. While others eat to live, the Gujaratis live to eat!


  1. hey i live to eat too! n not just khaman dhokla n undiyo!

  2. @Zai

    Yup, I know that! We are partners in crime, just that your area of interest is different (more inclination towards carnivorous stuff!)

  3. It was a mouth watering blog...i really relished it...the first lines of the blog also applies here...
    Jalebi-fafda is an awesome combination and people in gujarat buy this on dusshera.The total turnover of the sweet shops is to the tune of crores on this single day...
    I have eaten pani-puri at differnt places around India...but its taste cant match the one available in Gujarat....
    Kathiawari food is also awesome...though a bit spicy...but 'bajra na rotla' with 'baingan nu bharthu' is simply out of the world...
    My long train journeys to Kerala is incomplete without the 'methi na thepla'....this with the great pickles which the gujjus make like 'chunda','god-keri' etc...
    I should also mention about 'khandvi'...which is also very tasty....there is another delicacy called 'sev usal' which is also very famous...
    I am a south indian...but frankly speaking i like gujju food more than the south indian food-:)

  4. @ Abhishek

    Yes I do know of all these delicacies too but mentioning ALL Gujarati dishes would have made my post look like a thesis; though I agree I completely overlooked the Kathiawadi angle- I should have mentioned about it. Anyways thanks for reminding!

    And btw, 'Sev Usal' is a spinoff from 'Misal' of Maharashtra, so cannot exactly put it in Gujarati delicacies.

  5. mmmmmmmmmmmm..... awesome post.... forgot khandvi though????i m a great fan of tht particular dish...

  6. a truly yummy blog.m too a gujju food fan(esp the tasty theplas n nimbu ka achar tht i hve everyday fer lunch,courtesy a gujju friend.(i wonder y m i suddenly feelin so hungree,guess tym fer sm khakras ;))

  7. Hey, there are so many farsans - like Khahndvi , Dhokla, Patra, kachori, khaman etc. Visit any farsan shops in Gujarat or Mumbai (Bombay) and you will not come empty handed.

    Eating Jalebi - Fafda on the day of Dassera is of special significance ( don't know why ). On Dussera morning you won't get any sweets as everyone asks for Jalebi - Fafda. And, do ask & eat papaiya slices fondly called pu-pum.

    Undhiyu is a special delicacy & speciality of Surat. It's made mainly during Winter time as papdi veggy is avialble in winters only. Although one can make it without papdi & use pulses instead. But, Undhiyu is best savoured with papdi only. And, yes use sweet Coconut water in preparation of Undhiyu instead of using only plain water. This will give special flavour to Undhiyu. Surat also has other sweet speciality like Ghari and Ghebar.

    Thepla are special journey meal as it lasts for a week atleast. Use milk instead of water in making dough and it will still last longer.

    Gujarati food is a vegetarian's heaven.

  8. @ Anonymous

    Wow! That was very interesting information especially about using coconut water in Undhiyu!

    By the way, why did you hide your identity? I would like to know who is the person giving so much valuable insights into Gujju food!


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