Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Of Pathare Prabhus and non-vegetarian food

The other day my friend called, very excited. She had read Finely Chopped’s post on a Pathare Prabhu meal and knowing that my mother belongs to the community, asked me if I have such delicious food every day. She was also very surprised to know more about this Maharashtrian community, which is even smaller than the Parsi community.
I’ll say this Gia, I am glad to be part Pathare Prabhu. Half of my relatives put shrimp in everything, even our alu wadi and upma!
I am not sure when I realised I was a mixture of two castes – Koknastha Brahmin and Pathare Prabhu, but I do remember as a child, people asking me how I ate non-vegetarian food when my surname clearly points to my being a Brahmin.
The Pathare Prabhu genes have ensured that I devour seafood, mince lamb, chicken and eggs with as much gusto as pithla, methichi bhaaji, thaalipith, sabudana khichadi and other vegetarian dishes.  
Two of the regular non-vegetarian Pathare Prabhu dishes at our house, are bhujane and khadkhadle. I feel if you cut a Pathare Prabhu, the juices of either bhujane or khadkhadle will flow out of his veins, not blood! So staple they are in a Parbhu house.
Andyache bhujane is my comfort food. That was the dish our mother tempted us with through childhood, if there wasn’t a good bhaaji at home or if she was fed up of making something elaborate. As our father was also a good cook, my sister and I ate bhujane made by him too. When we grew up, we first learnt to make this dish. It is a mish mash of eggs, onions, garlic, curry leaves, chilli or chilli powder, a hint of turmeric, green coriander, a little water and unapologetically, lots of oil. While egg bhujane is popular, it can also be made with drumsticks, potatoes, pomfret, or prawns as the hero instead of eggs.
I am told mother did not prepare non-vegetarian dishes during our Brahmin grandparents’ visits when my sister and I were young. But some happy incidents of my making changed this.
I had a friend who happened to be a Goan. A few times I yelled at the top of my voice from the balcony of his house on the third floor to my parents on the first floor in the opposite building, “Aaj Raju kade maase ahet, me ithech jewate!” “There’s fish today at Raju’s house, I am having lunch here!” That was enough for my Brahmin aaji who told our mother that she was embarrassed, and non-vegetarian food could be cooked despite their presence. Of course, Parbhu non-vegetarian food is not the only non-vegetarian food we make.  
The few times we digress from making bhujane, is when we decide to make khadkhadle. It is said the name comes from the sound the vessel makes when the dish is prepared. It can be made with prawns or Bombay Duck. It is a dish made with fenugreek seeds, garlic and chilli powder. In spite of the few ingredients, the dish tastes lovely. Khadkhadle is also made with dry Bombay Duck and shrimp.
Just as the Pathare Prabhus are known for their unique recipes, they are known for some distinct differences from other Maharashtrians, like the usage of Gujarati words in Marathi, as it is believed they came to Maharashtra from Gujarat in the 12th century. There is another story that says they came from Patan in Nepal. 
They are known for their unique rangoli. They have unique jewellery and even the type of saree a Pathare Prabhu bride wears at her wedding rituals is different. This kasbi saree is known for its heavily embroidered and embellished border, in which gold and silver was used.
The Pathare Prabhus are also pioneers in women's education in Mumbai.
Pathare Prabhus are also a community which does not go wholly vegetarian in Shrawan. Of course, their vegetarian recipes are also different from those of other Maharashtrians. A simple dish they make is from ridge gourd, cucumber and green peas. As I hate peas, they are substituted with corn at my house. This dish also has a few ingredients, but is big on taste.
Another dish is sambara. This is made with coconut milk and either corn, or pineapple. One version is also made with onions. To the uninitiated, the combination of coconut milk and corn or pineapple may seem as weird as that of shrimp in upma. But as they say, don’t beat it until you try it!
Another unique combination is in a bhaaji made with brinjals. This is a spicy bhaaji, but has raisins in it.
Unlike Koli, Brahmin, Malwani and such other famous Maharashtrian cuisines, Pathare Prabhu food has been ‘discovered’ only recently. It is unique food with delicious and seemingly weird combinations that hit the spot. Judging by its popularity, we may soon see Pathare Prabhu restaurants. Until then, hold on to your Pathare Prabhu friends – even those who are part Pathare Prabhus – be nice to them and hope they invite you for a memorable meal!