Sunday, August 16, 2015

Jewel in the thali

This is pithla. Or as non-Maharashtrians call it, peetla. Also known as zunka.
The gastronomic jewel that wars have been fought over, in many peace-loving Maharashtrian households. The prize that has turned many a sibling into a foe.

All Maharashtrian children unknowingly learnt to make this dish first, when they stepped into the kitchen as the making of pithla was announced, and left only when the vessel carrying it was taken to the dining table. So ask any Maharashtrian – even someone who claims he can’t cook – what the ingredients and method to prepare pithla are, and he or she will narrate it step by step, from chopping onions to the garnishing of coriander on top of the dish. It is one dish that has had scores of children running into the kitchen to ‘help’.     

While the savoury dish is delicious, licking the pot after it’s nearly over, is what siblings and cousins have battled for. In many of these battles, it is learnt with much pride, that it is often the younger sibling who has emerged triumphant. The battle having ended, with the elder sibling, minus few strands of hair and a sore face and bruised hands, glaring across the room at the younger sibling, also minus equal strands of hair, and a black eye and bruised face and hands to match, but with the coveted vessel in hand, and a big smile on the aching face.

Of course, there have not always been battles over pithla. It has also brought together siblings and cousins with love. On occasion, a visiting cousin has even magnanimously allowed his younger cousin to enjoy licking the vessel clean. A privilege he usually enjoyed under the glaring stare of his older brother at their home. Sigh! The duties one has on being older - never mind if his cousin didn’t hear his heart break when he heard her slurping it. 

There’s always the ladle to lick the remaining pithla stuck to the vessel. But long practicals, and deep study over years have led to the finding, that it tastes better when one uses one’s hands to lick it.

Pithla tastes better with bhakri, but it can also be accompanied by chappatis or rice. But the dollop of ghee on it is mandatory.

The deep study has also led to another finding, that though pithla is served hot,  it is equally delicious when cold.
Many people have tried to makeover this dish, for instance by adding fenugreek leaves to it, but the classic taste prevails. This is one dish that tastes best unfusionised and unmodernised. It remains a tasty dish made with simple ingredients. It is a tradition any Maharashtrian worth his pithla will want unchanged. Fast food, slow food, healthy food, the fads may come and go. But the pithla has retained its place in Maharashtrian houses. It is truly a jewel in our gastronomic treasury.

- alshi maushi