I love visiting places that are known for a certain produce or product.
Such is my madness that I’ve convinced friends into forgoing skiing and instead visiting Ohakune, a small town known for its highly fertile volcanic soil and delicious carrots and convinced BawaGroom to take a 100km detour and go to Paeroa, the birthplace of the ‘World famous in New Zealand’ drink, L&P.
So you can understand why Nashik has been on my must-visit list ever since I moved back to Mumbai. Commonly known as India’s Napa Valley, Nashik gained popularity in the 1925 initially for its production of table grapes and later for its wines that have earned India a spot on the global Wine Map. I’m not much of a wine snob so more than the wine, I’ve wanted to go to Nashik for the Stomp Fest popularised by Sula. After all, who can resist the siren call of a grape stomping festival where you jump on kilos of grapes in a massive wooden tub with a bunch of strangers?
It’s only on a recent adventure courtesy food tourism company, Wandering Foodie that I discovered that aside from wine Nashik also has some great eats to offer. In fact, the city is actually home to Khandeshi food.
Wholesome and spicy, Khandeshi food is regional Maharashtra’s hidden gem. Like the Parsi Dhansak Masala, Khandeshi food too has a signature spice blend – the Kala Masala. The term ‘kala’ comes from the fact the the spices and dried onions are roasted until they are dark before they are ground, which adds a beautiful smoky flavour to curries and other meat preparations.
My introduction to the Khandeshi Kala Masala was at a farm-house some 10 kms of the national highway where I tried the Mutton Bhakri – a simple mutton preparation made in a Kala Masala gravy. Tender pieces of mutton melted into my mouth and just when I was about to swallow came the fiery back of throat kick from the Kala Masala. We were in the heart of Maharashtra’s wine county though and the dish came paired with a beautiful Fratelli Sette Red, an oaky barrelled wine that at first seems to add fire to the spice but in another second magically cools the palate.
While I am not much of a vegetarian food fan, one of my favourite eats during our adventure was the Vangyachi Ghotun Bhaaji and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a very simple brinjal preparation made only with garlic, green chillies, cumin, coriander and lemon and I was amazed at how tasty it was given it had no masala in it. This vegetable dish proved to me what we hear on channels like TLC all the time – if the produce is good enough, you need less than five ingredients to make a delicious meal out of it.
For me, eating is well and good but what I really love doing to fully absorb the culture of a place is to cook some local food, preferably with someone’s mom as I love listening to their stories. Founder of Wandering Foodie, Rahul Patil’s mom was no different. While teaching me how to make the perfect Puranpoli she told me about the Khandeshi tradition of having Puranpoli as a main course where its paired with a tangy spicy daal called Katachi Amti. The recipe for this gravy calls for 2 cups of ‘Kat’ and it was a revelation to me that this was actually the strained water that is leftover after boiling the puran poli stuffing – what a brilliant leftover makeover!
Aunty also shared the awesome Khandeshi invention, ‘Shev-Bhaaji’ which unlike its name doesn’t feature any vegetables what so ever – a fact that greatly humoured my inner Bawi.
Ofcourse, a day and a half – most of which was spent in a food coma – is not enough to discover an entire cuisine. But, what I did taste has left me hungering for more! I came back home having overdosed on Misal Pav, my hands heavy with packets of Kala Masala itching to dish out some Khandeshi style Sukka Chicken.
The Wandering Foodie is a food tourism company that currently has 2 day weekend adventure in Nashik and several food tours in Mumbai (one of which is hosted by yours truly). Both of these can also be customized for groups as per requirements. Prices start from Rs 4000 onwards. For more information visit http://wanderingfoodie.in