It's strange that I should start a new year with a post on food instead of a what-I-should-not-be-eating-this-year write-up on resolutions but I simply couldn't resist. I had two unusual gastronomic experiences this weekend, both very Gujarati.
|Pots of matla undhiyu at a farm on the outskirts of Vadodara|
One came in the form of a matla undhiyu party at a farmhouse on the outskirts of Vadodara. Now, unlike Mumbai and other big cities in India, in Vadodara you get different vegetables each season. So winter's the time when you get broad beans or papdi, small brinjals (eggplants) and sweet potatoes. Throw them all in into a matla (matka) or clay pot, along with some potatoes, and slow cook them on fire made from burning farm waste. The smoked veggies (yummy!) are then put together in small baskets/thalis. You shell the papdi, much like peas, and mash them together with the other veggies (you have to skin the potatoes and sweet potatoes). Then add a little bit of oil, lots of green garlic chutney (again a winter specialty) and sev and mix well. It tastes divine. I've never liked the traditional oily undhiyu because the masalas are overbearing, but I simply can't get enough of this version. So the next time you're in Gujarat sometime between November and January, ensure that you get invited to a matla undhiyu party at a farm.
My second experience was something I had been waiting for. In a largely vegetarian state, non-veg fare tends to be limited to just some varieties of Mughlai or Punjabi style chicken or fish. But the state boasts of two great gifts to the non-veg cuisine — patrani machhi and matla chicken. Patrani machhi — marinated fish wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed — is a Parsi delicacy and has found fans far and wide. But matla chicken, even my husband who had studied at Vidyanagar near Anand for four years, hadn't heard of this delicacy that Nadiad boasts of! I came to know of it only when I watched Rocky Singh digging into a matka for some flesh and bones in an episode of Highway on My Plate on NDTV Good Times. He kept mentioning how good the matla chicken in Charotar (the Anand-Nadiad region) is. I was surprised because this Patel belt comprises a people so staunchly vegetarian that they do not even touch onions and garlic! Though I did not get an opportunity to go to Nadiad to savour this delicacy, I managed to find it at Tawa's in Vadodara. Since the chicken in the matla was wrapped in foil, I had to literally 'corkscrew' it out of the pot. The traditional way to eat the chicken is to lay it out on a plate and people just dig into it with their bare hands — much like they do at Arab feasts. The chicken is heavily flavoured with garlic (sometimes, three whole garlic bulbs are used for a single chicken) and marinated with spices such as chilli, turmeric and coriander powder. Again, like matla undhiyu, the matla chicken is also slow cooked on fire made out of farm waste/wood. It's so tender that it almost melts in your mouth. I would have liked it a little spicier, so I guess I will have to make that trip to Nadiad some time in the near future.