Wednesday, August 25, 2010

THe Deccan and Maharashtra

The Deccan plateau of peninsular India, formed from solidified volcanic lava eruptions marks the great divide between the northern plains and southern regions of India. Deccan comes from the Sanskrit word meaning “south”. The Vindhya Mountain range acts as a natural barrier and for centuries the two halves of India were almost cut off from each other. The region below this range was once the vast kingdom of Marathas, stretching from what is now Gujarat across the plains to the east coast. Chains of hills run parallel to each coast, known as the Western and Eastern Ghats. To the west, the hills flatten out into the Konkan coastal lowlands where alluvial rivers provide enough water for growing rice and other crops. A number of large rivers flow from the ghats (literally “steps”), draining down into the Arabian Sea. Others flow across the Deccan plateau toward the Bay of Bengal, creating fertile swaths. Maharashtra, meaning “great state” is the heart of the peninsula with Mumbai (formerly Bombay) it’s pulsing nucleus. Maharashtra lies between the wheat growing northern regions and rice growing south and both bread and rice are staples, although rice is a little more favored. Many regional variations of cuisine exist. There are the fierce, chili-hot meat curries in coconut milk bases of the Marathis, a former warrior class believed to be descendents of the great king Shivaji. Hindu Brahmins prepare sparsely spiced pure vegetarian food. In the coastal villages seafood is cooked with green chilies, fresh herbs, onions, garlic and coconut. The main spice blend used is goda masala made by dry roasting and grinding together aromatic spices, dried red chilies, coconut and sesame or white poppy seeds. Staples throughout the region are hand patted sorghum and millet breads, often eaten with a few chilies, an onion and leafy green curry as a meal. Puran poli are thin breads stuffed with a filling of sweet dal or palm sugar and sesame seeds, eaten with spicy curries or as a snack. Greens are also cooked with various dals. Roasted, ground peanuts or chickpea flour is often sprinkled over dishes to soak up liquids or thicken gravies.  In Mumbai, every imaginable cuisine can be found in India’s largest melting pots. The Parsis are one of the largest communities who arrived to India centuries ago. They blend Persian influences with the sweet and sour flavors of Gujarat (where they first settled).

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