Saturday, January 05, 2008

Brine fever - published in Timeout Mumbai 22 March 2006

They occupy only a tiny area of real estate on your plate but explode with flavor on your palate. They can be blisteringly hot or fragrantly sweet or face-puckeringly sour. What would an Indian meal be without a pickle or three to round it out? With the Ides of March just past, preparations have begun across the country for the pickling season. An annual exercise that has taken place in the hot months for eons.

Pickling is the process of preparing food by soaking it in a brine of salt, acid, oil or all three to preserve otherwise perishable foods. The acid retards bacterial growth and oil acts as a preservative. Food historians trace the process of pickling to ancient Egypt, where fish and melons were pickled. The more common practice of pickling cucumbers dates back to about 3,000 years in India. Pickles have been a part of Indian cuisine as far back as the Harrappan era.

There is an astonishing range of pickles available in India, so astonishing that a mango pickle in the south will taste totally different from one made in northern style. Although there are as many varieties of pickles as there are dialects in this country (a result of the variation in the spices, oils, souring or sweetening agents and treatments), there is also uniformity in this diversity. This uniformity is in the liberal use of spices, not necessarily to add fiery heat but to contribute flavours.
Warmer south India uses cooling spices like mustard, curry leaves and asafetida in its pickles, while the colder north favors warming spices like cloves, pepper and nigella. Some spices are medicinal: for instance, ginger, asafetida, and turmeric are added for their digestive properties, raw garlic cures circulatory ailments and soothes jangled nerves, while clack pepper stimulates the appetite. The oil used as a base also varies according to region. sesame and gingelly oil are common in the south, while mustard oil is preferred in the North. There’s also a variation in the acidifying agent: The south uses lime juice, tamarind or curd, the north uses vinegar. Jaggery is the sweetener favored in the south, but the north uses sugar.

Pickle recipes have long been passed down from one generation of a family to the next and, with the exception of a few winter specials, the majority of pickles are made in the summer. Women get together and spend several weeks preparing pickles even in fast-paced Mumbai. Taking the tedium out of grating or chopping kilos of produce, enterprising vegetable vendors home deliver fruits and vegetables conveniently prepped to specification. These are then salted and laid out to dry wherever there is a bit of sun (on minuscule balconies or terraces) to concentrate their flavours and when ready these are mixed with the required ingredients and packed into large ceramic jars and left to mature.

No cuisine in the world can boast as huge a repertoire of pickles as India’s food. Luckily for us, Mumbai’s multi-regional population offers a huge sampling menu. While almost every community has its own variations of more common fruit and vegetable pickles like those made from mango, lime and mixed vegetables, each community also has its specialties. Those prized pickles that grace special occasions or celebrations or the visit of a special guest. All over the city, women entrepreneurs bottle their wares for the pantries of the world. Here’s our pick of some of the best pickles available in Mumbai.

North Indian achaars are the best know pickles of India. They’re usually done in mustard oil and their distinctive feature is the use of “akkhe masalle” or whole spices. They are very easily found in shops around the city as well as at Motilal Masallawala in Bhuleshwar (22426294), with Bala Manon Malad (min. order 5 kgs.)(2881 8676), Reena Peshawaria Lokhandwala complex Andheri(W)(2636 1322/ 2631 0909)and Kusum Kapoor Nepean Sea Road(2364 3737/ 2362 4577)
The Sindhis came to Mumbai from the Sind province - of what is now Pakistan in North India - bringing with them their spicy cuisine infused with the liberal use of oil and spices. They have an exciting collection of pickles made at home, some are adaptations of pickles from other communities, like the chunda, amb khatta, kat keri (tiny dices of green mangoes stewed in a cumin chilli flavoured syrup), but they also do some excellent pickles of their own like the bheendi khatti also called Kadukash which is an absolutely delicious pickle of grated mangoes redolent of spices like kalonji or nigella and chillies. Dhanika Jaggi makes Sindhi pickles in season 14 Prem Bhavan, (1st floor) opposite UCO bank, Colaba Bombay 5. (22831868 / 9869284293)

Rajasthani Pickles – Rajasthan being largely a dessert area, makes the best of what it can get, even in its cuisine. Their pickles are fiery and simple. One Rajasthani pickle that is distinctive because it is typical to the region is the kair sangri achar. Kair (capparis decidna) are the small green berries found in the dessert, that usually cooked as vegetable or pickled with Sangri, slender green pods that appear on the khejri (Prosopis cinararia) during the blazing months of June and July, (the root system of this plant go seventy feet deep, allowing it to withstand years of complete drought). The Rajasthani Mahila Mandal Griha Udyog stock ready packed Rajasthani style mango, lime, kathal (jackfruit,) chilli, leswa (a species of amaranthus greens that are pickled), panch mela (a mix of five vegetables) and chana pickles and also the typically Rajasthani kair and kair sangri Pickles.
Rajasthani Mahila mandal bhavan, 12 Krantiveer Vasantrao Niak Cross lane (Forgett St.) Near Sai Baba Mandir, Gowalia Tank Mumbai 36. (23873197)

Everyone knows about Gujarati athaanas (pickles). They include the or methia keri a mango pickle made with coarsely ground methi or fenugreek, chhundo - a grated mango pickle flavoured with chilli powder and sun cooked for a couple of weeks, gol keri - a sweet hot pickle made with chunks of green mango and spices cooked to a thick syrupy consistency and the fragrant, sweet murabbo but there are more exotic offerings as well; gunda or gumberry in which the berry is hollowed of its sticky innards, stuffed with a spicy masala and pickled in oil or green pepper, dala kerda or davra and the rare garmar (aspargus root) Pickles which are pickled in brine with mustard.

Both Motilal Masalawalla at Bhuleshwar 22426294 and M. Motilal Masallawala at Grant rd. (30916687) stock a wide variety of Gujarati pickles. Other sources for Gujerati pickles are Gogo Snacks at Chowpatty (23696966 / 23615292 / 23630532 / 23632093 /23699988, Indu Khetani & Surbhi Gandhi at Ghatkopar (2506 1713/ 2414 2008), Meenakshi Bhagat at Malabar Hill, (3092 3736), Umaiya Merchant at Andheri (2677 5115/ 9223226746) and Jyoti Mehta at Juhu 2614 9309/ 2613 6651/93222 63191

The Parsi community first settled in Gujarat and Parsi cuisine has evolved to include many elements of Gujarati cuisine, including pickles. There are Parsi versions the methia kairi and other Gujarati pickles but particular to the Parsi community are a few interesting pickles as well. Parsi pickles use vinegar (sarko) as their base and pickle all sorts of vegetables carrots, mangoes, bamboo shoots. Particularly well known are is the lagan nu achaar, a carrot and dry fruit pickle, that is served with crisp puffy fried sago papads at all weddings and is the first item served at the lagan-nu-bhonu or Parsi. Sweet with a back of the mouth heat that strikes later, the carrots are crunchy and the raisins burst between your teeth with sweetness. There is also the bafenu, a classic Parsi pickle made with a whole ripe Alphonso mango, and generous doses of the famed cane vinegar produced in Navsari by Kolah's, the pickle is sweet, slightly hot and resembles a concentrated mango curry more than a pickle. Parsis also do some unique non vegetarian pickles like the Tarapori prawn patio, dried Bombay Duck pickle and a fish roe pickle.

The Ratan Tata Institute or R.T.I (2380 2781) on Huges road (they have branches so call and check if there is one more accessible to you) is of course the best place to pick up Parsi pickles in season, but Motilal Masalawalla at Bhuleshwar (22426294) also stocks vegetarian Parsi style pickles including the bafenu and the lagan nu achar by E F Kolah. The other Masallawala at Grant rd. (30916687) also stocks Parsi pickles by the Kolahs and do a particularly good sweet onion and garlic pickle that they make themselves. Nargish Lala of MUMMY’S YUMMIES (2208 5198, 5607 9177, 9819002500) at Dhobi Talao, does a Tarapori patio, prawn patio, brinjal pickle, dried bombay duck pickle and lagan nu achar while Katy Bhaka (2416 6455) of Wadala does Tarapori prawn patio, dry bombay duck pickle and fish roe pickle in season.

Maharashtrian “lonchas” are fairly spicy for the most part and preserved in groundnut oil. There is a small street of shops called Achar Gali parallel to the Chivda gali at Lalbaug, (New Lalbaug Market, Shri Ganesh Nagar, Mumbai 400 022) where a large selection of Maharashtrian pickles are available; tender whole mango, garlic, chilli, dry mango and even an amla murabba and whole tender mangoes in brine called panikairi. Try Vijay Lakshmi Masalle where the owner Sopan was extremely helpful (2471 6992) or Jai Maharashtra Masalle (55830010). Other places you can source Maharashtrian pickles are the Annapurna Mahilla Mandal, Plot no. 13/14 Sector 19 E, opposite sector 76, Vashi, Navi Mumbai (27665617), Bhagyashree Ketkar, Chembur (25223930) and Vandana Randive, Gamdevi(2387 1875)

The East Indians community of Mumbai are the original inhabitants of Mumbai and have developed a cuisine of their very own. There is an East Indian version of the Bombay Duck pickle as well as a fish roe one in season. The heritage area of Khotachiwadi, at Girgaum is where you will find East Indian pickles but Marie of “Maries” at Bandra (2640 9371) does East Indian pickles in season as well.

Goan pickles - A typical Goan meal is considered incomplete without pickle on the side. Whether bought from the market or fished out of that huge antique pickle jar tucked away in a corner of the kitchen, any Goan pickle will add sizzle to your meal. The difference between a Goan and a Manglorean pickle is not obvious to an outsider, but you will find both Goan as well as Manglorean pickles at Manglorean stores around the city.

Other places that do pickles in Mumbai.

Aroona Reejhsinghani
502 B wing, Leela apts. opp Gulmohur garden, Yaari rd. Versova, Mumbai-61
(26360224) Oil Less Pickles, made with less salt and easy on the spices as well. Lemon, Spicy Lemon, Vegetable in Lime juice, Chilli, Beetroot and Onion. (Minimum orders 1 KG. Prices are dependant on the season)

85,Pitale Prasad, Ground Floor, Worli Sea face Mumbai-25
2494 7890/ 2493 6049, 9821090634
Ready stock Oil-free pickles – Mango, Lime, Sweet & Sour, Ginger Shredded and Sweet, Mango Pepper, Mixed Fruit and Hot Mango
Moment Khet Products Madhu Mehra
Bayview, 2nd Floor, Flat No.5 Ridge Rd, Malabar Hill, Mumbai-6 (23674014/ 56004892)
Garlic and other pickles. Prices are seasonal.

Roshan Mandal
Maker tower L ' ,112, Cuffe parade , Mumbai- 400 005. (2218 8037/ 2218 1063/ 9821367493)
Ready stock Oil free Pickles, Low oil pickles and Non veg Pickles Prawn, Chicken, Mutton. (upto Rs. 100)
Schroffs Organic Food
784/B Ready Money Building, 2nd Floor. M.Joshi Road, Dadar Parsi Colony(E) Mumbai-14 (24135650) Hand made Natural Pickles without preservatives and additives like color, essence etc. Prices are seasonal.

Women’s India Trust
WIT Shop, Shop 23, Bombay Market, Tardeo, Mumbai 400034 (24462506 / 23511753)
Seosonal Pickles in 500 gms. packaging - Tomato and Raisin Chutney, Mango Chutney Lime Hot, Sweet Brinjal hot and sweet Chunda Mago pickle (Prices range between Rs. 50 – Rs. 60)

1 comment:

Ramki said...

The scope of your coverage is amazing. Exactly the kind of writing I love, but find very hard to find. I'm so impressed I'll be posting a 1001 Pickle One page cookbook this week.