The climate of Gujarat has given it access to a unique cuisine that is not found anywhere in India. You will also find a subtle use of spices that Gujarati food is famed for, in contrast to the strong use of spices across India.Gujarati food is largely vegetarian due to the impact of Jainism on the region. It is interesting to note that the Gujaratis have managed to create a balanced diet rich in protein despite a vegetarian diet.
The use of sugar
The use of sugar arose due to Gujarat’s hot and dry climate, for which sugar (or jaggery), along with lemons, and tomatoes were added to maintain a cool body temperature. It is a myth that Gujarati cooking needs to be loaded with sugar. In fact, apart from the hint of sweetness in its dal (lentil), you’ll find a balance of flavours in a Gujarati thali. It is also easy to sample a variety of these tastes as Gujarati food is often steamed or boiled.
Gujaratis do love their spice – you’ll see it in delicious pickles and farsans (roasted or fried snacks as side dishes), and chutneys which accompany meals. But as mentioned earlier, spice is not an overpowering component of Gujarati cooking. Nutritious ingredients like gram flour, lentils, sesame seeds and yoghurt are commonly to the main courses in Gujarati cooking. The use of condiments changes with the weather. For example, the summer sees the addition of fresh mango pulp to meals.
Light, easy to eat preparations
The Gujaratis have mastered light snack food via their fluffy dhokla (made from steamed chickpea batter); khandvi (which uses gram flour), khakras (lightly fried mat bean and wheat flour) and theplas (spiced flat bread). These are common accompaniments to the early evening tea.
The main course
The main course is traditionally served on a silver platter with tiny dishes giving you a great tasting menu of flavours to be eaten with the roti (bread) and rice dal (lentils), kadhi (a spicy gravy made from curd and gram flour), shaak (vegetable curry). It is accompanied by homemade pickle, sweets, papadums, and yoghurt. Due importance is given to the spicing, garnishing and flavouring of food. The meals traditionally conclude with a glass of buttermilk, perfect to cool you down during a scorching summer.
A common winter dish is the Undhiyu, a vegetable casserole cooked upside down underground, cooked with green beans, unripe banana, muthia, and purple yam made with a spicy curry. A variant using red lentils, grated coconut, and palm sugar with rice or roti is eaten on Makar Sankranti as a celebratory dish.
Regional variations in the thali
You’ll see different variations in the preparation and dishes served in Kutch, Kathiawad and Surat. For example, Surat is famed for gharis, which uses dried fruits, condensed milk and halwa. Kathiawadi’s food is spicy, where the Kutch people like khichdi (a rice and pulses dish) in their daily diet.