Let’s bring our spice conversation home to Mumbai. Talking about spice mixes, it’s imperative that Mumbai and its cultural diversity would give birth to a lot of spice mixes…
East Indian Bottle Masala – Bottle masala making is an annual event amongst the East Indian community of Mumbai that takes place prior to the monsoon, when hot sunny days are guaranteed. Masalas are mixed according to the house recipe. The masala consists of 20 spices or more in varying proportions with the main ingredients being – dry red chilies and coriander seeds. The spices have to be dried in the hot sun, prior to each condiment being roasted on a slow fire and then pounded in a wooden mortar with a wooden pestle. The bottle is then sealed and if sun dried and hand ground (well traditionally) then filled up traditionally in beer bottles (so the name). It is then used round the year to flavour their rich cuisine. The East Indians use it for everything. As with all good things, there are women in the community who specialise and could make it for entire villages of East Indians in suburban Mumbai! Bottle masala differs in pungency, flavour and even colour depending on the ingredients used. If properly stored, it can last a long time.
Parsi Dhansak Masala – This is a traditional Parsi spice mix used to make Dhansak, a dish which was born out of the amalgamation of Persian and Gujarati cuisines. Dhansak became very popular in the late 19th century, with the rapid growth of Mumbai and Karachi. The working men were provided with tea and snacks by Parsi immigrants from Iran, who had set up small tea stores on street corners selling soda water, biscuits, tea, omelets, and also dhansak. Hence Karachi and Mumbai, the coastal cities of the sub continent, became the two favourite cities of Parsis to settle in. Dhansak is a hearty lentil and vegetable-based mutton or lamb curry. It is made by combining bay leaves, mustard, cloves, cardamom, turmeric, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, mace, chilli and pepper. Although a Sunday staple it’s traditionally a mourning dish and never served on weddings.
Maharashtrian Goda Masala – This is a typically a Maharashtrian spice mix, predominantly used to flavour vegetable and lentil preparations. It’s traditionally made in a large mortar pestle or Khalbatta. It is prepared by combining roasted and powdered red chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, poppy seeds, turmeric, asafoetida, dagad phool (stone lichen), naag keshar and badal phool. Because the spices are roasted the masala is dark, almost black in colour. Also called Sundåy masala as it’s sold in Sunday haats in the Konkan region.
Yet there is no masala conversation complete without the mention of Awadh. Like the legendary Lazzat-e-Taam, a spice mix with a minimum of 32 spices, but more about Awadh in the next column. Happy eating!