Dec 07, 2015
I saw a tweet recently by Neeta Kolhatkar, a Mumbai-based journalist, who was in Noida for work. She tweeted her bemusement after seeing people eating methi (fenugreek) greens in Delhi and Noida as they said it’s a ‘winter food’.
Her tweet read: Too much methi being made & eaten in this part of India..apparently winter ki sabzi..
The concept of ‘winter foods’ seems a bit strange in Mumbai. We don’t really have a winter after all. At the most, a few nights where you don’t need to crank up the aircon. I remember my mom getting excited when she saw methi greens in the markets of Kolkata when we moved to the city in the 1980s. She had grown up in Delhi and this reminded her of the methi saag my grandmom used to make for her back in Delhi. Mom would make the methi that she bought from the market with alu (we Bengalis add potatoes to everything), and send it for my tiffin in school. I loved it and requested her to repeat it for the next few days.
My grandmother had once made the Punjabi winter favourite, gajar ka halwa in Kolkata. Carrots were in season, and she had learned this dish from her neighbours in Delhi. When I moved to Mumbai, I used to stay at a PG run by a Punjabi family and my landlady would make gajar ka halwa in winter. You do get carrots through the year in the city, but thankfully sweet shops such as Punjab Sweets in Bandra makes gajar ka halwa only in winter.
I later moved to Mumbai in search of work and that’s where I live now. Our cook, the famous Banu, cooks methi for us here. Now that I am older and plumper, I tell her to skip the potatoes though. Unlike Kolkata, one gets methi throughout the year in Mumbai, and the dish is now a permanent fixture on our dinner table. Another dish that we used to look forward to in Kolkata during the winter was fulkopir shingara. Shingaras are the Kolkata version of samosas. In winter, fulkopi (cauliflower) was added to the customary potatoes in the shingara. These were sold in the evenings in local sweet shops, and were a much sought-after post-school snack for my younger brother and me.
Cauliflower, in my growing up days in Kolkata, was considered to be a winter vegetable. You would make standalone dishes like fulkopir dalna (gravy based) with it or fulkopi bhaaja or bora (fries and fritters) or even add it to fish curries.
In Mumbai, on the other hand, we get cauliflower through the year! So are there any winter foods in Mumbai? Well, there are the folks with handcarts selling toasted shakarkand or sweet potatoes in winter here. Then there are the fresh green garlic based dishes. Jamshed uncle, our 84-yr-old Parsi family friend, who often laments about how one doesn’t get the authentic taste in the produce of today, suggests that one adds these to scrambled eggs. The Parsis love eggs of course! The Gujaratis of Mumbai would generally not touch eggs, and they get excited about a vegetarian winter dish called Undhiyu which is cooked with vegetables like green garlic and chawli, grown in the winter in Surat.
A few things are no longer sacred though. Bengali purists would cringe at the fact that the Sweet Bengal chain in Mumbai sells sweets made with nolen gur (date palm jaggery available only during winter in Bengal) any time of the year!
What is my favourite winter food? That has to be a thick and steaming mug of hot chocolate. My favourite in Mumbai would be the one available at Bandra’s La Folie Lab. Just wish that one got the chilly weather to go with it.
Check out my chat with the owner of Soam, a popular Gujarati restaurant in Mumbai, on Undhiyu here.