If I find such unsurpassed joy in eating food, I cannot even begin tell you about the unparalleled excitement that surmounts me when I go hunting for a new place, dish, or recipe. This week being the week of Sankranti, of windy and chilly days, my heart was pining for ‘Undhiyu’, Gujarat’s or more specifically, Surat’s most iconic mixed vegetable delicacy. A cult dish that heralds the coming of the chill, which is made only in the winter in Gujarat because the dish has vegetables, which are only available during that season. Vegetables such as green baby eggplants, purple yam, beans, raw banana, and ‘muthias’ made from ‘methi’ leaves. It’s a bright green oily mixed vegetable dish with a distinct flavour of coriander, chillies and besan.
So, I decided that I would walk the lanes of Mumbai’s oldest Maharashtrian and Gujarati area in search for some authentic ‘Surti Undhiyu’, and what better place than Bhuleshwar and Mumbadevi. Both these neighbouring areas find themselves named after ancient shrines there from the original island of Bombay. Both crowed and populous precincts, full of shops, temples, food, traffic jams, people and cows.
Marking the northern boundary of Bhuleshwar is the CP Tank and traffic circle. CP Tank or Cowasji Patel Tank is an erstwhile water tank that supplied water to the surrounding temple area but is now defunct. It is now a teeming traffic junction that leads through narrow winding lanes to Chor Bazaar, Null Bazar, Kalbadevi, and large complexes called Hira Baug, Krishna Baug, Morar Baug and Madhav Baug, built for members of the Jain, Lohana, and Bania merchant communities. In the belly of this mayhem is an ancient shop called Hiralal Kashidas Bhajiawala. Hiralal Kasidas Shah, came to Bombay form Surat over a 100 years ago. With a thriving business selling ‘Kand’ (purple yam) ‘Bhajiyas’ in Surat, he
espied an opportunity and set up a shop in Mumbai in 1936. Today, this third-generation eatery is carrying forward their grandfather’s legacy of serving authentic Surti food especially Undhiyu.
As I mentioned earlier, a traditional Undhiyu uses a wealth of winter vegetables especially the ‘Surti Papdi’, also known as broad bean or fava bean. But amongst all the flat podded green beans available in the market, only a fresh tender pod with three soft tiny beans is used in an Undhiyu. This flat bean has a soft velvety texture, cooks quickly and has a strong flavour.
Along with Surti Papdi, the cooks at Hiralal Kashidas use ‘rataalu’ or ‘kand’, sweet potatoes, potatoes and small brinjals with finely chopped garlic, garlic greens, cumin-coriander powder, salt and oil in their 100-year-old recipe. All the vegetables come fresh from Surat every morning on the Flying Ranee, a superfast express train that runs between Mumbai Central and Surat every day and reaches Mumbai at 09.45 am sharp.
Traditionally, the Undhiyu is cooked in an earthen pot and is rather tedious, starting with the making of muthias, which are deep-fried dumplings made with methi leaves and besan. Then, the root vegetables are all stuffed with a coriander coconut masala, a mixture of desiccated coconut, and spices, then in a tempering of ‘ajwain’, all the vegetables are layered according to their cooking time, with the fastest cooking ingredients right on the top.
While the Surti Undhiyu is green and full of garlic and coconut, Ahmedabad’s Undhiyu is reddish and spicy, the Palanpuri Undhiyu is cooked in mustard oil, and the Kathiyawadi Undhiyu has an emphasis on the muthias, Valsad, however, creates an “Umbadiyu” out of the same recipe.
I settled down at Hiralal Kasidas amidst the cacophony of cars, cattle and cries. What comes out is a steaming oily green mixed vegetable dish that is hard to resist. Alongside a portion of Hiralal Kasidas’ iconic ‘kand bhajiyas’, ‘ponkh vadas’, mini-batata wadas, shrikhand and puri.
In the heat and sweat of Mumbai, I sit and satisfy my winter cravings.
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