x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Food obsession: zunka

Maharashtrian zunka takes me back to the monsoon-kissed mountains of Mahabaleshwar.

Zunka. Courtesy Frying Pan Food Adventures
Zunka. Courtesy Frying Pan Food Adventures

Maharashtrian food sparks a very distinct memory for me. I can see myself as an awkwardly proportioned teenager, scaling the monsoon-kissed mountains of Mahabaleshwar on a summer holiday from high school. The earthy aroma of the wet mountain soil wafted up and became one with the fried aroma of crisp, salty pakodas, fished out of bubbling hot oil and served fresh on the slopes. The pakodas were followed by a roasted gram (chickpea) flour paste and sorghum-flour roti that are rustic emblems of Maharashtrian cuisine. My mind still teases my tongue with a recollection of the flavours as though it were all at lunch just yesterday. Rustic, elemental and unforgettably good.

Manisha’s Kitchen in Karama (04 370 6799) doesn’t have the mountains, the monsoons or the wet soil, but it does have a menu that reminded me of my encounter with Mahashtrian food as a teenager. It serves a version of zunka, the dry-roasted gram flour paste that I’d first tasted up in the mountains. It had been seasoned with unpretentious village-like flair, with toasted mustard seeds, green chillies and enough turmeric to paint my fingernails yellow by the end of the meal. I took a few solo bites to reacquaint myself with my childhood memories and then paired the rest with a coarse, homely jowari (sorghum flour) roti. The clumps of spiced, salty zunka – toasty at some places, crumbly at others, earthy and oniony and lentil-flavoured throughout – just grew and grew and grew on me until I realised that I’d eaten like a horse. Only without trudging up a mountain this time.

I couldn’t be happier that restaurants such as Manisha’s Kitchen are finally introducing Maharashtrian cuisine to Dubai. India has so many sub-pockets of culture and cuisine beyond saag paneer and chicken tikka masala (which is more British than Indian), that it’s time to have some of those flavourful nuances reflected here in the city.


Arva Ahmed blogs about hidden food gems in Old Dubai at www.ILiveinaFryingPan.com