Building a cuisine: The Pachkalshis: Part II
I never truly appreciated the cuisine I grew up with, simply because I grew up eating it. It was nothing new, nothing different. Same old, everyday food. During the process of brainstorming and building a menu for The Paisley Kitchen, I came to realize that Pachkalshi cuisine has some unique gems of its own, not known to people outside of the community. It was then that I started seeing this food from a new lense. I grew curious about the history, culture, and factors that shaped this unique cuisine. However, documentation was scarce (especially in English), apart from a rather outdated website and a few Facebook groups there wasn’t much to learn from. I’ve decided to use this website as a channel to document my learnings about the Pachkalshi cuisine, for anyone who’d be interested, and for guests at Paisley Experience to learn more about the food we serve; because I truly believe one can only truly enjoy their food when they know its story.
In this series of posts, I want to break down the cuisine, its elements, its peculiarities and examine them as an outsider, and in as much detail as I can. I got into a process of questioning why we eat what we eat, after Studying Food with Dr Kurush Dalal; and that rabbit hole got me here. I will be writing about the things that make the Pachkalshi cuisine unique, and bits and pieces of our history that possibly influenced the food we eat as a community today.
Before I go any further talking about the Pachkalshi cuisine; there are a few things I’d like to clarify, a disclaimer of sorts:
The information I’m putting out here is based on multiple literary sources, conversations with people belonging to the community, etc. Please excuse any historical inaccuracies (I have no background studying history). I’d be more than happy to discuss any shortcomings and/or make amendments. If you haven't read Part I of this series, click here.
My last blog post in the series spoke of the two major groups within the Pachkalshi community, their similarities and differences. As a whole, Pachkalshi food has many a characteristic that make it unlike any other cuisine.
Heres exploring some of the elements that make the food of this community unique.
The Pachkalshi Masala
A blend of spices native to the Northern Konkan region, the robust Pachkalshi masala also comprises of chana dal or split chickpeas that help it thicken curries without the addition of a distinct thickening agent. Most Pachkalshi curries owe their consistency to this masala as they do not have the usual base of onions or tomatoes, nor do they use any ingredients that add extravagance, such as cream or complex curry pastes. The other components include chilli, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cumin, pepper, turmeric and asafoetida. These are ground in proportions varying from home to home but remain constant across Pachkalshi households.
An Open Mind
A community free of prejudices, the Pachkalshis adapted to the landscape of Northern Konkan, readily accepting its bountiful sea and native Agri styles of cooking. They did not stop there. With every new settler came a small change in the cuisine, be it the love for pineapple that came with the Portuguese; resulting in ananasachi amti or the community’s fondness of potatoes. Although the community adapted and developed its cuisine over the centuries, it did not give up its traditional cooking styles.
The food of this community lacks cooking techniques and ingredients that are synonymous with Indian cuisine. There are no tadkas, bhunao cooking or even a multitude of masalas and curry pastes. Most Pachkalshi curries begin with simply assembling ingredients in a pot and heating it only to get rid of the rawness. More often than not, the only two masalas used are turmeric and the Pachkalshi masala. Sourness is derived from tamarind and nothing else. Not one traditional dish has tomato in its making. Dairy is non-existent in the cuisine. Coconut milk, a staple. The frugality of the cuisine is a reflection of the landscape it flourished in.
Defining a single cuisine is not a simple task. A cuisine can speak tons about the people who made it, where they come from and how they lived. Subject to constant change, the food of a community still stands as one of the most prominent evidences of its past. It speaks not only of the people, but also their surroundings during a certain period of time and how they interacted with it. Literature, art and culture speak about people too, but food can be traced further back, as there was no time in history when people lived without food.
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