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Mumbai's very own modak operandi

Mumbai's very own modak operandi

Author: Rucha Biju Chitrodia
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 9, 2007

Every festival has its warm and expansive associations. The city's muchloved Ganeshotsav, which is less than a week away, has always carried with it the fragrance of agarbatti, the aromas of prasad and the sounds of the uniquely phrased aarti. In many Maharashtrian, Konkani and Tamilian homes across the city, the God is offered his favourite food-smooth rice modaks, which when bitten into release a gush of sweet, crunchy and syrupy coconut filling.

While there are several modak styles (including the regular peda- or barfi-shaped one), this version remains more or less constant across regions. Colaba's Sudha Saokar, though, offers, "It's difficult to generalise. In each house and area, the modak is made differently.''

This is how Parel's Medha Badal, a Konkani, does it. She stirs equal amounts of rice flour in just boiled water, flavoured with a bit of ghee and salt. The mix is rolled out or hand-carved like a puri. She adds a spoonful of coconut, jaggery or sugar, cardamom and nutmeg powder mix. The puri's edges are stretched upwards and sealed at the top, giving it the aesthetically conical shape, which resembles a garlic pod.

The modaks are now treated to a few minutes of steaming "either on a muslin cloth, a plantain leaf or for ethnic taste, haldi leaves, which give them a unique flavour,'' says Santa Cruz's Smita Vijayakar, who has translated a traditional Marathi cookbook into English.

Modaks are most agreeable when fresh and moist from the steaming. Even better if teamed generously with ghee. Such modaks can be ordered at places like Charni Road's Kutumb Sakhi, and Girgaum's Panshikar's and B Tambe.

Chembur's Lakshmi Ramaswamy, though, prefers to make her own kozhukattai (Tamilian for modak). So does Smita, although she uses kopra, enhanced with saffron, almond and pistas.

Experiments are only increasing with neighbours sending over interesting varieties. Says Lakshmi, "With time, more and more types will come in,'' quickly listing yet another modak of roasted, white sesame seeds, castor sugar and cardamom. And then one more with fragrant, roasted moong or chana dal and jaggery. She then points to an exotic stuffing of roasted, powdered cashew nuts and poppy seeds, sweetened with heavenly honey and tiny, juicy raisins.

Then there is the regular tur or chana dal puran poli filling or the karanjee one with khoya and dry fruits (including dry dates), which also make for succulent modaks. A tip from Smita: try replacing sugar with pounded misri (sugar candy). She mixes misri with kopra, white sesame, poppy seeds and raisins. But instead of steaming, she deep fries the modaks in ghee.

Despite the fitness rush, some do like their modaks fried. As Chembur's Shruti J admits,

"Steam karne se mazaa nahi aata hai. Sab health-conscious ho jaayega (there is no fun in steaming. Everything becomes health-conscious then).''

Colaba's Sudha fries her maida (not rice flour) modaks with coconut, rawa, roasted sesame and sugar syrup. She makes an offering of 108 modaks (in many homes, 21 is the auspicious number). Not all modaks, though, are sweet. Chembur's Vaniswari K, an Andhraite, prepares a modak-like offering called undrallu. These are steamed balls of coarse rice flour and chana dal, seasoned with jeera and salt. Some people also stuff undrallu with jaggery and coconut.

Tamilians prepare a kozhukattai with soaked and coarsely ground urad dal and salt. This mix is steamed and tempered with green chilli paste, mustard, hing (asafoetida) and curry leaves. But it is shaped differently, like a semi-circular karanjee. Chembur's Shruti J laughs and says, "My granny used to make two types of modak. As all modaks look the same, she shaped them differently for identification. She gave the main coconut-jaggery modak the traditional pointy tip, and the sesame one a couple of points.''

- rucha.chitrodia@timesgroup.com

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