My city Thane.. SHALOM !

Chapter 1

Often we fail to look around the city where we live. We can’t see the hidden treasures of history. For me, it’s really important to feel the real life of a city through its old market places, walking the narrow gullies, the hustle bustle of old markets and the streets where local sellers bring in their produce and sit all day long to earn a livelihood.

Thane is where i have grownup and completely love this place, never mind that my friends keep saying it is a small town. Actually they aren’t really aware of the history of this amazing place.

As you walk towards the old traders’ market place, you can find this very old but well kept synagogue dating back to the late 1800s. ‘The Shaar Hashamaim’ – Gate Of Heaven Synagogue – foundation stone laid on 26th March 1868 and building completed on 29th December 1879 and dedicated and consecrated on 30th December 1879 during the Chanukka festival. ‘Shaar Hashamaim’ – Gate Of Heaven Synagogue was again beautified after 120 years and stands strong with a sprinkling of local jewish families . The jewish community in india are called “The Bene Israelis” (Sons of Israel) , who form a major chunk of the Jewish population in India. The stories around the community is interesting; of few families survived a ship wreck and landed in Navgaon in the Kolaba District of Maharashtra. The wreck resulted in many deaths, all of whom were buried at a burial site that exists even today in Navgaon near Alibag. The seven families that survived later were knowns as Shaniwar Telis since they were the oil pressers who refused to work on saturday also known as sabbath. The peace loving community adopted many of the local customs and traditions while changing their surnames and easily mingled with the locals. For example, Ashtamkars were from Ashtami, Rohekars from Roha, Penkars from Pen and so on, all adapting the names of the tiny villages that line the Raigad district.


‘The Shaar Hashamaim’ – Gate Of Heaven Synagogue

While more thane 40% of the jewish community that resides in Thane, it becomes the important centre of jewish community in india. Shaar Hashamaim has a Youth Club so also an Eve’s Association, Indian Zionist Association and also a Jewish Welfare Association affiliated to the Synagogue.

My new jewish friend Yuval Ezra Moses Elias Mapgaokar, was happy to introduce me to the jewish community in thane . He did give me a great insight of closely gaurded traditons of jews in india. His grandparents played an important role passing on true jewish culture , traditions, rituals including the hebrew prayers which made him learn the hebrew lanaguage aswell. According to him, the Jewish community in India has never faced any kind of persecution throughout the hundreds of years of their presence. Jews of India consist of three major groups, the Cochin Jews or Cochinis, the Baghdadi Jews and the Bene Israelis and two recently discovered groups the Bene Menashe & Bene Ephraim. Jew Town or Jew Street is a popular area of Cochin and is called by this name due to the massive presence of Jews in this part of the city.

To begin my journey of understanding the jewsih culture and traditions , Yuval taught me how to make Challah , a important traditonal braided bread . Insterestingly , this traditonal bread is made during sabbath and it is hand broken as a ritual . The amazing fact that the observance of Sabbath and important days/festivals like Yom Kippur(Day Of Atonement), Rosh Hashanah(Jewish New Year), Simhat Torah(Receiving the Ten Commandments), Hanukkah(Festival Of Lights), Sukkoth, amongst others, have been instrumental in helping Jews retain their individuality and distinctiveness.

During Rosh Hashanah ( Jewish New Year) , Challah loaves are made in various shapes like circular shape represents continuity, the wheel of the seasons, or a spiral of progress. Typically laden with raisins to symbolize a year of plenty.

Challah

Beej ka halwa

While many go crazy about mangoes in summer season , i really look forward for fully ripened sweet jackfruits. My fridge is already storing more than 2 kg of sunny sweet delights . Obviously, a good lot of seeds get accumulated and there are endless recipes like my maa’s jacknut chutney. Understanding the non-gluten properties of the jack pebbles , i could think of a nutritious jacknut halwa and was amazed with the final dish. Honestly i realized that the DNA of my experimental maa has surely passed on to me .

Recipe

Ingredients

15-20 boiled jacknuts

4-5 tablespoon milk

2 tablespoon regular sugar(honey/brownsugar/date syrup)

2-3 tablespoon ghee

2 tablepoon khoya

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1 teaspoon rose essence

Dried fruits of choice

Recipe

Remove the thick non-edible skin of the boiled jacknuts and grind in a blender . It should be of grainy texture not very fine.

Grainy jacknuts

In a non-stick pan , heat 2 tablespoon ghee and add poppy seeds. Lightly fry them and add the grainy jacknuts . Keep the fire low and throughly bhuno the jacknuts without being hasty. Patience is key while cooking such delicate recipes. One needs to maintain the flavours without over cooking it.

Once the mix is light brownish , add the khoya and further bhuno till little ghee starts separating.

Now add 2 tablespoons milk and stir it continuously. Add another 2 tablespoons milk and sugar , stir well until everything comes togather well. Add another 1 tablespoon ghee for final touchup.

Add nuts of choice. I added almonds flakes , pistachios and dried berries. Add rose essence which, again is my choice , one can use cardamon powder. It all depends on preferences.

Kathal beej chutney

Continuing the jackfruit saga.. the fruit is quite versatile if one knows how to handle, both raw and ripe versions. While raw version can actually work as a mock meat for the vegetarians and is widely used across Asia . The recipes are countless. The abundance of jackfruit around , did give maa ideas which rarely crossed minds of others. So what do we do with these jackfruit seeds? Chalo sabzi banali , achaar banaliya! Papa wouldn’t stop bringing jackfruit until the season was over & done, so maa had to put on her thinking hat and innovate on the fly. She roasted the jackfruit seeds and was born a new chutney (dip). What’s amazing about this chutney is that you can actually substitute the other ingredients retaining jacknut seeds as the star! So let me mix ‘n’ match it with the ingredients available in my kitchen.

Recipe

Ingredients

15-20 Kathal ( jackfruit seeds)

2-3 tablespoon peanuts roasted ( excess can kill the flavor of seeds)

4-5 Dried red chillies

2 tablespoon mustard seeds

4-5 cloves of garlic

salt to taste

1 teaspoon mustard oil (optional)

water to adjust the consistency

Method

Roast the jackfruit seeds on tava or on charcaol. One can even boil them for 5 minutes , so there is no hard and fast rule how to cook through the seeds. Cooking helps to remove the hard skin easily.

Jacknuts

Dry roast mustard, garlic and whole red chillies. Allow all ingredients to cool down.

Blend everything togather adding salt and little water to make fine chutney. you might find few coarse seeds of mustard and chillies , thats absolutely fine . Lastly add the mustard oil to extra kick .

Since i had roasted peanuts already i used them directly. One can dry roast raw peanuts or kopra (dried coconut) or sesame seeds for different variations. Make sure that the flavors of the main ingredients is maintained.

Kathal fhank ki kulfi

I have beautiful memories of my maternal home in Gorakhpur, UP. I particularly remember a huge jackfruit tree in the backyard which used to bend over the aangan (compound) . As a kid and being the youngest , i always used to be scared that the huge jackfruit might fall on me. Infact, my cousins would scare me often. Mamaji would climb over with a huge knife to get the best ones down. It wasnt easy since the whole tree would be home to dangerous red ants. My nani being the expert, would select one and keep it aside to ripen naturally. We cousins would wait patiently for the day when nani would oul her hands and skillfully cut it open using a sharp knife, to get the meaty chunks out. The whole house used to be filled with a sweet aroma while i would wait for my turn to get a handful. Nani would hide few extra pieces for me though. I remember maa churning an awesome kulfi with over ripe jackfruit back home which used to be the most awaited delight in the summer holidays. The fact that she never used any form of sweetner resulted in it being more creamier. Here is my version of ‘Jackfruit kulfi’ where i have used a little honey.

Recipe

250 gms seedless jackfruit

750 ml full cream milk

2 tablespoon honey

2- 3 tablespoon khoya

1 teaspoon crushed black pepper ( just to give the hint)

Pinch of tumeric

Moulds

Ripe Jackfruits

Method

In a thick bottom vessel , start boiling the milk and reduce it on low flame . Stir on regular intervals.

Reduced milk

Add crumbled khoya in the reduced milk. Make sure that milk and khoya mix well. Add pinch of turmeric now for extra sunshine.

Meanwhile in a separate pan boil the deseeded jackfruits just to make them slightly tender. Strain them and blend them in a mixer grinder to make sure smooth paste. Don’t worry if few tiny bits are there. It will help to give a good texture to the kulfi.

Pureed jackfruit

Let the everything come to a room temperature. Mix together reduced milk , the jackfruit puree and honey. Add crushed pepper.

Add honey

Pour the mix in mould and shift it to freezer . It will take 5-6 hours for the kulfi to set.

Creamy kulfi

My reason to add turmeric is purely getting extra golden color. One can add saffron . i dont prefer mixing up too many flavors to maintain the taste of the main ingredient. The crushed pepper , trust me , just adds extra kick to your palate , however you can avoid.

Labhere ki sabzi

It’s not often that one can find these gummy fruit . Happened to find it in local market on the way meeting few friends. I remember papa buying the complete lot from vegetable vendor since these were , and still are, rare to find. At home everyone loved them since Maa would make them spicy and with a good dust  of aamchur powder and ofcourse goes without saying that a big bharni (ceramic jar) of pickle would be made to meet the cravings for rest of the year.

Papa would make sure to get every possible vegetables and fruits which were more easily available in UP & MP. He wanted us to know the tastes and textures while making us understand how seasonal fruits and vegetables play an important role in our health since mother nature provides them to combat seasonal ailments.

Labhere ki sabzi

Recipe

Ingredients

500 gms lasore / labhere

2-3 tablespoon oil

2 heaped tablespoon coriander powder

1 heaped tablespoon chilli powder

Half teaspoon turmeric powder

Half teaspoon Hing

1 teaspoon of aamchur ( add more according to taste)

Salt to taste

Salt to get rid of gum

Method

With a heavy rollin pin( belan) or hammer simply crack up the fruits and get rid of the pits. Dust little salt that helps to get rid of excess gum sticking to your hands. ( You can anyways scrub it out , but it’s really very sticky).

labhera

Heat the oil in kadhai , add hing and turmeric followed by labhere and salt. Close with a lid and allow it to cook. You can add potatoes along. Add remaining masala including aamchur and bhuno in low flame. Such a simple dish yet full flavors where you can taste each ingredient and also feel the gummy texture of fruit and its taste. I can finish it with simple dal rice .

in process

Lasore/labhera is known for it’s medicinal value as it has anti- inflammatory properties , helps provide relief from cold and cough , no wonder they more available during winter season. The gum actually helps to get rid of skin infections and allergies. However I as a child was more happy to eat the tangy sabzi which I attempted after many years keeping maa’s simple recipe in mind.


The story of gujiya

Childhood memories often get rekindled during festivals, this being the best time when we hear folktales relating to each festival, the intricate rituals around it, the elaborate food and feasts prepared to celebrate it. While my friend recently asked me the significance of gujiya during Holi, for that instant I had no answer. Going back down the memory lane, to the time when Maa and i would make tons of sweet and savory goodies during Holi. Inquisitive about everything the same question popped up in my mind while learning the skills of making khoya filled goodies. I think it was important for Maa to give me the right message while explaining to me the importance of gujiya which stays with me forever.  Maa who would say that gujiya signifies a fulfilling life. A nice and fluffy, gujiya with a right note of sugar or ‘bhura’ is important as it also signifies a united family . Those were just simple words but with very profound meaning. 

Khoya gujiya

The gujiya is filled with khoya and dried fruits especially ‘Chirongee’ ;  should be of melt in the mouth consistency! It must have a well defined note of each ingredient like each family member of the house . The proverb around gujiya says “Jo gujiya foote baar, baar kadhaiya mein , Matlab jaano hue kalhay ghar angan mein.”  Means while frying the gujiya if it cracks and hot oil seeps thru, the household  might see some discontent amongst the family. The hot oil denotes anger and jealous outsiders who enjoy the fight/s in a broken family. Each gujiya must be perfectly sealed which signifies a strong united family. One must know the recipe well which signifies the recipe of having a united happy family.

It’s made in large quantities so that we can distribute amongst family and friends. It’s a way to thank mother nature since Holi arrives post harvest, when the houses are filled up with food grains and all the goodies of winter season. My Maa and i would make not less than 200-250 gujiyas and different namkeens…3-4 days of heavy cooking in the house. We were not allowed to taste any…until we finish the Holika dahan puja !!

It amazing to know how beautifully food plays an important role in our festivals and also teaches us the values of living a good life by thanking mother nature and people around us. Festivals along with folklore are the true essence of celebrating life along with food.

My city, Thane !

The khatairn shop…..

Little did I knew I was growing amongst the refugees family as neighbors who fled Sindh (Pakistan) searching new life in free India. Heard stories of pain losing everything to partition and determination to rebuild their lives. All my friends were (still are) sindhis including neighbors. Growing up with sindhis all around , really brought in awesome Sindhi food. One such important part of Sindhi food is khatairn or pickles. Walking the busy streets of thane east station road , which was known as thane camp, you will find some amazing old shops run by sindhis for 2-3 generations.

One such khatairn shop that belongs to HARIRAM JOWAHARMAL PICKLE & MASALA MART. Hariram Jowaharmal family were in cotton business in Pakistan. Uprooted during partition the family arrived at Akbar camp in Thane kolshet. Looking to start life all over again , Late Hariram had his share of initial struggle and later could buy small shop and a house for Rs.1500 in 1955 and started making khatairn.

Dada , as sindhis fondly refer elders, is always happy to see me whenever I popup for to buy my stock of pickles and papads. “ Dada , nayo Cha tass ?” Sab nayo aayein , tu khaayein kari ta dhiss .“ is the usual conversation we have. He will simply want me to taste the pickles, which the family has been making for generations that has never changed its quality till date. The best part is they have two types of masalas, fine milled and the koota hua ( crushed in mortal pestle ) . The stuffed red chilli pickle that i make has the aamchur from this shop , since im sure of the quality. The kokum flowers are generally hard to find , is easily available at dada’s khatairn shop.

Im not yet done singing about my city , there is more search and more to write. Infact im rediscovering thane and myself as i again walk the gullies and streets looking for the peeping history !

My city, Thane !

Walk aound the sindhi camp…

Thinking about my roots , which are spread from Rajasthan travelling towards Madhyapradesh and hooking upto Uttarpradesh , My parents lived in Pune , old vashi ( then inhabited by kolis and agris) and finally settled small city called Thane in maharashtra and i was brought amongst kolis , agris , marathis and sindhis. Having lost in the huge cement jungle the city has its unsung history.

While Portuguese ruled thane for some 200 years naming it as “ kalabe De Tana” remains can be still found towards vasai and virar. Marcoplo has visited “Shree Sthanak” in 1290 AD counted it in one of the beautiful cities of the world. Thane was ruled by king Shilahars’ during 13th to 19th Century great devotee of lord Shiva built the famous Kopineshwar Temple which is now hidden in the bustling gullies of oldest wholesale market where trucks of fresh produce and food grains unload each day. You can still  find history peeping through old buildings singing forgotten stories when marathas and britishers ruled. A small walk towards the lake will take to Saint John Baptist Church built in 1633AD and the Peshwas built Thane Killa now used as Thane Central Jail. Peshwas also constructed residential area in the  Kopineshwar Temple premises. From Jews ,Portuguese , marathas , Muslim rulers to british company all have left their mark in this little known city of lakes which also won the BEST CITY AWARD .

What many people know about Thane is the first railways in India started from here till Boribunder on 16th April 1853. The railway bunglows built for British officers still occupy the  space between Thane West and Thane east. 

Post partition many sindhi families fled Sindh and settled in Thane East side and opened up their small eateries , candy shops, bakery. Ganesh Bakery in east thane still plays the important role in supplying pavs to shops and households. I remember standing curiously as a little gal watching each tray of pavs moving in and out of the wood fire oven. Ladies waiting in ques with their nankathai mix ready to be baked in during festivals. There’s also a post partition gurudwara for sindhi sardars. Few yards from gurudwara is the first Sindhi school called Swami Vivekanand School still holds regular classes.

Further , Shiv temple that guards Thane east stands high with bustling market around it. Close to temple is a small sweet shop , named Krishna Sweet Shop, i can still vouch for the jammus ( long gulab jamuns).

Bangali Pattice

Bengali pattice right in the center of main market is such third generation eatery , which serves just ragda pattice from 5-8 pm only. Infact the the present generation Topan (bengali dak naam) was my senior during school time.

Dilip Tokri Chaat

A little walk ahead is Dilip Chaat ,  a LLB postgraduate finds happiness in serving his famous dahi tokri and dahi wadas.

Kailash Falooda

Take a right turn head towards kailash sweets , third generation again selling best falooda. I have been having falooda here since my childhood when it was just small hardly maintained open shop. Their consistency to serve the customers best desserts has marked them as leaders . One needs to stand in que on busy days , opened till 1 am.

There’s still lot more to write …So who says thane is a small town ?? 

Lal mirch ka achaar

Maa always believed sincerity towards any work will help you achieve and that fits perfectly when I try replicate her recipe for stuffed red chilli pickle . Childhood summers were really busy as we weren’t allowed to play in the sun to avoid usual summer health issues. Either we would rise up early mornings and evenings to finish our quota of outdoor games. Afternoons were strictly to be indoors and help maa in making pickles and papads and other summer delights that would be bottled for the whole year. A huge lot for gifting family and friends.  Understanding the combination of spices are key to make any good pickle. Honestly there are no measurements for the spices since it’s all about remembering each spice and how it’s defines the final taste. The tastes which I grew up enjoying each note of pickle symphony has played great role to remember recipes till date. Trying to write it for my blog is like sharing my childhood memories with my readers.

Stuffed chilli pickle

Recipe

Ingredients

500 gms Fresh red whole chillies

500-600 ml Mustard oil

Half cup black mustard

Half cup yellow mustard

2 tablespoon fenugreek seeds

Half cup saunf/ fennel seeds

4 tablespoon nigela seeds

1 tablespoon carom seeds

1 tablespoon tumeric powder

2 tablespoon red chilli powder

1 teaspoon Hing/ asafetida

2 tablespoon aamchur powder

2-3 tablespoon salt

Method

Wash and dry the chillies under the fan. Make sure you finish the whole process same day.

Fresh red chillies

Slice off the stalk and carefully remove the seeds and nerves inside the chillies making them hollow to fill in the masala. Don’t throw away the seeds. Separate them from veins and allow them to dry up under the fan.

Hollowed red chilli

Carefully pour in little mustard oil in each chilli enough to coat the inside. Allow it to rest until u prepare the masala. I personally prefer doing this as it helps all the flavors to seep in while safegaurding it from going bad.

In a clean and dry grinder blend all the spices in sandy texture (not coarse/fine) keeping aside tablespoon of carom and fennel seeds.

Mix mustard oil making a lightly wet sandy spice mix . My suggestion would be to taste the masala to adjust whatever one prefers to add more. Add the whole carom and fennel seeds to the masala mix. Basically this helps to add character to the pickle. Mix in the chilli seeds. Let it rest for a while.

Masala

Carefully stuff the masala inside each hollow chilli. You can use a chopstick to make sure that masala reaches to the tips. Pour in little more oil all over stuffed chillies and bottle it. Cover with a fine cotton cloth and let it soak the sun for couple of days before it’s ready to eat.

I personally prefer aamchur powder enough to add the sour hint since the mustard combination will gradually lead to a more pungent tang as the pickle ages. Mixing in raw mustard oil according to me add a deeper flavor.

Komal saol rice salad

After attending Foodadvisor Delhi meet in December , I returned home with few goodies that were exchanged as gifts by team. Komalsaol was one such wonder rice that puspanjalee got for all the team members. Having heard little about it, im surely doing more research while indulging the pack of goodness which im excited about . The rice doesn’t need cooking hence salad was best option I could think of more coz I already had few ingredients at home ready to chop. One can really make all the more creative salad with it. I wish I added boiled eggs too.

komalsaol rice salad

Ingredients

1 cup komal saol rice

2 cups warm water

7-8 mushrooms diced

2-4 babycorns roughly chopped

2-3 garlic cloves finely chopped

Half capsicum diced

1 small onion diced

2 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil

1 green chilli slit & deseeded

Half teaspoon chilli flakes

komalsaol rice

Method

Wash and soap the rice in warm water. Keep it covered for 15-20 mins. Drain well making sure that rice is not mushy. Add EV oil and little salt. Keep it aside

In a pan heat EV oil , stir in mushrooms , capsicum , babycorns, onions , slit chilli and finally garlic and salt in quick succession making sure the mushrooms are cooked yet crunchy while rest just coated with the oil and absorb the flavours. Allow it to cool down slightly and mix it with the rice.

komalsaol rice salad

I believe that komal saol rice so unique that it’s important to maintain the texture and nutty flavors of rice without mixing it with too many ingredients. This was my first try while I’m already thinking of mixing with fruits , milk as suggested by few expert friends and also other combinations of vegetables & various meats .