Non-migration of Maharashtrian Food

I had wanted to give this response to Gaurav’s post, but Neel has already done it. Gaurav thinks that the lack of Marathi migration explains why the Maharashtrian thali has not become as popular as the Gujarati thali. But, as Neel points out, his theory does not explain why Maharashtrian food has not become popular even in Mumbai outside the Marathi dominated areas. More interestingly, Maharashtrian food has not moved out of its downmarket niche, even though there is a strong Maharashtrian middle and upper class. This last fact brings us back to the Marathi non-entrepreneurial spirit theory. It suggests to us that owners of Maharashtrian restaurants are content with what they are and do not want to scale up. This is the most likely explanation, but two alternatives are:

  •  Maharashtrian diners are different from Gujju diners, in that when they dine out, they aren’t looking for Maharashtrian food.
  • There is something about Maharashtrian food that does not lend itself to moving upscale – I think this last is very unlikely.

14 thoughts on “Non-migration of Maharashtrian Food

  1. Supply in this particular case, one would think, will follow demand. Since it isn’t very difficult to create it. So, the inherent nature of the cuisine is what one suspects, is the reason.
    .

    And, to someone who has never eaten that food, it’s easy to take a dispassionate (and possibly wrong) guess. Maharashtra is not big in terms of food crops or spices — don’t they grow sunflower and cotton through much of the state? Given the lack of diversity in food crops, one naturally assumes, their cuisine is limited.
    .
    Throughout the world, popular cuisines don’t have migration of people or demand as their primary drivers but the inherent goodness of the food. And that goodness, one would assume, is a function of local climatic conditions etc.

  2. That line of thinking leads to some questions:
    1) What food did the peshwas and their nobility have? What happened to that food?
    2) Maharashtrians staying put in Maharashtra is a recent phenomenon. Before that, when they were into empire building, they were traipsing all over what is now MP, Gujarat and even Tamil Nadu. Did they leave their food behind at that time?

  3. I know one fact for sure — the present day Tamil Sambhar is a direct result of the Martha Kings in Tanjore. It is is commonly accepted in Tamil Nadu that the idea of mixing tamarind paste with toor dal and boiling it was combining the two styles of cooking.

    Beyond that, the Marathas have had very little influence on Tamil cuisine. I think.

  4. Ravi,

    I think I will go with Sabnis. I think it is immigration which drives the cuisine. As for the observation that Maharashtrian food is not popular even in Mumbai I think that is because being the staple diet people prefer different cuisine while eating out. Even in Lucknow one is more likely to find South Indian, Chinese or Punjabi cuisine while outside.

  5. Yeah, but as the Shiv Sena never tires of pointing out, Maharashtrians are an oppressed minority (or majority, I forget which) in Mumbai. Mumbai provided a perfect path to fine dinehood for Maharashtrian cuisine:
    1) Start off by satisfying the palate of hungry bachelor migrants yearning for home food
    2) When 1) starts drying up, expand to satisfy other palates looking to try out Maharashtrian cuisine
    3) Profit!

    Instead, it seems that they are stuck at 1), or that step no. 2 involves serving paneer butter masala. Why that happened is a puzzle that needs solving.

    Lucknow is a weird place. Don’t start me off on Lucknow. My undying hatred of Indian Chinese started in Lucknow. When the south rebels and our tanks roll into Lucknow, we will first destroy all the Chinese places.

  6. I doubt if I have tasted Maharashtrian food ever. Barapav, pav bhajji, misle pav etc I have had,but they are snacks and I am not sure if they are truly maharashtrian also.

  7. They are Bombayite adaptations of fond memories of Maharashtrian food. The word “pav” comes from the Portuguese name for “bread”. Missal is Maharashtrian. Not sure of vada or the bhaji in pav bhaji.

  8. There is enough variety in marathi cuisine, and I dont think the “why have outside what you have at home” argument applies. There is a lot of stuff which is too elaborate to make at home.

    There are up-market marathi food places in Pune which are super successful. Atithi, shabri, sharvaree, and of course shreyas (their tagline – “chaandichya taaTaat, peshwai thaaTaat” – In a silver plate, in Peshwai style”). Shreyas has of course grown from a small restaurant to a 4-storied hotel. There are also places like Tiranga which specialize in non-vegetarian marathi fare. And there is also a famous restaurant in old Pune (I forget the name), which hilariously used to advertize their menu on “veg only days” like ashadhi ekadashi, ganesh chaturthi, sankashti chaturdashi etc.

    So whichever spots have tried selling marathi food at upmarket prices at least in Pune have been super-successful. But their number is still less than the paneer butter masala type places. It could be because of lack of demand, but I don’t buy that because every time a new place like that opens, it succeeds (e.g. the Tiranga branch and Konkan Express in Kothrud). Even in Bombay, there are some places of the same sort which are successful.

    I think the answer to why marathi cuisine isnt that popular within the state, in the sense that there aren’t as many up-market restaurants, does lie with the non-entrepreneurial nature.

    Maharashtrians have never had a real trader class. The middle class or upper middle class was almost always “buddhijeevi”. So there has never been much of an entrepreneurial culture, something you can see even in other businesses marathis operated, not just restaurants.

    The lack of this entrepreneurial instinct means that moderately successful restaurant owners are either disinterested or unable to scale up. They are not good at dealing with the intense competition from others. A post I wrote about Anantashram a few years back also argued something similar.

  9. The peshwas were austere brahmins, so their food was strictly vegetarian. And devoid of onion, gralic etc. Very Jain-like and/or gujju-like. That food still exists (recall the tagline of shreyas). But it is not as popular. The answer, again, I think lies in the lack of entrepreneurial instinct.

    Nilu, I have always wondered about why the marathi, or more specifically Puneri “aamti”, and the sambhar are only two daals that have tamarind and jaggery in them. Your revelation is interesting.

  10. Bhaaji is a marathi word too. It is the word for vegetable as well as a vegetable preparation…. analogous to subji in hindi or shaakh in gujarati.

    I wonder if the “vada” was a marathi creation that was adapted by the south or vice versa. Vadapav is a recent fastfood creation. I can think of two “ancient” dishes that have vada in their name. There is the vada-bhat from Vidarbha. It has vadas made from different lentils, which are then crushed and mixed with the rice.
    Then there is “kombdi-vade” from the Malvani cuisine. That has a chicken curry, with the “vade” being a special sort of puri, with no real stuffing inside. So “vada” meant different things in Vidarbha and on the coast.

  11. The way I see it there is big opportunity for Maharashtrian food – either in the restaurant form or in the ready to eat form. Who will take up this opportunity.

    Doesnt look like any Maharashtrian will 🙂

  12. pl come and visit our restaurant GYPSY CORNER , in shivaji park, dadar W, AND TRY OUR MAHARASHTRIAN FOOD VARITIES.there is def more to this cuisine than a vada pav or misal pav !!

    any one keen on taking this yummy cuisine further , call me 9820297705

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