My entire childhood was spent in a predominantly Gujarati locality in Bombay. Around that time I also fell irreversibly in love with Gujarati food. Dal dhokli, patra, dhokla, thepla, you name it I love it. Their Undhio is a culinary master piece if made the authentic way. The balance of spices used, along with the simplicity of their cooking style, makes this one of the best cuisines in India.
Navratri was fun time in our neighborhood. All the little girls wore long skirts and sequined blouses and ran from one terrace to the other dancing and singing (there were men and boys too of course and all kinds of romantic encounters ensued). Garba and Dandiya Raas are the traditional Gujarati dances and by the time I was five I had begun to dance merrily with the older girls and women. It was a treat to watch the women come out to dance in all their finery. There were no DJ’s or professional event managers; a mike was set up and everyone who could sing would belt out a number or two to which at least 50 people at a time would form a circle and dance the garba or dandiya raas. The dancing would go on upto midnight when the Aarti would be sung and prashad (food offered to the Gods) distributed.
At the same time the South Indians in the locality would celebrate Navratri by seting up a tiered display of wooden and ceramic dolls and artifacts mostly depicting various scenes from the ‘Ramayana’. We children would visit each home to view the Kolu, (the display) sing a devotional song and collect our prashad of the day along with some betal leaves and nuts and some whole turmeric and flowers. All of us wore flowers in our hair and these nine days were meant to facilitate social interaction. There would be a different prashad everyday and each Mami (a south Indian housewife was usually called mami or mamiyar) would have a different prashad to offer. Since I had already begun to exhibit all the tracings of a future singer I was a favorite among the Mamis who used to cajole me with extra sweets to sing more than one song at the Kolu.
The Doodhi Ka Halwa is a Gujarati favorite, though not confined to Gujarat only.
You will need:
1 kg, Doodhi or Lauki, grated
2 Litres Thick full cream milk
1/2 cup Ghee or clarified butter
1 tsp green cardamom powder
1 cup Sugar (more if you like it sweeter)
1/4 cup Pistachios (you could use mixed nuts if you don’t have pistachios – almonds, cashewnuts, hazelnuts…)
1/4 cup Sultanas (kishmish)
Pour the milk into a heavy bottomed pan or wok and mix the grated bottle gourd into it. Let it come to a boil and simmer until all the milk has evaporated. Stir often to keep the milk from sticking to the bottom and sides. (using a non-stick vessel will make your work easier). Now add the ghee and fry for five minutes Sprinkle the cardamom powder and stir well. Over turn the halva onto a greased thali or plate and scatter the pistas and sultanas over the top pressing down to fix them on to the halva. Cool completely and cut into squares or diamond shapes.