When it comes to cookbooks, there is always a category that caters to every personality in the planet. There are restaurant cookbooks for the loyal patrons, there are celebrity cookbooks for the ones whose eyes light up when they see their favourite celebrity chef, there are scientific cookbooks for the nerdy cook (ahem!) and there are regional cookbooks for the ones who get a little squeaky in their voice when they argue which regional cuisine reigns the supreme. But there is that one cookbook in every section that will be the go-to book, the encyclopedia, the bible for that genre of cookbooks. As a collector of regional cookbooks, and as a die-hard fan of Maharashtrian cuisine, I absolutely had to get my hands on the fabled masterpiece Ruchira by Smt. Kamalabai Ogale.
The original Ruchira is in Marathi and the part one of two was published in 1970. In the 20 years that followed, it has sold over 1,50,000 copies, which is phenomenal for any cookbook, that too in a regional language. I have known gushing neighbours who received a copy of this book, as a wedding gift and even after 30-40 years, still go back to the same book to check on a recipe. Their daughters and daughter-in-laws have received another copy of the same book at their weddings, which goes on to say a lot about how valued this cookbook is, among its followers.
Ruchira imparts immense wisdom from Mrs Ogale and contains a variety of traditional Maharashtrian Brahmin-style recipes which are mostly pure vegetarian except for the occasional appearance of egg in some recipes. The part 2 came out in 1985, fifteen years after the first, in a better format and featured more desserts, tips and a few popular continental recipes with a Maharashtrian twist. Though it didn’t reach the heights of popularity as the first part, by then a brand had been established.
The third homage to Mrs Ogale came in 2013, when due to public demand and the rise of popularity in regional cuisines led into the translation and publishing of the English version of the book in the same name, by Ms Usha Jategaonkar.
The English Version of Ruchira, a passable version of the original, left a lot to be desired. But for food enthusiasts, who cannot understand Marathi, this compact, simple volume has been equally sacred, passable or not. “Ruchira: Selected Maharashtrian vegetarian recipes” gives the first impression of a shy volume which may be overlooked easily. But once you get past the foreword, the contents cover everything from spice mixes (in Phodnis and Masalas) to a variety of authentic vegetarian amtis, bhajis and sides. I have always believed the soul of any regional cuisine lies in the spice mixes and pickles that are made there and in order to learn something about that cuisine, the masalas and pickles are where one should start from. In that vein, Ruchira has carefully incorporated most of the essentials that are hallmarks of Maharashtrian cooking.
The recipes ranging from Kala Masala to Amti to Vangi bhat to Dalimbya to Bhakri, everything I tried out from the book, turned out as expected and delicious. The recipes are simple to understand, translated fairly well from the original and difficult to mess up. In fact, I’d recommend it as a good beginner book to Maharashtrian vegetarian cuisine with 4 stars. The overall layout of the book is in an easy-flow format and the Warli designs on the pages, adds to the charm.
The biggest con that I found in this book is the result of the unfair comparison to the original, honestly. With an immensely popular original, it pales in comparison with many vital recipes left out; the wisdom and tips from Mrs Ogale for each dish and techniques are absent. There are very few images and are provided toward the center of the book, though not for all recipes. Though someone who expects a polite introduction into Maharashtrian Brahmin style of cooking might find the perfect book in Ruchira, for the true blue original Ruchira fans, whom are well versed with the said cuisine, the wait is yet not over.
An SOS to the Gods of the Culinary Universe
I guess it is safe to say on behalf of all those loyalists, that we will wait patiently for a complete, translated volume, with nothing lost in translation or for the lack of pages, and a suitable gift to pass on to our newer generations who may or may not understand Marathi so that they can enjoy the beautiful simplicity of this cuisine, that stands out proud and timeless.