Maharashtra is a state of dichotomies, as was clearly demonstrated to us by our experience of two notable meals we had just two few days apart.
Maharashtra’s capital and largest city is Mumbai, also the financial and entertainment capital of India and home of over 20 million people. However, outside of Mumbai, Maharashtra is a largely rural state dominated by small villages such as Mograj, home to 133 families and located 3 hours drive east from Mumbai.
Our visit of Mograj was highlighted by our purely vegetarian lunch within a communal dining area. This meal encapsulated the village’s humbleness and sense of community perfectly. Sitting barefoot on the floor of the dining area, we were provided with a simple but delicious platter consisting of mango pickle, cabbage, rice, dal, papadum, and roti. Serving us were what appeared to be the chef and his/her (please clarify – I wasn’t there!) hospitable family and friends. One notable waiter was a six year old boy gleefully handing us plastic cups immediately after playing in the dirt with his friends.
The day after our visit to Mograj, a few of us decided to have lunch at Samrat Restaurant, located in South Mumbai. This is the wealthiest urban precinct in India. While this restaurant also serves vegetarian food exclusively, that is where the similarities with our lunch the day before end. It didn’t take long for us to notice the intricately carved wooden décor along with the giant chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The waiters wore elegant uniforms along with a name badge and an exceptional level of professionalism. However, the most impressive aspect of Samrat was the overwhelming number of dishes served to us when ordering their signature thali. Dozens of ingredients comprised the extensive number of different breads, curries and drinks served to us. We were also provided utensils at Samrat which was not an option at Mograj, where the traditional practice of eating with bare hands is the norm. Additionally, the restaurant was facilitated by three spotlessly clean bathrooms cubicles, contrasting to the one visible public toilet within Mograj.
The two meals were both delicious, but were mainly memorable because their contrasts allowed me to further engage with and understand key concepts introduced within the field school’s lectures and seminars.
The level of development within wealthy urban areas like South Mumbai and rural areas were reflected within all aspects of the meal. For example, in Mograj, geographic and economic barriers lead to meals being sourced primarily from local farms. In contrast, Samrat has the resources available to acquire produce originating from all across Maharashtra, leading to the greater abundance of ingredients within the meal.
Additionally, the patrons of Samrat were noticeably quite different from the residents of Mograj. Some wore expensive designer clothes and flashy accessories, contrasting heavily with the more modest attire of the Mograj locals.
During my time at Maharashtra, I definitely think this was the most fascinating example of the diversity in livelihoods, culture, cuisine and people that this fascinating state offers. However, the fact that these experiences will never be forgotten by me is one key commonality shared between these two lunches.