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Gujarati ma bole...(In Gujarati we say)

One of the reasons I started Khao Suppers was to share the flavours of authentic Gujarati food that I have grown up to enjoy. The love for Indian food in the UK and London is very obvious, but like many other British Indians, we know it's more than a paneer tikka and saag aloo (and yes we love both of these!). Each time I share a menu and describe the dishes, it can get a little challenging to translate the name or description of a dish that justifies what it truly is! And so it's not possible to do so without talking about the language and the proper terms that define what they are. 

In today's Khao Stories, I'd like to take a moment to share the key Gujarati words with you. If you've been here a while, you should already be familiar with a handful: daar is daal, shaak is curry or sabzi, rotli is roti or chapati and bhaat is rice.


(Sounds like shark, but no r...)

Why don't I just call it curry? According to the Oxford Dictionary, a curry is "a dish of meat, vegetables, etc., cooked in an Indian-style sauce of hot-tasting spices and typically served with rice". Whilst this is true of many Gujarati curries, a lot of dishes are not made in the same way as a typical curry. For starters, it might not contain onions or garlic and there will not be a sauce or 'gravy' like you'd find in a tikka or masala curry. One of the things we love about a Gujarati shaak is that it can be made with very few ingredients, sometimes only 6-7 and doesn't need to be saucy. A shaak can be vegetables cooked in a few spices, sort of like a stir-fry and enjoyed as part of a main course with rotli, daar, rice, salads and sides. A shaak forms a central part of a meal and can be versatile in its flavours, with very few ingredients. 


(pronounced rot-lee)

You know them as roti and or chapati. Made from wholewheat flour, oil and water, these are small round flatbreads usually enjoyed with shaak and sometimes daal. They're smaller than a naan or tandoori roti and usually very soft. It was one of the first items I learnt to make and even now sometimes they're not perfectly round...(I wrote a blog post dedicated to them, we'll link it here). They are a staple part of a meal in most Gujarati households and are finished with a spoonful of ghee or butter.

A little anecdote: sometime in 2022, I was away from home on holiday for close to 5 days. Whilst I ate well on this holiday, there was something comforting about coming home at 10 pm and tucking into a shaak made with bitter gourd and rotli. The familiar heat of the spices and the softness of each morsel, it was all I wanted in that moment. 


Chutneys are usually referred to as a pickle of some sort, but when we say chutney, we mean a condiment-style sauce. One popular chutney is green chutney or lili chutney, lili is the Gujarati word for green. Made of coriander, chillies, ginger and more, this is a spicy condiment often served on chaat dishes or provided to add heat to a dish. It can also include mint and can be made with a range of ingredients to alter the taste, but is always spicy due to the use of green chillies! Green chutney goes well with bhajia (you know them as 'bhaji's or pakora), and other fried fritters, samosa, even in a sandwich. If you'd like to try making your own, click here to read how. 


This is one that came to my attention recently at a Khao Nights supper club where we shared Pav Bhaji (pictured above), a popular Mumbai street food one of the guests asked about the Bhaji portion of the dish. The definition of a bhaji in the Oxford dictionary is "a small flat cake or ball of vegetables, fried in batter". When you go to an Indian restaurant, you're probably very likely to see onion bhaji on the menu. However, in Gujarati, a bhaji is used to describe a curry-like dish. It is usually made of vegetables and a thick tomato-onion gravy. In a dish like pav bhaji, the bhaji is the main curry created with mashed potatoes, cauliflower, peas, and carrots and enjoyed with bread rolls or pav. The curry is moreish and delicious, created used many different spices and ingredients, cooked in loads of butter to create a flavourful dish, that is sometimes even better the next day!

Bhaji also constitutes a word we use at home to also talk about a shaak made with spinach, fenugreek or dill leaves that is made with simply garlic, chilli powder, and turmeric, as seen in the image above. We'd call it 'palak bhaji' (spinach) or "methi bhaji" (fenugreek) and is eaten with rotli. This can be dry, or you can add water to make it runny. The most similar counterpart to a Gujarati green-leaf bhaji is a saag, where no tomato gravy or sauce is required. Similarly to a saag aloo, you can add potatoes to the bhaji, but also a number of other vegetables like aubergine, bitter gourd, peas, green beans and more. The versatility of this dish is it can be adjusted per season and the availability of the core green leaf ingredient.

We're going to keep adding new words and definitions to the list....


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