Why is the box warm & other modak tales from Kunal Vijayakar
The peda version of this Ganeshotsav treat has become so popular in Mumbai, that many people have forgotten that the real modak is a steamed, soft creation with a stuffing.Updated: Sep 06, 2019 20:29 IST
Ganapati Bappa Morya! We are midway through what is perhaps Maharashtra’s most-beloved festival, Ganesh Chaturthi. By now thousands of modaks have been consumed, and tens of thousands more are being produced every day. The modak is the quintessential Ganapati food, without which no Ganesh pooja, aarti or darshan is complete.
The classic modak looks like a plump lotus bud, pinched neatly at the top. Made right, a modak feels voluptuous, tastes luscious and is succulent, when eaten hot and fresh out of the steamer.
Just the other day, I was visiting some friends and was flagrantly petitioned to bring along some modaks with me. They all just assumed that, since I am a Maharashtrian, I would surely be celebrating this festival and so, was bound to have dozens of modaks at hand.
I agreed to pick up a couple dozen modaks for the evening. But doing that is not as simple as you might think. There is great demand for steamed modaks during Ganesh Chaturthi, and unless you’ve placed an order in advance, they are quite impossible to find at the eleventh hour.
In Dadar, at traditional Maharashtrian restaurants like Aaswad, Prakash Shakahari Upahaar Kendra and Kutumbh Sakhi, modaks are available on order, as they are in parts of South Mumbai, at most Chheda Stores and Kutchi and Bhatia farsan stores.
I went from shop to shop, from Rajat Stores in Mahim to Shri Swami Samarth at Ranade Road, and finally managed to pick up some steamed modaks at Avarya, at Breach Candy. Armed with this sweet loot in my hands I entered my friend’s house. Everyone grabbed at the parcel with gaiety, casually wondered why the box was warm, and excitedly tore opened the packaging.
I could see their expressions change as the modaks emerged into view. There was nothing but disappointment on their faces.
“What have you brought?” “Modaks,” I said. “These are momos not modaks. Modaks are soft, yellow, perfectly moulded mithai made of mawa. And why are they hot?” While I was aghast at their bewilderment and near philistinism, in a way, they were absolutely right. These were momos, of a kind.
I should have known better. Most people who buy modaks for Ganeshotsav buy the mithai shaped like a modak. That’s just barfi. The real modaks, the ones Ganesha is supposed to love and that Maharashtrian housewives slave over, are stuffed and steamed and are called ukadiche modak.
They are quite like momos, in the sense that they are dumplings made from rice flour, packed with a filling (of grated coconut and sugar or jaggery, in this case), and steamed. Modaks are not exclusive to Maharashtra. Most cultures in southern India make a similar dumpling. In Odia, they are called manda pitha; in Tamil, modagam; in Malayalam, kozhukatta; and in Telugu, kudumu.
These are all made with much the same recipe as ukadiche modak, and are eaten hot with ghee. And like momos, modaks too can be deep-fried, or pan-fried like pot-stickers.
With growing interest in the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi beyond the traditional Maharashtrian families, modaks inundate the market all through this 10-day revelry. As the demand for something unusual and interesting grows, all kind of modaks become freely available in all kinds of sizes, colours, shapes and ingredients.
Like the modak peda which is available everywhere, now throughout the year, you can also get a Dry Fruit Modak. For the health-conscious, this one is made without any coating, sugar or jaggery, just dates and dry fruit, sort of like a regular dry-fruit mithai. Then there is the indulgent Fried Modak. Instead of rice flour, the outer layer is made with maida. Stuffed, shaped and dunked in hot oil or ghee, they come out crisp and golden-brown.
You also see oversized modaks as large as footballs in the shops; these are made from boondi. You can really do anything with the idea of the modak, as long as you keep the pinched-lotus-bud shape.
Two modak variations have impressed even a hardliner like me this year. One is Sanmish Marathe’s Icestasy’s Modak Ice-Cream, presented with ‘petals’ of cookie dough — a most ingenious way to make something that tastes so good, look and taste even better. And, while we’ve had umpteen Chocolate Modaks, Kiran Salaskar, the genius behind Country of Origin, just sent me some Hazelnut Fudge Modaks. They are nutty, slightly chewy and gorgeously rich.
So that is my fill of modaks. All I can say now is, pudhchya varshi lavkar yaa!