Monday 22 December 2014

Batata Bhaji….Not Again!!

It's wedding season. Time to air those bandh galas, kurtas, lehengas and other assorted wedding wear. This time there was a wedding in the family and the extended family as well. I had no choice but to be present at all the attendant ceremonies, and lunches that precede the actual wedding ceremony. Thanks to the Punjabization of Bollywood all weddings, even if not Punjabi, need to have a mehendi and sangeet as per rasam and rivaz which was the case even in this Maharashtrian wedding. Luckily for me I was able to escape all that citing previous work engagements and also my child could not miss her school. So what if she is still in Kindergarten. She can't miss her doodling lessons.

Anyway, I was set for a three day session of chaos, general mismanagement and disorganization. On day one lunch was a traditional affair. When I mean traditional it must have Puris, Batata Bhaji (Aloo Subzi or Aloo Shak), and shrikhand along with the usual varan bhat and other side items. These are items no longer restricted to special occasions.  Your friendly neighbourhood Udupi will dish them out all year round in dry or runny form. Come evening, it was the same food. Reason - Not all the had invitees turned up. So it was leftovers. I can bear this.

On the wedding day, it was a traditional sit down lunch. And guess what, it was batata bhaji once again with puris. Third meal in a row, the same yellow batata bhaji with curry leaves, pieces of ginger and chilies. So not much to be argued but to eat the "traditional" food and hope that the evening would be better. The evening was a buffet so there was a possibility that there could be something different. Nope not so. It was not batata bhaji but its cousins, Aloo Chat and Dum Aloo kashmiri. How much potato can one eat. Obviously nobody had foreseen this or it was just a case of not too much thought being given to the menu and left to the caterer and his best judgment. Nobody goes wrong with potatoes and doesn't cost much too.

The next wedding I had to attend also had potato but in the form of batata wada which again is the same old batata bhaji dipped in batter and deep fried.

When did Potato become traditional food. Puri and batata bhaji may be soul food for a whole lot of people but the soul also needs something beyond that. Some research had to be done on this batata.

Potatoes originated somewhere in South America in the Andes and taken worldwide by the Spanish. Potato is Patata in Spanish which explains why it is Batata or Bataka or Papeta in western India. I don't know why it is called Aloo in other parts of the country. Globally the average annual per capita consumption is about 33 kilos. In some East European and central Asian nations, annual consumption could be as high as 75 to 100 kilos per capita. Potatoes were introduced to India sometime in the 17th century possibly by the Dutch or Portuguese traders after which only they were cultivated as a crop. Now there is good reason why potatoes are a common food in our everyday life. India is the second largest producer of potatoes in the world after China. It produces almost half of what China produces and double of what the United States produces. Indians consume approximately 25 kilos per year on a per capita basis at last count. Doesn't that make you proud!

As a taxpayer you should know that there is a government institute in this country only to research potatoes and they even bring out a Potato Journal. Yessir it’s the Central Potato Research Institute located in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh which originally started in the year 1935 (see ). That makes you double proud!!

Which still does not answer my question as to how potatoes became part of a traditional meal. If potatoes came to India only in the 17th century, what have they substituted? Was it some smart cook who saw the efficiency in cooking potatoes and just invoked God's name to place it on your plate.

God alone knows and till such time as we don't change, enjoy your potatoes.


  1. Many many points, biases, prejudices and sweeping generalisations.

    1. Punjabi weddings as opposed to bastardised Maharashtrian/Gujarati versions invariably have plenty of great food, booze and attendant hoopla. Also it is non vegetarian. Reason, wedding, the `holy' occasion is normally post midnight i.e. on a new day. So the previous evenings indulgences dovetail into `holy' very smoothly. This is unthinkable for us God Fearing Maharashtrians.

    2. Simple rule. Carbohydrates and cheaper, far cheaper than Protein. Hence `batata'.

    3. India has a potato research institute, India has a very high production of potato, but alas, all the potato is of such poor quality that it is shocking. Try buying a floury potato. Try buying a waxy potato. Try making triple fried chips at home. Mostly impossible. Potato quality is so bad and inconsistent that food chains are forced to use `MaCain' potato products. In fact `MaCain' `smileys' et al are of really good quality.

    4. Why have potato become `traditional'? Only one answer - cheap.

    5. I totally agree. Getting half way to decent `traditional' Maharashtrian food served by clean waiters in clean plates in a hygienic manner at a wedding is a thing of the past.

    6. You want `traditional' food, go to a upmarket Parsi wedding at Colaba. That is truly traditional.