Finding Authentic Maharashtrian Food At Aram Restaurant

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FINDING AUTHENTIC MAHARASHTRIAN FOOD AT ARAM RESTAURANT

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SNEHA NAIR

The niche restaurant in the heart of Fort has been serving authentic Maharashtrian food since 1939.

The name is Aram. That translates, roughly, to comfort or ease. You can see that in the way the waiters interact with you. Their demeanour fluctuates between indifferent employee and concerned relative. When I waste one of the rajgira puris (fluffy, albeit oily clouds made from Amaranth flour) with shrikhand, the waiter is very hesitant to pick up the plate. “This one?” his finger fluctuating between plate and puri. I nod, trying to ignore the underlying question. When I ask for a kokum sherbet, he notes it with a grunt, not making eye contact. I sense he’s happy I’m having more but seems wary of my flippancy with food. When I speak to Madhavrao Tambe, the second-generation owner of Aram, he confirms that it wasn’t just the waiter. The restaurant itself tries to ensure what’s put on the plate is only food that gets eaten.

At 88, Mr. Madhavrao Tambe has been with the restaurant since its inception in 1939. Literally. He was nine at that time, and apparently the only son who accompanied his father to the opening ceremony. Since then, three generations of Tambe family men have ensured that Aram serves nothing but fresh, modest portions of vegetarian Maharashtrian food – whatever doesn’t sell doesn’t stay on the menu for too long. What that has led to is a very extensive fasting or upvas menu.

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“We Maharashtrians are constantly praying to our gods to bless us with healthy spouses, babies, better jobs, more money,” says Mr. Tambe. “To be heard, we decide that we will fast one day of the week until the wish-granting god gives us what we want. The dilemma, though, is that the one meal most have on the fasting day is totally tasteless.” A popular religious practice in Maharashtra and Gujarat, the upvas meal is a form of penance and is devoid of most grains and has a restriction on the spices and vegetables that can be consumed, so fasting food requires some serious innovation with limited ingredients. In a city where a typical restaurant menu would have Maharashtrian food buried deep within hybrid Chinese and sandwiches that have lost track of their origin over centuries, finding a busy restaurant that specialises solely in vegetarian Maharashtrian food is a matter of wonder. But Aram’s patronage mostly comes from a mix of habit and a need for a nourishing meal to get through a long, tiring day.

While the Tambe men may run the show, the flavours in the kitchen are decided by the women of the family, giving the food a homely feel. Unlike most restaurant food, the fare here won’t assail your taste buds with flavour or blind you with colour – Aram is all about giving you a feeling of home. Like with all homely cooking though, some of the food is exceptional, but some is like experiments that no one should talk about. The rajgira puris for instance are not Aram’s strong point.

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The thalipeet however, is a true win. Generally a soft pancake, in the upvas avatar is crunchy and can be eaten with a dollop of white butter. The missal, which is generally a spicy concoction, is milder than usual but loaded with pulses and complimented by yogurt (a rare yet winsome combination). On a fast or otherwise, a food lover visiting Aram should also try the kharvas, a panacotta like sweet that wobbles ever so slightly before melting in your mouth. Then there is the vada pao, where the nifty little Maharashtrian snack is served at its spiciest, pillowed in piece of soft bread and smeared with an unguent of cooling coconut chutney. No two vada paos in Mumbai are the same, but the crowds here indicate that the Aram dish holds its own.

Aram, like its name, has found a comfortable space in Fort, where small businesses have a way of quietly thriving for centuries. While most innovate, Aram decidedly stays old school. The world further north may rush towards global tastes and increasingly get more expensive, but Aram holds on to its one page of delightful Maharashtrian treats, making space for neither gobi manchurian nor fine dining.

Aram Restaurant, Capitol Cinema Building, Opposite CST, Dr. D.N.Road, Fort, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 2207 3947/022 2264 1157

 
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