Maharashtrian Sunday @ Deedee's (Mountain View)
Last week I watched FoodTV with a mix of revulsion and fascination as the horror show of Sandra Lee making “Indian” food unfolded. Two of the dishes she demonstrated were crunchy bread rectangles she called “naan” crafted from frozen pizza dough and “chicken masala” based on canned cream of chicken soup. I couldn’t help thinking that she embodied the Bizarro world polar opposite or maybe more like an arch enemy of the homestyle, ayurvedic cooking practiced at Deedee’s in Mountain View. Deedee’s is a small Indian grocer with a chaat corner and daily buffet lunch. The owners are Gujarati from Bombay.
After inquiring here about Maharashtrian-style cooking, http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/318344 , it took a couple false starts before the stars aligned at last to partake of this once-a-month opportunity. Calling ahead, I found out that the buffet is lunch hours only and not for dinner as stated on the website, and I’d missed it. Then I checked another time before driving down there to learn that the cook who makes Marathi food had the day off.
Finally, in December on the appointed second Sunday of the month, my brother and I managed to haul ourselves over to Deedee's for the Maharashtrian buffet. The lunch buffet included a couple chaat items too. We paid $7.99 each at the register and ordered khus lassi, $2.99, too. The cashier waved us over to the buffet line and said our fresh roti would come out momentarily.
Image (full-size) of tray filled in first pass at the buffet table -
My first taste of Maharashtrian cooking was the sambhar-like soupy fraction of aamti (in the cup), a type of dal made with yellow lentils. The lilting tart-sweet-salty balance and brightness of flavor with moderate heat gave me a very favorable initial impression of what this Marathi thing might be about. This was so different from too often muddy tasting dals on anonymous steam tables. Fresh curry leaves, bits of browned onion, tamarind tartness, and bright green chopped cilantro made the lightly spiced broth quite a refreshing start to the meal. I enjoyed drinking it alone as well as pouring the liquid over the plain white basmati rice.
I loved the tomato saar (in the bowl) even more. While never a Campbell’s fan, I found this cream of tomato soup on steroids offered all those creamy and soothing qualities and intensely tomato-y goodness revved up with curry leaves, roasted masala spicing, buttery richness, and black peppery heat. Deliciously rounded flavors and textures that were such a pleasure to roll around the tongue, the tomato saar served up plenty of adult panache as well as the comfort of childhood.
A fresh-tasting green bean and muli (black radish) dry curry or bhaji (upper center section of the tray) gave me an even better sense of the delicate use of seasoning that “howler” has described. More so than in Punjabi dishes, the inherent taste and texture of the two vegetables was front and center, supported and highlighted but never obscured by the spice blend. With a bit of grated coconut like a Tamil poriyal but not as chili hot, the bhaji seemed sweeter still, popping out the juicy radish’s natural sweetness and peppery notes. Fully cooked until softened, the vegetables developed full flavor without crossing over the line to mushy.
Continuing clockwise, to the right was the chole samosa, meaty-textured chickpeas in a tamarind-spiked gravy combined with hunks of cut-up samosas. Just below, some dahi vada or fried gram flour orbs bathed in seasoned yogurt. This was accompanied by dabs of lime pickle and mango pickle, cucumber/red onion/tomato salad, and plain basmati rice.
To the left of that, a self-assembled pani puri with some tamarind chatni and mint chatni. It’s perched on a salad of sprouted mung (moong or green lentils) and kala chana. Kala chana are smaller-sized, black-skinned chickpeas that are not seen often in local restaurants. This was my first taste of them and they were firmer with an earthier, almost smoky taste compared to kabuli chana (garbanzos).
Masala bhaat (lower left section) or Marathi spiced rice wafted up a heady fragrance of ginger, mustard seeds, cinnamon, and cumin. Flecked with soft bits of fresh veggies, the rice grains were softer and plumper than pulao with an attractive bitter note from the turmeric. I really enjoyed the robust and warm spicing in this dish.
The grayish mass (upper left section) was undhiyu, a Gujarati specialty, blending a variety of wintry vegetables with plantains and methi moothia (spiced gram flour fried dumplings). Apparently one of Deedee’s signature dishes, this first sample didn’t do much for me. A fresher batch appeared in the next pass at the buffet with cubes of orange yams, soft purple eggplant, turmeric-stained potato, various legumes, and fruity bits of plaintain or banana. This time, the moothia had just been incorporated and still had their integrity. The textures and flavors were more distinct in the fresh batch and so
much more appealing. The combination of fruity sweetness from the banana and coconut with the savory elements was quite delicious.
The buffet table had a small sign for puran poli but none displayed, and I was worried that we might have come too late and missed these sweet flatbreads. The smiling lady who had made our roti said she would prepare it for us when we were ready.
Image of puran poli -
The Maharashtrian sweet, puran poli, fresh off the griddle and shiny with a brush of melted ghee, was hot and griddled to order as promised. Chewy, pan-fried whole wheat dough with a nutty taste, these had a crumbly, sugary filling (jaggery?). They were interesting to try but too heavy for me. The powdery filling was dry and parched even when still hot. Remembering later that “howler” recommended eating them with warm milk, maybe that would have made a difference in my impression. William and I thought these might fall into the category of comfort foods that are craveable because they’re part of your memories of home and growing up. Looking at that photo now, I see that my second tray of food with the puran poli had seconds of the masala bhaat and the bhaji from the buffet line.
Image of shrikhand -
However, from a purely hedonistic standpoint, the luscious shrikhand was my favorite item of this buffet topping the several other tasty dishes that I liked very much. So thick and rich, more like butter than curds, the dense whipped texture almost reminded me of buttercream frosting. Lovely tart-sweet balance and flavored with saffron, rosewater, mango, and some pistachios, I wished that I were less full to enjoy the tangy shrikhand more. Luckily, I mentioned this to the owner on my way out and he suggested that I help myself to a cupful to take home. Deedee’s is often said to have the best version around here, and I can’t imagine what could be better.
All in all, another successful trip to the buffet at Deedee’s. The Maharashtrian selection offered up a range of flavors that were new to me and not common in this area. While the execution may be colored by the guju background of the cooks, I hope that our resident Marathis can comment based on my descriptions and photos if these were true to their origin.
Previous post on Deedee’s –
2551 W. Middlefield Road
Mountain View, CA 94043
gosh, what a wonderful post. you certainly got the hang of the thing right away -
"the inherent taste and texture of the two vegetables was front and center, supported and highlighted but never obscured by the spice blend"
Exactlymently. With fresh hot chappattis and delights like the aamti and saar, you eat vegetarian cuisine of an unsurpassable standard.
i too find puran poli rich - you have to smear it with lots of ghee and eat it with milk - and yes, that is indeed jaggery. fyi, its always eaten on festival days etc.
oh the joys of this cuisine - so many wonderful dishes, so versatile, comfortable satisfying and so healthy. along these lines, note that there are about 50 million maharastrians around, so this cuisine is has its own variations etc as does say french cooking.
Does Maharashtrian also have a touch of sweetness typically? I had wondered if that might be the Gujarati cooks' touch shining through. It was easy food for me to love, as I have such a fondness for Gujarati and Andhra vegetarian cooking. Yes, we've had a burst of Andhran restaurants opening locally . . . I've tried 4 so far.
When I was googling around trying to find more information on these dishes, I ran across a few blogs lamenting the state of Maharashtrian home cooking these days. I hope that you're keeping the home fires stoked.
P.S. Are Maharashtrian and Marathi interchangeable words or is Marathi noun form only?
P.P.S. So far no luck getting my hands on any of the newly permitted Alphonso mangoes from India.
re: Melanie Wong
yes, indeed there is a touch of sweetness sometimes - but only in a few dishes. in any case, it should be never be overt like the gujjus, who want to ladle sugar into everything. maharashtra and gujarat are neighbouring states and we share quite a few dishes. in every single instance i can think of, the gujarathi version is sweeter and (perhaps) fussier than the maharastrian one.
lucky for you that andhran restaurants are opening up - thats one cuisine i didn't get my arms around in bombay. i ate plenty of hyderabadi food growing up, but little andhran. they like their chillies dont they?
as for the noun etc, marathi is actually the language of the maharastrians, like punjabi is to punjab. confusingly, we are sometimes called 'marathas', which is incorrect - marathas are the warrior class of the maharastrians.
alphonso mangoes ..... arrrgh it is may ..... you shouldn't done that to me. the best mangoes come from devgarh in maharastra, btw - a really knowledgeable vendor should know where theirs are from.
also, see if the gujju restaurants have 'aam ras puri' (mango juice) on their menus - you actually eat the aam ras with fresh puri and its divine. its also very symbolic to me of how gujarathis will approach their meals.
Thank you, I discovered that friends of mine are Marathas, warrior class from Maharashtra, and they eat meat. They've invited me to a homecooked meal but we haven't been able to coordinate our calendars yet.
The andhran food is mindblowingly spicy. It is a revelation that one can start the meal with whole jalapeno chilis dipped in gram batter then fried, and have that be the least spicy dish of the meal. The Keralan examples here haven't been that good so far. There is one place that claims Hyderabadi, but I haven't tried it yet. Desi Chinese is popping up with more frequency as an add-on to menus.
No alphonsos in London?
Lucky you! We were discussing Maharastrian cuisine as one that you can't get in NYC. Worth having a look because some of the posters discuss its subtleties and give links to websites with lots of recipes, etc. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/39169...
The once a month idea is a great way of presenting regional specialties that would be in little demand if offered on the regular daily menu.
re: Brian S
Some of our white tablecloth, fancier Indian restaurants feature the cooking of a different region on a weekly basis or so. And I think I have seen one that lists Rajasthani as one of its specialties, but I don't know enough about that style to know what typical dishes might be. I think I'll try the Kathiavadi next . . . took a while to find any culinary references and had the most hits when I tried Kathiawar peninsula, to discover that its a unique subset of Gujarati cooking.
We do have a unique subculture out here to support this. I had a South Indian lunch today in Silicon Valley. 99% of the clientele were South Indian male tech workers, and I was one of four women of any color in the whole place.
Wonderful post and pictures Melanie.
The menu on the website looked interesting and it is nice that they have a different type of buffet on Sunday.
1st Sunday of the Month: Gujarati Cuisine
2nd Sunday of the Month: Maharashtrian Cuisine
3rd Sunday of the Month: Rajasthani Cuisine
4th Sunday of the Month: Kathiavadi Cuisine
Since the owners are Gujarati, that Gujarati might be another good one to try out. Gosh, when I lived in Mountain View, there was nothing this interesting there ... lots of orchards though.
How was business? Is the place popular, I hope?
The regular lunch buffet at Deedee's is Gujarati, so you can stop by any day and have their own regional cooking. I don't know whether the Sunday fare is fancier in any way as I've only been there twice before. My first exposure to Indian cooking was the homemade food of a Parsi classmate's mom, so Gujarati flavors are a touchstone for me. I don't know why I haven't returned here more often as I like it very much and it's excellent value for the money. Well, ok, those lassi drinks are pretty small for the price, but I guess that's where they make their profit.
Deedee's has been around for a while and has become somewhat of an institution. What is a bit troubling is that it is the sole tenant of a rather run down strip mall that looks ripe for redevelopment on a prime piece of property. I had asked the owner about rumors that it became part of the Woodlands chain at one time. He said that Woodlands had approached them about becoming an affiliate and doing some joint brand marketing but then nothing came of it.