Maharashtrian food traditions have not changed much, a dinner set composed of terracotta platter, three bowls and a water pot found in excavations at Inamgaon(800-1000BC)suggests that the basic composition of what constitutes a thali in Maharashtra has remained since protohistoric times.
Food remains categorically divided on caste lines in Maharashtra. Caste categorises whether one is vegetarian or not which means Maharashtrian Brahmins have developed a meatless food paradise, from simple dal preparations called aamti, to beans and cereals made into runny or dry usals, to sweet and savoury rice like masalebhat or sakharbhat. Rituals and customs in Brahmin households meant traditional offerings were made to deities worshipped in household shrines.
Festivals too came with dishes associated with them. For headstrong gods like Khandoba, roast aubergines with raw onions, turmeric and chillies constitutes an offering, while the goddess Gauri who strides alongside Ganesha during the popular post monsoon festival is appeased with savoury pancakes(ghawan) with a chickpea based mildly sweet paste called ghatale. Rice, grated coconut and jaggery are cooked and made into fried karanjis or delicately fashioned steamed modaks. A variation sees the dumpling wrapped in turmeric leaves and steamed to yield the delicious panagi. Amongst sweet savoury preparations the puran poli made from wheat flour dough and chick pea dal cooked into a mush with jaggery and cardamom, is best eaten with milk or ghee. Shrikhand or strained and beaten cottage cheese flavoured with saffron and cardamom, is also typical Maharashtrian dish, often consumed with puri.
Wheat the most upcountry Maharashtrians was traditionally a festival grain. The staple carbohydrate was sorghum or millets or even rusky grain like the red nachni. They would all be made into bhakari, the unleavened bread, and eaten with vegetable preparation like zunka. Zunka bhakar remains the staple food of agrarian Maharashtra. It is simple yet delicious preparation made with chickpea flour and cooked till dry with onions and chillies. A watery or gooey version of the sunka leads up to pithle, another Maharashtrian favorite. Accompaniments are pungent garlic chutney, chunk of jaggery and often tick creamy curds set in small earthernware pots. A stodgy meal like this demands a siesta, which contributes to the sleepy vistas the Deccan plateau often offers on a hot afternoon.
The best place to have country fare like this is atop the hill fort of Sinhagad near Pune, where hospitable inhabitants from nearby villages solicit visitors for made to order lunches at a ludicrously low price. The smoky aroma of bhakaris roasted on firewood in open hearths, adds to their appeal. Like wheat, rice too is cooked only on special occasions in upcountry Maharashtra. Noteworthy amongst rice dishes is the wada-bhat from Nagpur, which is made by squashing small deep fried dumplings into the rice, and eaten with generous helpings of spiced hot oil added and tossed with it.
Snacks have been an important part of the food routine in Maharashtrian households. A good number of snackie dishes are available in eateries that dot the strongholds, of the Marathi community in metropolitan Mumbai - Dadar and Girgaum. batata puri and piyush include quick fried balls of pureed sago and potato served with sweet and sour chutney and a watered down version of shrikhand. Excellent exmples of both can be had at Shivaji park's Aaswad restaurant or the older Prakash. Kothimbir wadi the humble zunka made with coriander allowed to set, cut up and deep fried tastes best at Adarsh on ranade Road near Dadar station. Thalipeeth a pancake made with a myriad of mixed flours typically by dry roasting the grains before they are ground, is superb with a ball of melt in mouth butter. Simple dishes such as batata pohe and upma is also eaten.
The mill lands of Parel and Girgaum saw the rise of hot and spicy misal, which mixed usal of beans, potato bhaji, pharsan. The pau perfected by Goan and Muslim bakers made a perfect accompaniment for misal and batata wada. Sandwiched in a bun and doused with sweet and hot chutneys the wadas are a favorite. Wada pav as called is the fast food of the workers in Mumbai. Non veg food is associated with castes like Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus and Marathas, the red hot mutton or chicken kolhapuri is made with liberal use of spices. Kolhapur also has the white curry or paandharaa rassa which is fiery due to the generous use of pepper and mustard. In coastal Konkan the coconut dominates in curries which are eaten with pancakes of fermented rice flour known as ambolis.
Where to eat in Mumbai
Most Maharashtrian restaurants in the city are located in Shivaji park and they all serve very similar fare - misal, batata wada, sabudana wada, kichidi etc.
Aaswad Lady Jamshetji Road/Gadkari chowk for thalipeeth, aloowadi, piyush.
Prakash Shakahari Upahar Kendra in Gokhle road north for sabudana wada, misal, batata puri, dalimbi usal, bhajani wada.
Adarsh in ranade road near Dadar station for kothimbir wadi
Panshikar opposite Dadar station (w) for upwas cusine only on certain days.
Srikrishna Chhabildas land, Dadar (W) serves good batata wada.
Where to eat in Pune
Shabari, on Dhole Patil Road and the Deccan Gymkhana serves excellent zunka bhakar.