Back home in Aurangabad, whenever home Chef Sunita Rajendra Sanglikar makes a curry, she ensures there’s a thin film of red-tinted oil covering the surface. “It has to be oily and spicy for the flavours to come through fully,” she explains. In Delhi, cooking the Marathwada Mejwani menu at Zambar in Gurgaon, she regretfully suspended this practice, which owes its existence to the typically hot and dry conditions of the Marathwada region. “Here, people get a little scared when they see the oil floating on the surface, so I had to tone down the use of oil and chillies,” says Sanglikar, who runs her own catering business in Aurangabad.
Not that the dishes have suffered in the least. As you make your way from the Bharli Wangi (peanut stuffed aubergines) to the Patal Bhaji (spinach and chana dal curry) to the Sabudana Wada and Shrikhand Poori, it’s like being seated on a paat (wooden stool) in Sanglikar’s Aurangabad home and having a meal. The menu is meant to serve as an introduction to a regional cuisine that is little known or understood in the Capital, and despite the fairly small selection on offer, Zambar’s Marathwada Mejwani (the Marathi word for “feast”) does an excellent job. While one could opt for the individual items such as the Kombdi Wade (chicken curry served with wade, a kind of flatbread) or Thalipeeth Makhan (spicy, mixed grain flatbread served with white butter, panchamrut chutney and the salad-like koshimbir), we’re advised to order a thali that has a little bit of almost everything else on the menu.
We recommend avoiding the more obvious choice of Missal Pav or Vada Pav and go for this. While the Patal Bhaji, Bharli Wangi and mixed vegetable curry are delicious, the highlight of the thali is the creamy, Moreish Pithla (besan curry). Had with hot jowar bhakris (slathered with fresh white butter, if you can manage that), this is the perfect comfort meal. Those up to a little heat on their plates can ask for some Thecha (green chilli and peanut chutney) on the side. But caution is advised; although Sanglikar hasn’t used the more aggressive varieties of chilli that most Maharashtrians use, it could still be a few more units up the Scoville Scale than many diners are used to.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest hits on the menu, we are told, are the two sweet items — the Puran Poli and the Ukadiche Modak. The former, a soft and flaky flatbread stuffed with a sweet dal paste, is best had with a dab of the sweet-sour panchamrut chutney and dipped in a bowl of the mild amti (a sweet and sour dal) to bring out its richness. The modak (“ukadiche” is Marathi for steamed) is meant to be consumed in a single bite (if it can be managed), and with a dab of fresh white butter to accentuate the sweetness of the coconut and jaggery stuffing.