Thursday, May 6, 2010

Masala seasoning

Every summer its the masala smell that rules all our houses. Thats one typical feature of an Indian household of the old times. The ladies of the big fat joint family would get together to grind some lip smacking masalas, which would rule all our stomachs for the rest of the year, till the next season of masala making comes into motion.
But all the Ramdev and MDH masala companies have pretty much stolen this job from our mothers and grand mothers today. It seems quite a village like talk or a talk of the past when a lady mentions that she is going to make masalas, it sounds rather strange. In this times of the dying tradition, some households in Ranwar still indulge in the masala making process.

Thanks to Fr. Larry, Parish Priest at the Mount Carmels Church, who invited me  to his 170 year old house in Ranwar (popularly known as Trellis) to have a look at the masalas being made in process. As soon as i walked in the house, the backyard was smelling fresh of the spices being ground and roasted to be mixed in an age old secret recipe. Yes thats the catch, the recipe is secret and is very special of the East Indian Catholic Community, that resides in these houses here. But yes the smell was too tempting and the colors were just outstanding. Some images:

the spices left out to dry

the spicy Kashmiri chillies

the spices being mixed after roasting

being grounded in an age old scooped out jambun tree bark

the ladies who grind the spices to make them into amazing masalas 
come from Thane, they are specialized in this job, anyone who wants to contact them
need to be around. thats the amazing bit, all the women from various household 
come around and call them to their place to grind the spices to make masalas.
This initiates a lot of conversations (a very good example of interpersonal relationships that
are shared in these villages)

the spices being ground into very fine powder, the masala

the not so fine powder yet is being strained in big strainers, to separate the already 
fine powder.

these are then mixed well and very very tightly packed in dark 
bottles (mostly wine/beer bottles)  so that sunlight does not change the color. they are then left to mature fora while and then used for cooking some of the finest East Indian Cuisine.

These Masalas are then used to make some of the most amazing East Indian Dishes like curries, Sorpotel, etc. What was very interesting to see how women from various households came around giving their bottles as they could not make these masalas in their houses anymore. Lack of space is the main reason. most of these houses have some open areas mostly in the back (Backyards), which are not seen anymore due encroachment of sorts. It is very interesting to know how these spaces are so important for community living, and how they initiate various nodes of conversations.

When the Masala was almost ready (not matured yet though), i was allowed to taste it with some raw mango that i got to borrow from some kids moving around distributing them after plucking them of their own mango trees, to the poor kids. I was luck to have one from them , coz they refused to give me one coz a) i was not a kid, and b)i was not looking poor by any chance. Well these kids were just 10-12 years old and were imbibed with great sense of responsibility and generosity.

I will definitely be waiting to taste some curry made out of this masala as promised by Aunty Blance, who with a lot of patience explained me the entire process.
Keep licking your fingers now!

a small video of the process:


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Vivek
    I'm a student pursuing a B.Arch and I've taken up the East indians as my subject for my dissertation I'm really thankful to you for the amount of insight on the subject and i'd also like to congratulate you for the level of detail. We're organising an exhibition about the EI culture and Heritage on Saturday the 16th of April I'd be more than happy to share the proceedings with you
    I'm looking Forward to some good interactions and sharing of knowledge

    Terencia Kinny

  3. Hey Terencia,

    Thank you so much for your interest in the subject.
    Please tell me how can I help you with this. would be greatly interested to know more about the exhibition.
    you can contact me on or 9909715557