Two movements led to a very high degree of vegetarianism in Gujarat. One was the strong Jain influence in the area even prior to the 6th century B.C. when the teachings of Mahavira had a powerful impact on the people. Numerous Jain scholars subsequently exerted a strong influence, like Hemachandra (11th century AD). Even King Kumarapala, a meat eater in his youth, was influenced later by Jainism. In the 12th century AD he issued edicts against the slaughter of animals, called amarighoshanas. Vaishnavaism, which also enjoins abstinence from meat, received a strong impetus from the preachings of Vallabhacharya, who formed the Pushti-Marga sect in the 15th century AD.
Today two-thirds of Gujarat is vegetarian, the highest proportion in any Indian state. The Jain population doesnt even include spices like onion and garlic. Yet their food is extremely delicious. This proves the culinary skills of the people of Gujarat.
Geographically, Gujarat can be divided into four regions namely North Gujarat, Kathiawad, Kutch, and South Gujarat. There are slight variations in the eating habits and modes of preparation, because of the climactic and cultural differences. Certain ingredients like yogurt, buttermilk, coconut, groundnut, sesame seeds, limejuice, sugar etc. are very common in Gujarati food.
Gujarati cuisine is unlike any other Indian cuisine. It is traditionally served on silver platters to the accompaniment of rice and a variety of wheat breads. There are few people who do not relish Gujarati savories such as crisp spicy fried farshans, which can be bought in wayside stalls. The famous Gujarati Thali served at weddings consists of farshans, sweetmeats and a variety of sweet and sour chutneys and pickles. This harmony derived from the mixing of the sweet with the salty is what makes the cooking of this state different from the rest of the Indian Continent.
Gujarat has a wide variety of savory food, pickles and sweets. Roti itself is prepared in a number of variations from the petal soft phulkas to the bone-dry khakra, which is a spiced, crunchy preparation usually taken on journeys.
The people of Gujarat have a sweet tooth, which is reflected in their cooking. Every dish is sweetened, be it a vegetable preparation or the simple dal even pickles and chutneys are flavored with jaggery and sugar. Seasoning of food is given great importance with mustard, fenugreek, thyme and asafoetida used both for flavour and as digestive aids.
The current staple foods of Gujarat include rice, mung khichdi and several vegetable pulaos, thick baked rotlas of jowar, bajra and maize, thin khakras and thin fried and sometimes stuffed rotlis.
Cooked vegetables having a generic name shak and the range of raw materials are exceptionally wide. Handva denotes vegetables or even dhal mixes baked in a handa. The well-known undhiu is a five-vegetable stew often served with steamed besan (gram flour) balls placed on top. There are a large variety of relishes of various kinds in Gujarat.
Papads include the kheechara, which contains wheat, rice, and bajra flours, and is neither fried nor baked, but steamed.
Raithas are made from curd and a combination of vegetables, nuts, dried fruits and chutneys.
Pickles include the distinctive athanu, goondas and chanduo with its sweet-sour flavor, tempered with cardamom and cloves.
The unique feature of Gujarati food is that a touch of sugar goes into most Gujarati spicing.
Desserts and Beverages
The distinctive sweets of Gujarat include the doodhpak, kheer, the sweet stuffed ghari-puri made from maida. Thandai (a cooling nut based milk drink), gunder-pak (made of aromatic resin gound), sheera (made of rava, corn or dhal) and the mohanthal, a halva of besan.
Nasto and Farsan
Nasto and Farsan are fried items. These are distinctive and are not eaten together.
Nasto are items of many types that can be kept for long in air-tight tins and can be easily transported. These are mainly made of besan eg. The fafda, sev and ganthia. The chevda consists of beaten rice that has been fried to crispness and mixed with salt, spices, groundnuts, almonds and raisins. A mix of all the above, and in fact of anything crunchy, constitutes bhoosoo.
Farsan items are eaten with major meals or as a snack. The fluffy dhokla (made of gram flour and curd) is a popular Gujarati snack. The tender rolled up pancake, Khandvi, sprinkled with mustard and coriander is also made of gram flour (besan). Kachoris are vegetable stuffed, deep fried puffs, circular or crescent shaped. The bhajia and arvi-na-patra are also popular Gujarati snack items.