The King of Vegetables

Brinjal, baingan.. or begun is called the king of the vegetables.

When I was revealed this information, I was gob smacked. How can a vegetable called Begun – Be which for me means “NO” and Gun which means “QUALITIES”. So a vegetable with no qualities is called the king of vegetables? Just because it has a beautiful green crown! Well what can I say?

I never like brinjal as a child and I often wondered why my parents got so excited and fussed over the thought of having bharli vangi (stuffed brinjal) with bhakri (bread). And after having it, they would feel nostalgic and remember my maushi (moms sister) who would make it the best and call her up talk about the meal. I could never understand all the fuss over this vegetable until ……..

One day, we were traveling from Mumbai to Tuljapur. Our visit to our deity with little Yug was pending so the whole family decided to take the trip and we left by road in the evening heading to Pune where we were planning to break our journey and the next morning leave for Solapur. The journey was very long, but amazingly picturesque with the sugarcane fields, and one could see bullock carts filled with sugarcane lined up, with their produce traveling to the nearby sugar factories to sell it.  

On our way we passed through many villages, and one could only imagine how simple a life they would be leading. The women folk bundling up their little ones in their arms and balancing the basket of food on their head, heading to the farm to work, children, some shabbily dressed walking to school, made me crave for this simplicity they dwelled in. 

But one thing that caught my attention every time was some of the men wearing a simple cotton dhoti and bandi which looked quiet worn out and beige in colour which must have been super white at some point when it was bought. They had bright colored turbans on their head. The magenta pink ones caught my attention the most. A strong wooden stick in one of their hands which had a bunch of bells attached to it, maybe used to drive the cattle and sheep back home after grazing them and a bidi (Tobacco leaf cigarette) in the other. And the extra bidi simply tucked away behind the ear. What I observed was mostly the older men would do the job of grazing the animals, probably because they didn’t have anything else to do as farming is difficult at that age. Though we were traveling in air – conditioned cars I’m sure it must have been scorching hot outside. It was truly an amazing drive and I didn’t even realize it was lunch time. 

We stopped by a small khanaval (eatery), which said in Marathi home style, meals available here. The place looked rustic but clean. On seeing us the owner came forward introduced himself and guided us to a table in one of the coolest part of his eatery. 

He ordered the waiter to take away the shining steel water jugs and replace that with bottled water almost assuming that we city people cant digest well water. 

He didn’t have a printed menu for us to go through but in a superfast speed he muttered the five dishes he offered which were mostly with mutton and chicken. At the end of his speech my mom in law asked him if he served any vegetarian food as well. He looked quiet lost and blank at this question and scuttled off to the kitchen to see if there was anything vegetarian. 

He had gone off for more than 10 minutes and then came back with a smile saying he didn’t have anything veg to serve that day but his wife has cooked some bharli vangi (stuffed brinjal) at home and he was happy to serve that to us. Since his house was right behind the khanaval, in fact they shared a common wall, I’m sure it was easy for him to get that. On hearing vangi I was a bit disappointed but I didn’t have any choice. The rest of the family was eagerly waiting for their order of sukha mutton, rassa and bhakri. After waiting for almost 45 minutes, we were getting slightly impatient. And after asking why the food is taking so long, clean steel thalis and vatis were placed on the table, followed by trays of food, which was ordered. 

The mutton curries looked amazing and when the bharli vangi arrived it looked perfectly spicy and delicious too. But to be on the safer side not to waste food I took a small helping of it and half a bhakri. Just then one of the waiters came in with a plate of onions and took each one of them and smashed them with his fist and table sprinkled some chilli powder and drizzled lemon juice on it and served us a whole onion each. On asking why did he not slice the onions rather than smashing them the owner enlightened me by saying if you punch the onion it breaks up the internal membranes and releases a lot of oil in the onion, making the flavor more intense. Which is why most farmers who have a simple meal of bhakri and chutney punch a fresh onion from the field and make their meals flavorful. 

On that note I broke the bhakri and dunked it in the bharli vangi and ate it…. And oh my god.. it was divine. I ate my meal like a glutton that afternoon and the bhakri not being enough, I polished off a small portion of the local rice he had served which was naturally sweetish to taste. 

After feeling totally satiated with the meal I truly felt I was in a food coma…And since then I understand the nostalgic feeling and I too fuss about a bharli vangi and bhakri today. 

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