Apologies to all my readers, few as they are, who haven't stayed for at least one year in Maharashtra - I am about to go on a classic 'marathi' rant. 😖
First and foremost, we Maharashtrians have few such local delicacies that are unique and can rival the likes of global attractions from the north and the south of India. For those who wonder where I place Maharashtra on the map, I say this. There is a notorious direction called the west, which borrows longitudinally and feels free to experiment latitudinally.
That is true for most west coasts for some reason. — cough — 🙄
So, as I was saying, the north has its butter chicken, dal makhani and tandoori kebabs, while the south has its biryani, dosa, and filter coffee, all well known across the globe. Frankly, both regions have a hundred more things as well. But Maharashtra, in MY opinion, has only three things that equally stand out - misal-pav, poha, and batata-vada. I know that there must be countless Maharashtrian devotees who'd want to rip my throat off just for making that statement. You'll get your chance but just read through the entire post first. 😂 After all, I did say 'global' attractions, and 'thalipeeth' is hardly one.
Now, of those three items, poha has already been hyper-localized in every state of this country, so there is no point debating which version is right or wrong unless either of us feels the need for political unrest. Batata-vada too has its variants from the north and south in the form of aloo-pakoda and aloo-bonda, but those iterations are comparable. So that leaves us with misal-pav, a dish that is ours and truly ours! Why would we want to mess with that? 🤷🏻♂️🙄
Misal is this super-healthy spicy lentil soup, mixed with a small amount of potato mash and some hot pepper gravy, usually served with a garnish of onions and assorted 'farsan'. This delicious bowl of misal USUALLY comes with a fluffy and perky piece of bread called 'pav'. One may call it a bun, but I'd disagree. To understand why I say that, read one of my older posts where I've explained it in excruciating detail.
Anyway, with that perfect image of misal-pav in my head, I set out on a Saturday morning with my dad and wife on a misal-hopping spree in Pune. The idea was straightforward - visit as many places as possible, and try all the different versions of misal-pav that the city could offer. Now, bear in mind that when I said versions, I thought we'd be talking about differences in garnishes, heat level in the curry, quality and quantity of the potato mash, or the composition of the lentil soup. Boy, was I in for a shock.
Of the five places that shall remain unnamed for security concerns, one place skipped the lentil soup altogether, another omitted the potato mash and was almost SWEET! Two joints replaced the pav with a slice of bread, while one place was audacious enough to swap the potato mash and lentil soup out for POHA! Freaking poha in a misal! I was literally in shock during the last one, where I had to re-summon the waiter and confirm whether I had ordered for a misal or a poha. 😂
Anyway, of all the transgressions against the sanctity of misal, I found the substitution of pav to be sacrilegious! Some may argue that the poha-misal was worse, but that was so hopeless that I don't even have the energy to argue. In the words of Joey Tribbiani - "They're so far past the line that the line is a dot to them! 😱"
Coming back to the matter of the bread v/s the pav. There is a reason why traditionally, the misal comes with a pav. The flexible yet firm outer casing of a pav makes it easier to scoop the misal with your hands, while the soft inner portion soaks up all the juices from the delicious curry. It is perfect. But replace that with a slice of bread, and the overall physics goes for a toss!
The slice of bread is too flexible to manoeuvre once the curry hits it. Moreover, dip it into the gravy for a few additional seconds, and there is every chance that you'll have a soggy residue of the bread floating the misal. In addition to the physical breakdown of the process, you also sort of miss the textural contrast of the slightly brown hard casing of the pav. And if you feel that this slice of bread is as thick as a Texas toast, uh-uh. That is a slice of bread as thin as the Macbook Pro, the new-new one. 🤣
In the end, my gripe is not with the fact that they destroyed a perfectly coherent dish. My problem is that there is no conceivable reason to do it! I asked at least five to ten different people in my circle whether they preferred a slice of bread or pav with their misal. Every one of them picked the latter. As far as I know it, statistically, most misal places in Maharashtra follow suit. But then why would these handful places break this deep-rooted tradition?
I think I know the answer. And to explain it I am going to tell you a story.
A long time ago, I was in Burma. My friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders by bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. So, we went looking for the stones. But in six months, we never met anybody who traded with him. One day, I saw a child playing with a ruby the size of a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away because he thought it was a good sport. After all, some men aren't looking for anything logical like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn...
...OR feed them a lousy misal with even lousier bread. 🙄
There you go, done with my rant, and if you caught the Dark Knight reference, you are one of us.