Bottle Masala: Know Everything About The East Indian Spice Blend
Image Credit: Tamarind Global

In the 19th century, the Marathi-speaking inhabitants belonging to Greater Mumbai and North Konkan regions were recognised as East Indians. Also called Bombay Catholics, this ethno-religious community is native to the seven islands that make up the city of Mumbai and were mostly made up of farmers and fisherfolk. Under the Portuguese influence, when many converted to Christianity, this community made a point to retain their native language and cultures, and embrace their Marathi-Portuguese influences in the post-colonial era. As a result of this, these influences seeped into the kitchens of the people belonging to the community and translated into delicious creations.

The bottle masala, a popular East Indian spice mix, has a deep orange-red hue and derives its name from dark green recycled beer bottles, which were used to store this spice mixture. This unique blend of 25-28 different spices is similar in form to garam masala or Indian curry powder, with each family having their own variation of the recipe. Traditionally, making bottle masala was considered to be a summer activity that involved women from the community coming together to dry, roast and crush spices before they were sent off to a mill for grinding.

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It is also used to flavour soups, stews and curries and was originally hand-pounded by multiple women taking turns to thump giant mortar and pestles constantly. A sprinkle of bottle masala over fish or even vegetables is a great way to spruce up and add instant flavour to your dishes. While many women from the community continue to make the masala even today, options of the spice blend can also be found in online grocery stores.

Due to the factoring-in of the sun-drying being a key technique in the process, the making of bottle masala is restricted to the hottest times of the year – the months of October and May. Since the blend is meant to be a fine powder texture, it is key that the spice mix is sieved a few times to get only the finest, lump-free blend to add to their food.