The History Of Maharashtra’s Pathare Prabhu Community
Image Credit: Sunetra Sil Vijaykar

It’s surprising that not much is known about the Pathare Prabhu community. Until recently not much was documented about this small and introverted community and its delicious and varied cuisine. Believed to be one of the oldest ethno-religious groups primarily based in the Indian state of Maharashtra, especially in Mumbai and its surrounding areas. Pathare Prabhus, along with Kolis and five other communities, were one of the first people to inhabit the island group now known as Mumbai. 

Video Credit: Get Curried

The Pathare Prabhus have made significant contributions to the cultural, social, and economic fabric of Mumbai and Maharashtra. The community is small and currently about 7,000 members are supposed to be residing in the world, mostly located in Western India. They have also played a role in preserving and promoting traditional practices and rituals within their community.

It is believed that the community moved from Rajasthan, going towards Gujarat, then to Maharashtra, finally settling down in Bombay, now Mumbai, in the 13th century. The Pathare Prabhu community flourished under the British rulers, and developed their own lifestyle.

The cuisine of the Pathare Prabhu includes a variety of seafood especially since Maharashtra’s coast inspires the food. It is quite different from the cuisine of other Maharashtrian communities. In fact many of the dishes cooked by the Pathare Prabhu community are unique to them and these recipes are passed on from generation to generation.

One of the dishes that the community makes is called the Khad Khad Le which derives its name from the crackling noise the kolumbi (prawns) or crabs make when put in a pan. It is one of the rare crab curries made without coconut. 

What Makes The Pathare Prabhu Cuisine Unique?

Photo credit: Sunetra Sil Vijaykar

Apart from the Khad Khad Le one of the common dishes of the Pathare Prabhu community are Bhuzana a dish that can be made with Prawn, Pomfret, Ghol, or even eggs, potato or vaal beans. The tempering or tadka in this dish is done without heat. Garlic is one of the key ingredients in the Bhujana.

Another popular dish is the Athala made with tamarind, jaggery and Pathare Prabhu sambhar Masala. The meals are predominantly eaten with rice and chapatis called khakra because they are slightly toasted with ghee.

One of the closely guarded community secrets is the ingredients and proportions of the Parbhi Masala - a spice blend used in Pathare Prabhu cuisine. The recipe of this masala is passed on from generation to generation and while the exact recipe for Parbhi Masala may vary from family to family or region to region within the Pathare Prabhu community, it is made using 16 to 20 ingredients including whole wheat and split Bengal gram. 

Not Without My Seafood

The Ghol fish is popular amongst the Pathare Prabhu community. Prawns are added to almost every dish, even vegetarian ones. For example, Shevla or dragon stalk yam is available only in the monsoons. While it is possible to cook the vegetable as it is the Pathare Prabhus usually love to add shrimp in their version. 

Another example of this is the Pathare Prabhu version of Gujarat’s famous mixed vegetable dish called the Undiyo’ which is called the Ghada. In this version which is cooked with a Pathare Prabhu Sambhar Masala meat or fish are added along with the veggies. There are versions of traditional Maharashtrian dishes such as the Upma and Alu Wadi where minced shrimp is added.

While most of Maharashtra uses grated coconut in their dishes, while coconut is used in Pathare Prabhu meals, it’s used in the form of coconut cream and milk, rather than grated coconut much like curries cooked in Thailand. These curries are called Sambare. While the Sambare can be made with fish or prawns, the vegetarian version is made with pineapple or tomato. 

Since the Pathare Prabhu community hails from Mumbai there are certain influences  of Western cooking techniques that can be seen in their cooking. For example, one can find quite a few dishes from the community where baking is involved. There are pies with potato and shrimp, savoury cakes featuring cabbage, gram flour (besan), and prawns called the Bhanavle. There’s also a version of the Karanji called the Shingdi where a pastry is stuffed with sweetened coconut.

Recently there has been an effort from the members of this community to promote their culture and cuisine. In Mumbai for example, pop-ups and private dining experiences have been hosted by home chefs.