Picture this: a bowl filled with greens in every hue imaginable sits in front of you, blanketed by a generous handful of fresh coconut and finely-chopped coriander leaves. As you take a bite, an explosion of flavours assault your senses—tender brinjals, slightly-charred potatoes and yam, raw bananas, crisp flat beans, unexplainably crunchy muthiyas, all coated in a medley of spices.
Meet undhiyo, the Gujarati winter classic that is prepared in home kitchens as well as restaurants from November to February. Made low and slow, it is the perfect example of a local dish that champions seasonal produce—most of the ingredients are only available for a short period of time in the market.
We unravel the layers of the dish that has achieved a cult status both in the state and outside.
Tracing the origins of the winter staple
Undhiyo has been said to have evolved from another southern Gujarati dish called umbadiyo, which features a mix of vegetables that are added to an earthern pot (matla), sealed, and then buried underground in a pit with burning embers on top. The vegetables slowly cook from the indirect heat, and attain a smoky flavour. Once done, the dish is finished with a generous drizzle of sesame oil, a piquant green chutney, and a slightly pungent wood apple (kotha ni) chutney.
Undhiyo differs from umbadiyo in both taste and texture, but adopts the same cooking method, which is evident in its name. ‘Undhu’ in Gujarati translates to upside down, owing to the way it is cooked (fire on top, pot at the bottom). Though today it is prepared in a more practical manner, in large vessels or a pressure cooker.
The proof is in the layers
There are more than a handful of hyper-seasonal vegetables that go into the making of undhiyo, and according to purists, all are equally essential. Surti papdi, or flat green beans lay the foundation—so much so that they are transported to Mumbai from Surat every winter in the Flying Ranee train. Then come the purple yam, potatoes (both the sweet and normal kind), raw bananas, arya kakdi, a seedless cucumber which belongs to the same family as zucchini, and muthiya, which are spicy, fried dumplings made of gram flour and fenugreek leaves. All of these are coated in a coarsely-ground green masala that has coconut, chillies, green garlic, and coriander leaves among other ingredients.
First, all the vegetables are chopped into chunks and stuffed with the green masala. Then they all go into a pot with oil and spices. The whole mix simmers, untouched, until the vegetables are tender. Then fresh coconut is added and the whole dish is inverted, with more coconut, coriander leaves, and green garlic shoots added on top. Undhiyo can be had in a number of ways, with fresh-off-the-wok puris, steamed rice, or as is.
In Gujarat, undhiyo is the main dish cooked on Uttarayan, the festival of harvest and bounty, that is celebrated with kites.
Variations of undhiyo—same same but different
Like most regional dishes, every part of Gujarat has its own take on the dish. The belt from Surat to Ahmedabad makes it with the most common green masala while the Saurashtra region’s Kathiyawadi undhiyo is made with just spices, which means it doesn’t have the quintessential green hue. And while the one you get in Ahmedabad is spicier and oilier, the Surat version is heavy on the garlic. The traditional matla undhiyo, which is the way it is still prepared in villages, gets cooked in an earthern pot.
In search of the best undhiyo in Mumbai
For undhiyo the classic way—Swati Snacks
Swati Snacks has a cult following among Mumbaikars for a reason—they always get the classics right. Enjoy their undhiyo that is served with hot, crisp puris, making for quite an indulgent meal.
For a baked, oil-free version—Soam
Undhiyo made in restaurants is irresistibly delicious, but it can also veer towards the oiler side. Soam, the Gujarati restaurant in Chowpatty that has been a city favourite since years, does a baked, oil-free version that also has a Jain variant.
For undhiyo with a modern twist—Bombay Canteen
If you’re up for experimenting, then head to Bombay Canteen for their undhiyo okonomiyaki, which takes all the essential ingredients of the dish and turns them into a Japanese-style savoury pancake. It is topped with a spicy-tart red chilli chutney, green garlic masala (a staple in undhiyo), and crispy potato, purple yam, carrot, and beetroot chips.
Lead image: Bombay Canteen/Instagram