This is the Third post On Gujarati Food. Find the rest of the posts here.
Perhaps the first thing most native Bangaloreans will mention when asked about Gujarati food would be the Dhokla. It was literally the ONLY thing I knew about Gujarati food until I met my wife. Gujarati Food = Dhokla. Period. It was almost like people in Gujarat never made anything else at all and ate Dhoklas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A lot of this, of course, boiled down to my own lack of exposure to the cuisine. But in a way, it also speaks to the popularity of the Dhokla as a tasty, convenient, and easy to make side.
The way I see it, the Dhokla belongs to a certain family of dishes that involve the use of soaked/ground lentil, rice, some spices and vegetables. This mixture is then baked, steamed or pan fried in some manner resulting in different dishes with different tastes, consistency and texture. So while the Dhokla is the most popular dish in this family, the Khaman and Handvo are close relatives that are equally common in Gujarat. I can certainly add Karnataka’s own (and one of my personal all time favorites) Nuchinunde to this family of dishes too.
It is hard for the lay person to spot the difference between the Khaman and the Dhokla, but once you are familiar with it, you WILL know the difference. A lot of times, the Khaman masquerades as the Dhokla but never the other way round. For what it’s worth, I like the Khaman more than the Dhokla, but will eat either anytime. Regardless, all the dishes in this family are infinitely made better with a good dose of seasoning (oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves), and the presence of a green chutney.
Ultimately, the Dhokla and Khaman serve as a very good tea time snack/side. I personally do not prefer to eat it as part of a bigger meal in itself. I mean, make no mistake. If you offer it, I WILL eat it. But my preference is to eat it over tea in the afternoons.
But perhaps my personal favorite of this family of dishes is the Handvo. The Handvo is relatively more stiff when compared to the Dhokla or Khaman as it is most commonly baked (and sometimes pan fried too) instead of just steamed like the latter two. The resulting product is more cake-like and packs a denser flavor punch than the Dhokla or Khaman. So it is also a lot more filling and feels like I am eating something substantial rather than something that is filled half with air.
There is, however, one more reason why I like the Handvo. During the baking/pan frying, the edges and corners of the Handvo get additionally stiff and crispy giving that extra bite to that piece. The first time Devanshi made Handvo, I promptly went to the kitchen by myself, cut out all the corner pieces and ate them without saying a word (and certainly without sharing any of it). Apparently, these corner pieces of the Handvo are completely appropriate things to initiate fights over. So when the wife found the corner pieces (and literally just that) conspicuously missing, she went livid. I got to hear stories on how she would have fights with her brother over them and how, in the end, her dad would trick them into eating it himself.
These stories were recited not without veiled threats of similar ‘incidents’ taking place in our own home in the future. Suffice to say that I got the message and we have had a healthy program of sharing the corner pieces whenever the Handvo is made. And when we have guests over, the general plan is to eat the corner pieces ourselves beforehand, and cut the rest of the Handvo into squares so nobody suspects the missing corner pieces.