Starting early with bhatukali

As a guest at our supper club, one of the first things you will notice as you sit down at the table is a miniature copper or brass vessel sitting on top of the BHDC menu. These miniature vessels are called ‘bhatukali‘ and represent typical cooking utensils used in many Maharashtrian kitchens, especially more traditional kitchens, likeYoung photo those of our grandmothers.

When I was very young, I used to play with a set of aluminium and copper vessels that had been pulled together from old sets that my mother & grandmother had. My big joy, as it seems from this photo, was to try and balance the pots one on top of the other 🙂

When I got older, my mother gifted me a new bhatukali set for my birthday. The set was made of stainless steel and came with a kitchen shelf (the kind that would be nailed to the wall typically above the sink) in which all the utensils could fit. I remember many afternoons spent playing with it, imagining meals my mother would never have allowed me to actually cook in her kitchen!

I guess it was her cunning plan to get me interested in cooking from a young age! But it turns out that the thought behind bhatukali was to actually get girls interested in traditional rituals through play. Well, it took its time but seems to have eventually worked its magic on me!

As I got older however, I forgot about the bhatukali set and moved on to other interests. My stainless steel set is still there, but tucked away on the loft in my mother’s house. And then a couple of months back, out of the blue, my mother and sister gifted me another set – a beautiful one made of copper and consisting of the more traditional utensils used by my grandmother.  And just like that I rediscovered my love for bhatukali! So it only felt right to use them as place settings for our dinners.

Many people have asked where they can buy these beautiful miniatures. The only place I know is Pune – they are available at Tulsi Bagh in the old part of the city. Some families have started reproducing them and they are available at many of the vendors around the temple. You will find brass and copper ones, and some stores will also carry steel miniatures but the quality does differ.

You can also try and get them at Either Or, a wonderful store at Sassoon Road near Camp. On my recent trip to Pune I discovered miniature stone vessels at the store, which I have not seen anywhere else! Promptly added to my collection 🙂

If you are keen on reading more about bhatukali, here are a couple of interesting links:

  • Heritage India: http://heritage-india.com/blog/a-toy-tradition-bhatukali/
  • Vilas Karandikar is a collector and holds exhibitions of his vast and beautiful collection of pieces – many which are no longer produced. My mother and sister were lucky to go for one of his exhibitions in Pune earlier this year. His website features the collection, but is in Marathi: http://www.bhatukali.com/
  • There are also these wonderful installations featuring bhatukali created by Falguni Gokhale: http://www.falgunigokhale.com  
  • And if you’re in Pune, you should try and visit the Kelkar museum. They have a small collection of bhatukali but a very impressive collection of actual, traditional cooking vessels which are beautiful!

I keep getting a number of queries on where to buy bhatukali and I’ve called out both Tulsi Baag in Pune and Either Or, a lovely store in Pune, as the places where I have sourced these. I don’t sell them myself 🙂 

Priya

Vili – the old fashioned way of cutting vegetables

This regal yet slightly ominous looking contraption is a vili – a very old fashioned tool in both my mom and grandmother’s kitchens.

VilliThe vili was primarily used to cut vegetables. The curved blade would be pulled out in front of the wooden platform. You sat on the wooden platform and cut the vegetables, keeping a plate under the blade to keep the chopped pieces. And boy, have I seen women cutting with an ease that could challenge any professional chef with a fancy set of knives! Not for me though…I probably would have lost my fingers if I tried cutting on this blade.

The only reason I still have a vili is to grate coconuts. You break the coconut in half, and then position one half over the round serrated edge on the curved blade to grate the coconut. It may sound complicated but is incredibly easy and manages to produce beautiful coconut flakes.

I have tried all the modern devices, the kind that have a suction under the main body which always seems to come loose right when you’re trying to get to the heart of the coconut! The hand held scrapers don’t work for me at all. And then for a while I even got fresh grated coconut from the seller at Tekka market in Singapore. But because he keeps the coconut chunks exposed, the grated coconut gets rancid very quickly.

Frustrated I finally asked my mother to bring a vili for me on her next trip to Singapore and it now proudly sits on my kitchen counter.

Priya