Do Gujaratis Really Put Sugar In Everything?

Diksha Yadav

Oct 22, 2022, 04:19 PM | Updated Nov 05, 2022, 11:35 AM IST

Gujarati food
Gujarati food
  • The most common meme on Gujarati food is that “Gujjus put sugar/jaggery in everything!”
  • But do they really?
  • Not just Gujarati food, but Gujarati people and language, too, are considered to be sweet.

    As the saying goes in Gujarati –

    ગળ્યું સબસે બડયું (मिठास सबसे बलवान), which translates to 'sweetness is the strongest'.

    While it is true that you may find sweetness in unexpected food items in Gujarat, but it is also true that sweetness (sugar/jaggery) is not added in all its dishes, traditional or otherwise.

    In fact, most of the popular Gujarati dishes/snacks are salty, if not spicy, Fafada, Khakhra, Gathiya, Thepla, Undiyu, to name a few. To get the spicy flavour, most dishes are served with chillies (fried and salty or raw) and pickle.

    So why this generalisation that Gujarati dishes are all sweet? Even the most common meme or joke on Gujarati food that takes on the internet is that “Gujjus put sugar/jaggery in everything!”

    From my personal experience of having food in Somnath, Ahmedabad and Vadodara, I can tell you that with Ahmedabad being an exception, I did not find sugar in unexpected food items.

    In Gir Somnath, I have had the pleasure of attending two “Khichdis” where the menu is usually vegetable Khichdi and Bajra na rotla (pearl/black millet bread/roti) or puri along with spicy seasonal vegetable curry and Kheer, halwa (pudding) or sweet.

    “Khichdi” is a gathering of relatives, friends and colleagues in a temple premise to celebrate and seek goodwill for a new beginning such as new job, marriage, newborn baby, etc. The food is cooked in the temple premise itself.

    In the restaurants as well, the dishes such as pulses, vegetables, were never sweet. But yes, like we find salt and black/red pepper shakers on the dinning tables in North India, here I found salt and sugar shakers on the tables instead. And of course, I have mistakenly added sugar for salt in my food, few times initially. But then I learnt my lesson to check before I just blindly add it to my food.

    In Vadodara, too, sweetness did not come in unexpected dishes. From Misal pav, Dal vada, Dabeli to lunch and dinner meals, I have had them spicy but never sweet.

    But of course, unlike the spicy green chutney (coriander and mint) of northern India, the green chutney in Gujarat is mostly sweet and salty in taste.

    While you find sugar and salt shakers on the dinning tables in Gujarat, do you know what salt is called in Gujarati?

    It’s called મીઠું (मिट्ठू)! In Hindi mitthu means sweet or one who speaks sweetly. Looks like, in Gujarat, where there is salt, sweetness just follows! And this is true for the capital city of the state and Ahmedabad.

    Here, you can most likely find dal (pulses), Kadhi, and some vegetable curry sweet. This is true for central Gujarat. If you are having a Gujarati thali here, expect a pinch of sweetness coming your way.

    On my interaction with people and friends here, I have had two kinds of responses. One, who say that they enjoy spicy food, and sugar/jaggery is not part of their everyday consumption in their diet. Also, a heavy meal is incomplete without Chaas (buttermilk with salt/cumin) in Gujarat.

    Then, there were those, who like the sweet and salty flavour, and say that a pinch of sugar is part of their everyday meal.

    However, in present times, due to movement of people for jobs, businesses, etc., you can find people settled here from across the country. And therefore, the generalisation that ‘Gujjus put sugar in everything’ does not hold merit because of the variety of flavours and food available here, quite easily.

    In traditional Gujarati food items, too, this generalisation does not fit in.

    Gujarat Map
    Gujarat Map
    Gujarati thali
    Gujarati thali

    The various Gujarati thalis and their flavours: The colourful Gujarati thali, along with sweet, sour and spicy chutneys, pickles, ghee and a salad of chopped vegetables as accompaniments, typically, consists of:

    • Two/three farsans (steamed or fried snacks – chorafali, khandvi, etc).

    • a green vegetable (seasonal),

    • a tuber or a gourd shaak (shaaks are main courses with vegetables and spices mixed together into a curry or a spicy dry dish),

    • a kathol (beans, chickpea or dry peas),

    • a yogurt dish like dahi (with tadka), kadhi, raita,

    • rice or khichdi,

    • pulses (dal),

    • breads ( bajra rotla, wheat rotlis, methi thepla, bakhris, parathas, puris),

    • buttermilk (chaas)/Aamras, and

    • sweets like halwas, basundi, shrikhand, etc.

    Depending upon the region it comes from, Gujarati thali is quite varied and distinct. The various thalis available here are all vegetarian.

    • Kathiawadi thali of the Saurashtra region, is actually known to be spicy. The dishes served in this thali, especially curry are spicy. In the areas where sugarcane is grown, jaggery too makes its space in the thali.

    • Thali of the South Gujarat region has a very popular dish during winters known as Umbadiyu.

      The vegetables like beans (papdi), purple yam (ratalu), potato, sweet potato are marinated with the paste of green chillies, salt, ajwain and turmeric and is cooked in an earthen pot sealed with kalar leaves (available in winters). Very little or no oil/ghee is added in preparation of Umbadiyu.

      The curry and dishes in the thali are more on the spicy side.

    • Thali in the North Gujarat region has a bit of Rajasthani influence.

    • Thali from the Central Gujarat has flavours from across the state. It has the most number of dishes and is quite popular. Due to water salinity, sugar/jaggery is widely used. This thali is definitely on the sweeter side.

    The dishes of the Kutch region, though simple, finds its place in the Gujarati thali. Dishes commonly eaten here are khichdi, Kadhi, bajra rotla, and guvar shaak (cluster beans).

    There is also the Jain version of the Gujarati thali available in which onion, garlic, potato, etc., are not used. Snacks and dishes made of moong dal (green gram beans) and green banana can be seen in this one.

    To conclude, here's another popular Gujarati saying –

    સુરતનું જમણ અને કાશીનું મરણ (सुरत का भोजन और काशी की मृत्यु)

    It means dining at Surat and dying at Varanasi, is the way to heaven.

    And once again, no, Gujaratis don’t put sugar in everything!

    Diksha Yadav is a senior sub editor at Swarajya.

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.