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What is a Modak?

By Erica Stratton
Updated May 17, 2024
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A modak is a kind of sweet dumpling. It originates in India, from the state of Maharashtra. It is served during Ganesh Chaturthi, a holiday devoted to the god Ganesh. The main ingredients in a modak dumpling usually include coconut and jaggery, a type of sugar. Modaks are considered a vegetarian food, though not vegan, since they often contain butter.

Cooking a modak begins with the filling of fresh coconut and jaggery, cane sugar which was developed in India. It is a concentrated form of sugar cane liquid, containing both molasses and hard crystals. In order to add it to the dish, the jaggery will need to be shaved off of a large, hard block.

Though these are usually the two main ingredients in this sweet, the filling can also contain other components. Some examples include raisins, chopped cashews, or clarified butter. Spices such as cardamom can also be added. Some modaks are even primarily filled with cucumber, fruit, or moong dal, a kind of bean.

After the filling is created, it is then spooned into a circle of dough made of rice flour. The sides of the dough are gathered up into a point, which gives the modak dumpling its characteristic decorative shape. They appear somewhat like tightly-closed flower buds.

Modaks can be cooked in two different ways. Sometimes they are fried, while other times, they are boiled in hot water. The boiled version is often eaten hot with ghee, a type of clarified butter, spooned over it. The steamed version is meant to be eaten immediately, while the fried dumplings can be kept for a few days. When cooked correctly, modaks are supposed to be very delicate and tender.

The Indian god Ganesh is associated with new beginnings and intellectual pursuits. He is easily recognizable by his elephant's head and large belly and is said to be fond of sweets. Modak dumplings are said to be a particular favorite of his, and some icons show him with a plate of the treat nearby.

During the Ganesh Chaturthi, a festival devoted to this god, modak will be set before icons of Ganesh as an offering. Customarily, anywhere from 21 to 108 modaks will be offered by a single family or group. Without the modak dumplings, the ceremonies around the care of the icon during the ten-day festival are not considered complete.

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