by Jyotsana Baurai Bedi
A recent discussion about native cuisines got me thinking about my Garhwali origins and out of curiosity I decided to research it online. Predictably, the little I came across about the cuisine online read too mechanical to hold my interest, so I turned to another trusted source – my parents. They were more than delighted to see their daughter finally become interested in her culinary heritage; especially my father who has spent a larger part of his youth in Garhwali villages.
Garhwal owes its popularity because it features the ‘Chaar-dhaam’ of the sacred Hindu pilgrimage and hence is known as ‘Devbhoomi’ or God’s Land. The food of the region is simple and earthy in presentation, but heavenly in taste.
Given the harsh and hilly terrain, Garhwalis love their meat and it occupies a place of pride in any menu. During a village temple’s inauguration, all locals are invited, even if they stay outside the state or the country, and more often than not, they make it a point to pay a visit.
At the poojan, a goat is sacrificed in honour of the goddess and the raw uncooked meat is distributed to all the families as prasad. The head of the goat, considered to be the most important part of the body, is given to the Brahmin’s family as a mark of respect.
A FEAST FIT FOR THE GODS
Food is so deeply ingrained in Garhwali culture that even some traditional songs are themed around it. Take for instance the famous song, ‘Bedu paako baara maasa’, which is about a berry that grows throughout the year.
While cooking, the women often hum songs because they believe it purifies the air in the kitchen and infuses positivity in the food. That could be another reason why such simply prepared food tastes so exquisite!
MANDUWE/CHOON/KWADE KI ROTI
Few Garhwalis can resist the thick, dark brown coloured rotis made from Manduwa (buckwheat or millet grain), which they eat with big helpings of homemade ghee. The other flatbread that is widely eaten in the Garhwal-Kumaon hills is the Gehat Parantha which is best enjoyed with Kulath Daal.
To make this parantha, the daal is soaked overnight, pressure-cooked, mashed and stuffed in kneaded wheat flour with lot of garlic, green chillis, salt and cooked, rolled into flat bread over a hot griddle or tava. The residual water in which the daalis soaked was used to cook other gravies, since it was said to cure kidney and liver ailments. This parantha was a Sunday breakfast staple in my home and was often prepared whenever we had guests over.
A delicious albeit watery version of dal, Chainsu was another staple that was eaten with Bhaat (boiled rice). Homemakers would dry roast urad daal, then coarsely grind it and cook it with ghee, tomatoginger-garlic paste and temper it with Jakhya. The last is a whole spice used for tempering every daal, gravy or vegetable in Garhwali cuisine.
MOOLI KI THINCHODI
This dish derives its name from the method of its preparation. Pahari mooli (mountain radish) and potatoes are pounded (not cut) with the help of a small pestle called sil-batta. These are then cooked in mustard oil in a kadhai with Jakhya and tomato paste, resulting in an extremely delicious and tangy gravy that is eaten with roti or rice.
In a similar fashion, is Aloo Ki Thinchodi, made with baby potato, where the skin is just scrubbed but not peeled. As a child, I used to find the sight of my petite mom thrashing the veggies on her heavy sil-batta very amusing. And the fact that she had the pestle out meant that she would make her famous chutneys! The whole kitchen would ignite with the aromas of fresh coriander and mint beaten to pulp.
BICCHU BOOTI SAAG
This is a wild bushy grass with thorny leaves that is nutritious, but also causes severe itching, if it comes into contact with any exposed part of the body. I can say this from personal experience when I once fell atop this bush while playing in my village as a child. My mother had to apply mustard oil all over me for days to soothe the itching!
Coming back to the dish, only the tender leaves of this plant are picked for making the vegetable and it is tempered with Jakhya in mustard oil. Garhwalis always cook their greens, especially leafy veggies, in lohe ki kadhai (iron woks) as they believe the iron gets transferred to the dish making it further nutritious.
This dish is often eaten for breakfast or as a snack and has a pancake-like consistency. The batter is made of wheat flour with sugar or jaggery and fennel, which is then poured on a hot griddle and cooked on both sides till golden brown. My mother often packed it for my school tiffin and my friends would polish it off well before lunch break. Even now, whenever I meet old friends, they gush about the Chholyaan Rota!
BHATT KI CHUTNEY
Bhatt is like a small black soybean, and the spicy chutney made from it is a perfect accompaniment to most earthy Garhwali dishes. There are at least 8-9 soybeans ranging from green to off-white, grey and black and in various sizes available in Garhwal. However, it is the small black variety that is said to taste the best.
No food culture in the whole world can be complete without its share of desserts. Garhwali cuisine is no different and the sweets take effort to make but are definitely drool-worthy. One of these is Jhungriyal Ki Kheer, made with Jhungriyaal – a kind of grain – ghee, milk, sugar and nuts. And then there is my all-time favourite, Arsa, a deep-fried sweet patty made from rice flour, jaggery and fennel. It was a must-have item during celebrations like marriage and childbirth in villages.
In olden days, when married Garhwali girls returned to their in-laws after visiting their maternal homes, they were given Arsa along with Suala Roti (a kind of deep-fried Poori) and Urad Daal Ke Pakode to eat during the long journey back home. Why the long journey? Because one could not marry in the same village as inhabitants of a village were considered brothers and sisters. Since Arsa would not spoil during the long travel and also would look good as a gift to the in-laws, the tradition caught on, and this dish became popular during celebrations.
However, this tradition is now dying fast since no one wants to put in so much effort to prepare it when readymade and fancier mithais are easily available. Another Garhwali dessert that is slowly, and sadly, vanishing from dinner tables is Baal Mithai. Made from khoya and jaggery, it looks like a chocolate fudge, and when we were younger and visiting our village, we would return with boxes of Baal Mithai, especially packed from Ram Nagar (of Jim Corbett National Park fame) and Kotdwara.
Apart from these dishes, there are many others like Roat, Rus, Kaphuli, Chanchyya, Bhaang Ki Chutney, etc. It would be impossible to try to write about all of these in one article. But the next time you plan a visit to Garhwal, I strongly suggest you connect with a native before and make a list of restaurants where you can taste the local delicacies. Your trip might just get an unexpected edge.