When you raise your neck to see the pulsating mountain tops of Uttarakhand masked with thick sheets of glistening snow, you bask in the blessing of its white glory. But when matters come down to earth, there is very little understanding or willingness to understand, not only what mother nature but also what mother earth has bestowed upon us. Food, being one such matter. Indigenous preparations form the region have provided warmth, vitality, and nutrition to its inhabitants since time immemorial and continue to even today, but the city man remains oblivious to its goodness. So, in a festival dedicated to rare and special ingredients from Uttarakhand, a menu has been rustled up to re-introduce its edible bounty to the city audience.
Called Exotic Uttarakhand for good reason, the idea is to embrace 20 traditional dishes from Garhwal and Kumaon. “Today everything is easily available, therefore anything that is uncommon becomes of great value, hence exotic for me,” says Manoj Rawat, Executive Chef, Hilton Garden Inn Gurgaon, adding, “Ingredients like mandua (buckwheat), jhangora (barnyard millet), buransh (rhododendron), jakhaiya (wild mustard), rayansh (a type of soya bean) and others have not been exploited in our modern kitchens. In fact, the majority haven’t even heard of them.”
Since he has grown up eating them, he found it such a shame for them to not be a part of popular food vocabulary anymore. A recent trip to Pauri Garhwal, his native place, strengthened his resolve to showcase them further. “I was attending a wedding where the simplicity yet flavour fullness of the local food besotted me, and I became impatient to bring its beauty down to the city,” he says.
Sharing his interest are two like-minded people — food enthusiasts Maneesh Srivastava and chef Vickrham Vicky. The three of them set out on a sojourn to Dehradun, Haridwar, Aalmorah, and Ramnagar, and several little hamlets in between, to collect ingredients for this promotion.By the end of their trip, they had a tentative menu in mind.
Amendments were made frequently as the real task was to include as many dishes as they could, without cluttering the menu. Some of these are Bhunyu Bakura ki Shikar (roasted mutton curry with pahadi spices), Kukkada ku Shurra (robust curry of country chicken), Macchon ku Jhol (freshwater fish curry), Shingan Paneer (duet of mushroom and cottage cheese with mild spices), Laya Bhatton ku Saag (mustard tempered aubergine), Jakhiya aloo (baby potatoes tossed in wild mustard seeds), Bhadoo Dal (Uttarakhandi mixed lentil preparation), Bhat ki Churkani (black soyabean cooked with onion and tomatoes, tempered with wild herbs), Kumaoni Jholi (Kumaon region stew with whole wheat flour, turmeric and buttermilk), and more.
“We tried many of these recipes in homes of villagers, following the process exactly as they do, on wood fire chulhas. It requires a lot of work to light it and then control the flame. But it makes their food so tasty,” says Rawat, who is saddened by the fact that these recipes are at the risk of getting lost due to a mass migration of locals for better employment opportunities to cities. But before that happens, the good news is that people like him have hunted down these rare recipes for a historic relish for you all.(Exotic Uttarakhand: Hilton Garden Inn Gurgaon, Baani Square; 7 pm onwards, from April 20-30)
Rare desserts from Uttarakhand at the festival
Baal Mithai (sugarball coated brown condensed milk cakes)
Singori (maalu leaves wrapped khoya sweet with coconut)
Ghughte (ghee fried dry sweet with aata, semolina and jaggery)
Langada (whole wheat flour and milk pudding)