When I was a kid eating a dish specific to my region, city or state seemed so casual that I never imagined that there would be people who might not be familiar with these dishes. And so, when they looked at a piece of Bal Mithai with curious wonder, I proudly introduced them to this simple sweet from Uttarakhand. Bal mithai is essentially chocolate like fudge made with browned khoya (milk solids) and coated with sugar pearls. The sweet is originally from Almora in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. As a kid, I ate kilos of Bal Mithai every year when we visited my Nanaji’s village in Kashipur, a small town in Udham Singh Nagar district. The village falls in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand while the Garhwal region covers Mussoorie, Dehradun, Haridwar and other areas. Continue reading
2015 was quite action-packed when it comes to food; we saw some big restaurant openings, budget bars (not all of them worked though) and a number of cafe style eateries. Home chefs and pop-up regional meals became bigger and better and we had restaurants focusing on regional Indian dishes (my favourite part of 2015). I had the privilege of tasting some of the finest dishes by excellent chefs and it only made sense to end the year with a round-up of my most favourite dishes.
Amlori (Red ant Eggs) @ Gitika’s Pakghor, Mumbai
2015 turned out to be quite adventurous for me. I went for Gitika Saikia’s pop-up not once but twice and tried all sorts of exotic ingredients – a piquant red ants’ eggs chutney, stir-fried silkworm, duck intestines and the sweet and tangy rice beer; definitely a meal worth remembering. The Amlori – red ants eggs were my favourite. The eggs were stir fried with onions and garlic in mustard oil and mixed with hen eggs to make it look and taste like bhurji.
Mutton Curry and Rice @ Monkey Bar, Bandra West, Mumbai
When Monkey Bar opened in Mumbai, I expected it to be a fun and upbeat place with a food menu that plays around with ingredients and serves bar food like never before. The Laal Maas Tacos, Duck Empanadas and Black Burger were all impressive, but my meal ended with me getting nostalgic over Chandraji’s Mutton Balti. The typical Kayastha-style mutton curry – a recipe that Chef Manu Chandra has learnt from his father – is something I have grown-up eating and to find it on a restaurant’s menu was the ultimate food high for me. Continue reading
Trying Assamese tribal food would be my biggest adventure this year. I had two traditionally festive meals, learnt about the local xaak – saag and vegetables, ate my first bug – yes, a very crunchy and very nutty silkworm, and popped a spoonful of bhut jolokia pickle in my mouth – accidentally of course (I got few extra servings of rice beer to wash it down).
It’s been tremendously gratifying to attend Gitika’s pop-up sessions peppered with her stories about her food and culture. While the last one was a Rongali Bihu meal in April-May to celebrate the new year and the harvest, this time I went for her winter special – the Na-Khuwa Bhooj which marks the winter harvest of paddy. The festival is celebrated by the tribes in Assam during the November-December harvest. Rice being the most important crop in a rural home, relatives and neighbours are invited over for a meal; they believe that the first harvest shouldn’t be eaten alone. Continue reading
Yesterday, while editing a winter foods story for Delhi, I had this sudden craving for sitting wrapped in a blanket and munching on moongfali (peanuts); crisp moongfali encased in warm kernel which is broken with the thumb. Salt and spicy coriander chutney would be standard accompaniments to the peanuts. We would always rummage through the kernels to look for a few stray peanuts, even after finishing quarter kilo of it.
This and many other food memories that are so typical to winter, zoomed past as I read through the paragraphs about roasted shakarkand, dilli ki aloo chaat and bedmi-aloo; the ones that I am willing to recreate in Mumbai even at the slightest hint of cold. But, it’s never the same; sarson ka saag is never as fresh, the taste of radish is never as sharp and the kanji never gets the same pungency as when kept in the winter sun. Worst of all, there is no kali gajar here to make the kanji.
I remember as a kid there were vegetables that we’d only get in winter and my parents made sure that we ate them all. Mom would get singhada (water chestnut) to make kachri. She would boil the singhadas, peel and crush them and then cook it in desi ghee. This crunchy, buttery kachri would then be garnished with ginger, green chillies, coriander and lime juice. Sadly, the dish is not so common on the streets in north India. However, if you go towards Ramnagar in Uttarakhand you might still find some street vendors making it. Continue reading
Assamese cuisine is not all about momos or pork.
“A tribal Assamese bride is served rice beer 9 times by nine relatives”, Gitika Saikia tells us while we drink the sweet beer. “Imagine a tipsy bride at the end of the ceremony”, she chuckles. Xaj or rice beer is made specifically during Bihu and offered to priests in a pooja conducted for departed souls. The catch here is that the ceremony should be conducted secretly and the neighbours shouldn’t know about it. However, the beer is served to everyone (including neighbours) once the rituals are over.
Like their traditions, Axomiya (tribal Assamese) food too is unconventional. It’s more rustic than the food eaten in the urban region of Assam. A regular tribal meal which differs from tribe to tribe and geographic location consists of rice, spicy chutney, vegetable, smoked fish or meat cooked with vegetables.
Mumbai got a taste of tribal Assamese food last year when Gitika Saikia of Gitika’s Pakghor quit her corporate job to host pop-up meals at her house. You might have seen pictures of her Polu Leta (silkworm pupae stir fry) and Amlori (red ant eggs with hen eggs) doing rounds on Facebook food groups. Saikia belongs to Sonowal Kachari tribe but her food has a strong influence from the Bodo tribe, thanks to her in-laws. Continue reading