Adulthood rooted in childhood cuisine
Whether it be scents or sights, flowers or shades of colours, textures of things or fabric, response of the taste buds to various items eaten or drunk, all get permanently registered either as favourite or disgusting, quite early in our childhood. This is true of the foods that we come to favour permanently, because by the force of habit, we get drawn to them repeatedly and are never tired of them.
As I have been a child of the hills, though seventy now, I continue to find myself clinging to the traditional cuisine of the community just as a joey clings to its mother. Surely, it must be true of everyone’s preferred predilections towards the tastes cultivated during childhood. But here I am …a man taken away from the hills by the requirements of employment, yet no one can take away the hills and their essence from my essential being!
The preferred food, cooked and taken in a family is a page from the book called community cuisine that throws up its roots in the collective psyche intuitively at a very young age during partaking of food at the community lunches/ dinners served on special occasions in a particular ethnic group.
In my area , precisely the Kangra of 1960’s, as also in the present day lower regions of Himachal Pradesh, we are soaked in the tradition of festive community meals called dham. This meal primarily hinges around boiled rice served with nearly 8 or 10 dishes rich in the flavours and palate tickling tastes that find favour with everyone. So much so that one can travel a couple of kilometers to be a part of such a meal.
The dishes may exchange their preference status with one another depending upon the geographical variation, yet they are more or less overlapping with one another. Madhra which is a ghee-rich dish is the first liking of most people. Its staple can be chick pea or rajmah or sepu vadi or Mukand vadi.
What runs common among all variations is the use of curd in the process of frying of spices and a liberal splash of clarified butter. There is none who can refuse to take a second helping during one sitting, however full the stomach may seem to be. How can we abandon this beloved dish?
Mittha, a syrupy, sugary preparation has either fried bubbles of chickpea floor called badana or fried pumpkin or apple or ash gourd as it’s staple. A lavish roll-out of coconut slices and currants are the basic guaranteed stuff. It happens to be the first and the last serving during the meal.
Urd, Gram and Moong are the three pulses that are given a smoky flavour by dumping burning coal laced with mustard oil and red chilies. Indian curd curry, actually made from whey contributed by the neighbourhood, goes on to make a runny and spicy, but extremely appetizing course. Khatta , as the name goes, is a sweet and sour ,mouth watering item made from black gram or pumpkin cutlets with an addition of dry dates. So sumptuous is the variety at these meals that it proves to be a gastrnomic delight, even if one were to partake of such a luxury almost daily!
(The author is a Retired Principal Government College, Hoshiarpur Punjab)