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Himalayan Savouries – Kumaoni

cuisine
Deeptangan Pant introduces us to the eclectic (and mostly
unknown) Kumaoni cuisine’s savouries and snacks.

During my last trip to Kumaon in Uttarakhand, I came across an


old man who narrated an anecdote involving his son who had
landed a job in the far South. The mother, reluctantly, packed
her love in pickle jars and ghee dabbas and bade goodbye to
her son, arming him with an assortment of spices and eatables
native to Uttarakhand. When the lad was going through security
check at the airport in Delhi, an officer found a neatly
sealed bag containing seeds from the cannabis plant (hemp
seeds, commonly referred to as bhang); flabbergasted he
demanded an explanation. In Kumaon, chutney made from these
seeds is a common recipe and a much loved one too –
unfortunately for the young man, the officer was not willing
to buy his story and it took hours of convincing (and
pleading) that the seeds were in fact harmless ingredients for
a kind of chutney.
Cannabis seeds used for making chutney

Kumaon is known for its spell-binding views of the Himalayas,


peaceful retreats in the wild and impatient rivers, but food
rarely finds a mention. The restaurants in suave hill-stations
stick to tried and tested cuisines and lately even the
evergreen dhabas of the hills have developed a penchant for
serving ‘Chinese’ food. However, Kumaoni dishes are alive in
household kitchens across towns and villages and here is a
peek into some of the delicacies often prepared by doting
mothers for their visiting children who work or study in
faraway cities.

Something to snack on

If you travel along the winding roads of Kumaon, you will come
across small eateries offering delectable potato wedges fried
with local condiments like jakhya (Cleome viscose), jamboo
(Allium stracheyi), cumin seeds and topped with coriander
leaves. Known as Aloo ke Gutke, this dish cooked from pahari
potatoes is usually relished with raita made from hill
cucumber laced with mustard seeds – the seeds often creating a
tingling sensation in one’s nose.

Aloo ke Gutke, a dish made of pahari potatoes fried with local


condiments and relished with cucumber raita

The hamlet of Garampani, on the highway from Haldwani to


Almora, is famous for offering a platter of hill specialties
complimented with cucumber raita. During the cold winters,
chapattis made from flour obtained from madua (finger millet
seeds) and buckwheat are enjoyed with a dollop of ghee and
jaggery along with a helping of hill spinach.

Something unusual

Chutneys are regular inclusions in meals and are savoured with


a variety of dishes. A couple of native recipes are chutney
prepared from cannabis seeds (bhang ki chutney) and darim (a
local variety of pomegranate). The cannabis seeds are ground
in a paste and also used in another delicacy, Sana hua Nimbu.
Prepared from curd, cannabis seeds, radish, big lemon and
spices this refreshing mixture is an intrinsic part of the
routine of people soaking in the sun during the winter months.

Here shishun (stinging nettle plant) is a wild shrub with


thorny leaves and stem; historically it is loved by parents
and detested by kids as it is often employed to punish wayward
behavior. However its leaves (minus the thorns) are also used
to prepare a tasty green leafy vegetable high in nutritious
value.

Something for the famished

In Kumaon a wide range of pulses like urad (black lentil),


chana (black gram), gahat (horse gram) and bhatt (black and
white soyabean) are used, often in conjunction, to create
mouth-watering recipes which are usually enjoyed with rice.
Chudkani (black soyabean), bhatiya (white soyabean) and ras (a
combination of black lentil, black gram, horse gram and black
soyabean) are some of the much loved dishes commonly prepared
in Kumauni kitchens.

Something sweet

Made from semolina and curd (and sometimes bananas too), pua
is a sweet cake prepared during all major festivals (as prasad
to offer in temples) and major life events like birthdays etc.
Another local recipe is a kheer made from jhangora (barnyard
millet) complimented with cashews and raisins.
Made from semolina and curd (and sometimes bananas too), pua
is a sweet cake prepared during all major festivals.

Bal Mithai (brown chocolate like fudge made from khoya and
coated with sugar balls) and Singodi (flavoured khoya wrapped
in oak leaves) are a couple of popular sweets prepared in the
hill station of Almora.

Bal Mithai (right) – brown chocolate like fudge made from


khoya and coated with sugar balls. Singodi (left) is flavoured
khoya wrapped in oak leaves

The culinary tradition of Uttarakhand is deep-rooted in


growing food organically and most of the recipes use items
that are either found naturally in the Himalayas or are
cultivated locally. Due to the unavailability of most key
ingredients and condiments in other parts of India, these
delicacies are largely unknown outside Uttarakhand. For
generations people here have mastered the skill of bringing
the bio-diversity of the Himalayan eco-system to their plates.
Using the medicinal herbs and spices found here, their cuisine
has evolved into a perfect blend of taste and nutrition.

So the next time you are in Kumaon to admire the magnificence


of the snow-capped peaks squeeze in a day or two to explore
the food offered by this region – it will certainly spice up
your Himalayan experience!