The fresh & unique Himalayan produce
One of my most favourite places in India, believe it or not, is the balcony of a boutique hotel in the high hills of Uttarakhand.
Dhanachuli, a place yet to find its way into the map of India, is a tiny village with little hamlets all around. Sitting on the aforesaid mentioned balcony at Te Aroha, gives one a spectacular view of the mighty Himalayas and the surrounding valleys. So gazing at the tall peaks and enjoying the local food is as blissful as life can get.
Driving to Dhanachuli, the landscape changes from pine forests to apple and pear orchards transforming into large cabbage patches attached to stone houses guarded by large mountain dogs. I was most excited to taste the tiny red wild berries called “Ghingaroo” which tasted exactly like Japanese love apples.
I was treated to a typical Kumaoni meal by Chef Chatursingh Farsvarn and his brigade at Te Aroha. The spread of delicacies consisted of bhatt ki churkani (a curry-like preparation made from a black pulse found only in the Himalayan region), aloo ke gutke (a dry potato curry made with locally grown reddish brown potatoes, tomatoes, coriander and whole red chillies), lauki raita (made by mixing sautéed bottle gourd with curd and lots of mustard paste), lahsan ka pahadi achar (garlic cloves pickled in vinegar and clove paste) and Pahadi Lai ka saag (red mustard greens sautéed with coriander seeds, garlic and red chillies). With these came hot rotis straight from the tandoor, rice and dal makhani (as the Chef explained, “just in case someone doesn’t take a liking to Pahadi food”).
The mouth-watering kumaoni food
Kumaoni food, I discovered, is really unique by way of taste & texture. Flavours are strong; the curries are quite spicy, but that is required to keep the body warm in those low temperatures. Even the raitas have a strong mustardy twang to them, unlike the mild sweetish ones we make. It is quite heavy to digest for us city-folks. In fact, it takes a couple of days to really get used to it.
A trip to the local vegetable market near Ranikhet is fascinating. You see heaps of the freshest of produce including seasonal Himalayan produce like Fiddlehead Ferns, Lai, a bunch of wild Colocasia leaves, local cucumbers & radishes (which taste fabulous when drizzled over with spicy green chutney).
One has to taste the typical local sweets like Bal Mithai (a sweet resembling chocolate fudge) & potato halwa (a soft smooth potato fudge).
The only thing lacking was a good whisky but the prospect of seeing the Himalayas up close in the morning more than made up for it!
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