Long forgotten Himachali food on road to revival

Shimla, Feb 3 (IANS) Traditional Himachali food like khoru, patore, babroo, chaa ghosht and murgh anardana that have been long forgotten are now being offered by a chain of hotels using the finest ingredients, traditional recipes and methods.

The Oberoi Group of hotels in Shimla and in Delhi have just added the rich tradition of the hill state to its cuisines.

The traditional cuisines, laced with an assortment of herbs and spices, have been launched at three hotels in Shimla - Clarkes, The Cecil and Wildflower Hall - and at The Oberoi in Delhi, Clarkes' kitchen executive Meet Singh Malhotra told IANS.

"We have added the 'Himachali Thali', both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, in our cuisines. It's basically a four-course unlimited meal during lunch and a-la-carte Himachali menu during dinner," Malhotra said.

The cuisines are not only offered in traditional style but also cooked by chefs trained by the "botis" or hereditary cooks, he added.

The starter begins with khoru, a yoghurt soup flavoured with coriander and cumin. It is served with khus sidoos, a sort of jaggery and poppy seed bread.

Then patore, steamed colocassia/rye leaves roulade with gram flour, is served with mooli ki chutney.

The main course has the chaa ghosht or lamb cooked in yoghurt gravy, or murgh anardana, chicken stewed in pomegranate paste, for non-vegetarians.

For vegetarians, it is Himachali dal channa, split gram with fennel seeds, and mathri choware, lentil fritters in spinach gravy.

For those with a sweet tooth, there is meethe chawal, sweetened red rice with dry fruits and saffron.

The food is cooked in copper vessels which impart a special flavour to the dishes, said Malhotra.

The main course will have a choice of bread - babroo, chawal ki kadak roti and beduan roti.

In the end, top up with your favourite flavour of meetha kaddu or red pumpkin pudding with melon seeds or badana mithha or lentil fritters stewed in sugar syrup served with vanilla ice cream.

"We use only the finest ingredients, besides traditional recipes and methods to create wholesome, natural products for you to enjoy," Clarkes' General Manager D.P. Bhatia told IANS.

He said that over time, the essence of the simple yet flavoursome Himachali food has been forgotten.

"Tourists coming to Shimla find it difficult to discover local food but easily locate restaurants that offer Punjabi food. People have a misapprehension about Himachali cuisine, confounding it with Punjabi food," said Bhatia, the man behind reviving the piquant Himachali food.

He said that for cooking meethe chawal, a traditional variety of red rice that is on the verge of extinction in the state has been procured from the interiors of Shimla district.

At present, most of the red rice is grown in around 1,000 hectares on the banks of the Pabbar tributary of the Yamuna river, in Chhohara Valley in upper Shimla. It is also cultivated in some stretches of Kullu and Kangra districts.

Bhatia said red rice now sells for Rs.200-250 per kg in the market.

Red rice is also grown in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. But in the hills, it is grown in a totally organic manner.

The idea of starting the cuisines was to make authentic and traditional food of Himachal Pradesh available to the masses visiting Shimla, he added.

Before introducing the cuisines in Shimla and Delhi, a Himachali five-day food revival workshop was organised last month at Clarkes by hiring cooks from the areas where these dishes originate.

In Kangra, a typical menu is served in courses during "dhaam" or community kitchen.

It starts with rice, moong dal, green lentil broth, and a madrah of rajma, red kidney beans cooked in yoghurt.

This is followed by boor ki kari and mash dal, a dark lentil. A sweet and sour sauce made of tamarind and jaggery called "khatta" complements the meal.

The "dhaam" normally ends with the sweetened rice.

A Himachali meal for two in the Oberoi hotels would cost between Rs.1,500-2,000 (without alcohol).

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)