Here’s how a hotel management institute celebrated Terra Madre Day digging into local cuisine secrets

When the minimum temperature ranges between 11 and 12 degrees, a bowl of warm soup figures high on our list of priorities. How many of us can think beyond popular continental soups? A golden yellow, buttery concoction called Miriyalu venna ganji can give regular soups tough competition. Prepared with starch water, pepper and a hint of butter, the broth is a refreshing take on soups. On December 10, to mark Terra Madre Day, second year students of Shri Shakti Institute of Hotel Management, with the help of chefs Satish Kumar and Nagender Reddy, dug into local culinary secrets to put together a winsome meal.

Terra Madre or slow food movement began as a fitting reply to the fast food phenomenon that threatens to derail traditional food habits. There’s been a gradual shift towards re-discovering local food and a keen interest in sustainable agricultural practices. The movement that began in Italy has gained momentum and is now observed across 160 nations, urging us to slow down, prepare and consume food the way it is supposed to be.

Organic farmers Madhu Reddy and Shyam Penubolu, in their own little way, have been promoting the growth and use of organic produce. They felt taking the concept of slow food to hotel management students would have long-standing effects. Madhu hopes the students who would soon be part of the hospitality industry, incorporate some home truths in their kitchens.

The menu was a celebration of local cuisine, with dishes ideal to ward off the chill. Ulavacharu prepared with horse gram is a winter delicacy. So is the Dappalam, made with young tamarind available this time of the year and added to a stew of vegetables thickened with rice flour. The Dappalam here was uniquely paired with delicious Ragi Sankati. Tamarind rice, Jowar rotis, Gutti Vankaya and Chenaga garelu (vadas made from Bengal gram) are staples round the year. The finishing touch came from the innovative Mokka jonna halwa or halwa prepared from maize flour, not to be confused with commercially available corn flour that has little nutritional benefit.

In her address that followed lunch, Madhu took our attention to disappearing foods — the puffed Makhana seeds that make for nutritious alternatives to popcorn, the Mahua leaves of Orissa that can be used as flavouring agents, the Buransh flowers of the Himalaya region used for juices, jute leaves of Bengal that went into saag preparations with mustard oil, safflower used for oil extraction, a wide varieties of pulses, rice, millets and greens. “We think of spinach at the mention of leafy vegetables. Leaves of betel plant, drumstick, arbi, omavalli, bhang, dry/young neem have all been traditionally used in cooking. At one point, we had 42,000 types of rice. There are only 2,000 folk varieties now,” she says. The loss is a result of changing agricultural practices and food consumption.

The slow food movement celebrates food diversity, promotes sustainable agricultural practices, is against genetically modified crops and emphasises responsible food consumption.

Does all this talk about local food habits amount to refusing to open our vistas to global cuisine? Not quite. Madhu urges us to innovate. So instead of preparing a salad with quinoa imported all the way from South America, use local grains. And why not use the leaves of Mahua to flavour a martini?