It is strange how at times you find the simplest of food, served at the right time and by the right person, forming the most delicious of your memories. This account is not as much of the food as it is of the person who cooked and served it to us. Bobby, who in his eponymous ‘dhaba’ whistled and sang sweet tunes as he cooked the typical Himachali Madhra-Bhaat (red beans in yoghurt gravy, served with rice) for us, made us believe that the happiness of the cook reflected in taste of the food.
Set up in the heart of the divinely beautiful Kinnaur, Chitkul is the last inhabited village on the Indo-Tibet border. It had taken us six hours of a gruelling but visually captivatingdrive through lush green meadows, roadside waterfalls and steep uphill pathways running beside the roaring Baspa River to find this hidden hamlet.
The overwhelming beauty around us was enough to make sure that we were oblivious of the hunger building up in our bellies. It was late afternoon and all we had on our minds was to absorb as much beauty from our surrounding as we could. But the plans were ruined, courtesy Bobby. One walk across his small house-cum-dhaba and our taste buds revolted against the better senses! As the aroma of freshly plucked mint leaves being ground into chutney filled our nostrils, we, like people possessed, walked into Bobby’s.
His small wood and stone house was converted into a kitchen; a couple of tables and few mismatched chairs stacked on top of each other waited for customers on a veranda outside. The person in question was in his late twenties, pink Himalayan cheeks glistening and brown eyes reflecting the happiness of the tune he was whistling.
The menu was set: Madhra, rice and aloo-matar, all of which Bobby cooked in fresh batches as new customers came in. After a 20 minute wait, with aroma of home-grown herbs wafting from the kitchen door and a cheerful Bobby telling my parents (who were pestering him to hurry up) “Bhojan aur Bhajan itmeenan se karna chahiye” (One should take time while eating and praying), the food was finally served.
I can’t tell if it was the traditional Himachali recipe, Bobby’s happy tunes, our overwhelming hunger or the fact that we were savouring our food overlooking snow-laden Himalayas, that made our lunch special, but something made sure that we remember Bobby each time we hear someone whistling a happy tune.