Food

A taste of the mountains

Discover the distinct flavours of the Garhwals, dominated by corn and fresh herbs sourced from the mountains

Sainji village, nestled on a hilltop in the Tehri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand, is popularly known as the corn village. Golden bunches of corn hang from the ceiling in the verandah outside each house and glisten in the sunlight.

Corn occupies pride of place in this region, as it is grown abundantly due to its suitable weather. Corn flour is used extensively in kitchens here. The thali served to us, for instance, comprises corn flour rotis.

Pradeep Rai, a resident, says, “Traditionally, every year after the harvest in August, corn is separated from its leafy covering and left to dry upside down for five to six months, as bunches tied together, outside houses for the remaining part of the year.” The villagers have mastered the art of drying the corn within their homes. As and when corn is required, it is pulled out, combined with wheat and used to make flour at the local mill that runs on hydel energy. “Wheat has to be combined with the corn flour; else the rotis become dry and brittle,” he explains.

Kunwar Singh, a villager, says they preserve corn seeds for the next year. Once the seeds are removed, the cob is used to light a fire. The house we visit is 200 years old, and now houses the eighth generation of residents. It is made entirely of wood. The house has a tiny door, just enough for one person to pass through and you have to duck to enter.

Women chat in the kitchen as they prepare a meal for us. While one makes the roti, another lady readies our plates.

As winter has set in, we decide to sit on the verandah and our fragrant and piping hot Garhwali spread arrives. The lunch is a simple meal, comprising jakhiya aloo, railu, and makke ki roti. Jakhiya seeds are native to the Garhwal region and resemble mustard, with the difference being the size. They find use in vegetable preparations as well as raitas. Railu (grated cucumber, mixed in yoghurt and tempered with jakhiya seeds) is unique to this region. We round off our meal with the sweet rice pudding, jhingore ki kheer and sip kacchi, a drink made with rice.

Back at the hotel, we dig into more Garhwali delicacies for breakfast. Roshni, a localite, hired by the hotel as a part of its sustainable practices, is the chef who has prepared ghat ki dal ke parathe and puris stuffed with potatoes.

For lunch, Sidharth Bhardwaj, executive chef of the hotel, shows us the Garhwali thali designed by him, which is an extensive selection of dishes like jakhiya aloo, chainsoo, kandle ki sabji, ghat ki dal, railu and jhingore ki kheer.

Wild wonders

According to him, as Garhwal is a hilly region, tucked in the Himalayas, and experiences snowfall during winter, transportation is difficult. So locals make the most of what is available in the wild. This has also come to define the cuisine of the region. “Though most have a farm and are into agriculture, they are strongly connected to their land and are all for local produce,” he adds. The region also depends on food foraged from the wild.

Balwant Singh, also a chef at the hotel, attributes the use of indigenous ingredients to the region’s unique geography. For instance, who would think the stinging nettle plant that grows in the wild and leaves you itching for days, is made into a delicious curry?

Balwant demonstrates how the leaves are placed on a stove to burn the thorns, and then blanched before being tempered with jakhiya seeds.

Chef Bhardwaj throws light on the nutrition content of Garhwali food. The cuisine is largely vegetarian and gluten-free, he says, and adds, “That is why people are so fit here.” Trout is also popular amongst the locals.

As I leave, the chef gives me freshly plucked walnuts from the trees that grow in the area. He pounds them and combines it with ghee and jaggery to make a delicious walnut halwa, the taste of which still lingers on.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 2:18:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/a-taste-of-the-mountains/article25788634.ece

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