Champaran meat curry now shines as a regional delicacy across Bihar

Once a poor man’s party fare, the Champaran meat curry is now a regional delicacy across Bihar

Updated - November 29, 2019 12:02 pm IST

Published - November 29, 2019 11:37 am IST

At Old Champaran Meat House in Patna, the crowd waiting is restless. What keeps them engaged, however, is a dramatic kitchen scene. A line of whistling earthen pots sits atop gas burners, with jets of steam gushing out of small openings on their lids. The mouths of the handis or ahuna are sealed with kneaded flour, and an aroma of mutton stewing in mustard oil floats over the expectant diners.

This scene unfolds regularly across Patna, where the popularity of Champaran meat curry, served in takeaway handis, rages. The curry from the nondescript town of Champaran, from where Gandhi famously started the Satyagraha, has recently been making it to the tables of the rich and famous. Gopal Khushwaha, who claims to be its originator in current recipe and form, says it has even made it to the banquet at Raisina Hill.

An innocent query about the dish from a client inspired Gopal to trace the dish to Ghorasahan, a small village 30 kms from Motihari on the Bihar-Nepal border. The dish has its origins in Nepal, where it is cooked in open handis . On the Indian side, it is cooked covered, but stirred often. Mutton is marinated in mustard oil mixed with onions, a paste of ginger and spice powders, and cooked slowly over a low flame.

Gopal says the goodness of the curry depends on the quality of mutton, or more precisely, the type of goat used. “Meat of a hilly goat will taste different from one that has grazed on grass; meat of a goat fed on herbs is dark, as is the case of mutton in Champaran. The cooking time for a goat weighing six to seven kilograms is about an hour, during which the pot has to be tossed six to seven times.”

Mohan Thakur, a food connoisseur from Sitamarhi in Bihar, says that migrant workers from the villages of North Bihar brought the dish to Patna. “It was not sophisticated food made in the kitchens of zamindars, and that’s why it had not received the kind of exposure it has now found. The farm hands or labourers generally marinated the mutton with whatever spices they had, mixing all ingredients with the meat and cooking it over slow charcoal or wood fire. It is a hearty, thick and strong curry, not subtle but forceful.”

Babloo Roy recalls eating it in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh, prepared on wood fire. He remembers an earthy taste that is absent when the dish is cooked in a pressure cooker on a gas stove. “After cooking on high heat, it is left to stew for a long time on doused charcoal. This slow cooking tenderises the meat and allows it to soak in the spices.”

Puja Sahu, who runs Potbelly, a chain of Bihari cuisine restaurants in New Delhi, says the ahuna mutton is marinated in a mix of ghee and mustard oil, with whole spices, along with onions, garlic and ginger paste. The cooking pot is sealed and tossed frequently in the one-hour cooking time.

In a richer version, it was called ‘batlohi’ mutton and cooked in a bell metal pot, much the same way, but enriched with spices and dry fruits. But even as a discussion on its origin and evolution rages, it is evident that the Champaran curry began as the poor man’s party fare.

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