For someone who is a foodie and a fitness freak, stumbling upon dishes that are both healthy and delicious is like hitting the jackpot. When I frantically scrolled through my Pinterest feed, looking for “healthy desserts”, I quite forgot that there was a satisfyingly delicious dessert that was made right at home. My favourite hatchike , a Badaga dessert made out of millets.
I remember when my hethai (grandmother) served us hatchike every other day. Now, living away from my hatti (village), it is a forgotten dish along with many other old favourites. Happily, all is not lost as there are people from the community who are striving to revive and preserve the fading traditions of the Badagas of the Nilgiris.
Harsha Bellie, 48, a Badaga from Coonoor, often invites people to visit or stay with her. She enjoys serving them a healthy and tasty Badaga hittu (meal). “Not many know what hatchike is,” she says and recounts, how earlier, her relatives sent ready-to-eat millet cereal. It is becoming a rarity now, she says.
Hatchike is made using little millet or samai , which is suitable for all age groups, says Bellie. It has several health benefits for both men and women. Preparing hatchike is a cumbersome process, she admits. It involves boiling, roasting and pounding the millet to de-husk it and, finally, winnowing to blow off the husk.
I still remember when my hethai would sit by the ole (fireplace) and roast grains in a madake (earthen pot) with a hole on the side, using a huri-kolu (a wooden stick with a cloth tied at the end to make a ball). Sadly, this now remains only in my memory. Hatchike is usually served with milk and grated coconut.
Bellie is keeping these memories alive by inviting tourists to sample Badaga fare. A group called Veg Voyages stops at her place every year as a part of its vegan tour. She introduces the tourists to some of the customs of community life, to a typical Badaga house where the grains are stored in the atulu (loft/attic), to Badaga music and dance and to enne hittu (a sweet dish of maida ) that is dipped into black coffee and eaten. This is rounded off with an authentic Badaga meal, served in a ganguva (copper/brass plate) filled with kadimittu , eragi hittu , batha hittu , avare udaka , soppu , sandege and bathal . Of course, hatchike is the dessert. For vegans, instead of milk, Bellie serves it with coconut milk.
Eragi hittu — or ragi mudde in Kannada — is made of finger millets and is a healthy alternative to rice and wheat. A depression is made in the mudde and ghee poured into it. It is then eaten with soppu (greens) and avare udaka (beans curry). During the hethai habba (our biggest festival), it is a beautiful sight to see all Badagas wearing white, sitting in rows and eating avare udaka and kuu (rice) in the green hills.
Apart from millets, the earlier Badaga cultivated barley and wheat. It was common to see these grains spread out in the courtyards to dry under the sun. They would then be fried, and used to make a variety of dishes. With such practices disappearing, dishes like ganjike , the base of which is ganje (barley), have also become a rarity. The increase in tea cultivation led to the decline in the cultivation of millets and other grains in the Nilgiris.
Our ancestors consumed what they grew, made sure they replenished the soil and prepared almost everything from scratch. If they wanted butter, they would churn milk using a pot and plunger, a rope and bare hands. This process called haalu sorakodu has now been replaced by mixers and machines. Even the hati maasu hudi (masala used in the gravies) was home made but is now available readymade in shops. ). Since everything was hand milled, there was no adulteration and the food was extremely healthy. People stayed active and there was plenty of social interaction when relatives or neighbours lent a helping hand in grinding and pounding.
Bellie firmly believes that if more people followed older traditions, both the people and the earth would be healthier. She says that she would dearly love to grow more grains and encourage others to do the same in their holla (fields) for at least a few tasty meals every month.