Desert’s culinary repository

Barley:Popular food grain.Photos: Rohit Jain Paras

Barley:Popular food grain.Photos: Rohit Jain Paras  

Braving the junk food conquest, Rajasthan villagers keep alive traditional methods of preparing roasted barley grains with all its nutrients intact

In a unique method preserving the healthy elements of food grains intact, villagers in Rajasthan have followed a traditional system for preparation of food and drinks from barley to keep them cool, especially during the scorching heat of summer months.

The conventional method is now on its way out with the arrival of junk food and soft drinks, but its glimpses can still be seen in some rural settings. A small ‘unit’ for converting jau (barley) into dhani (roasted barley), situated adjacent to an agricultural field at Jamuwa Ramgarh village, 32 km from Jaipur, is one of the few such entities still surviving in the desert State. Barley is one of the most popular food grains gown here.

The ‘unit’ dedicated to roasting of barley comprises a bhatti (oven) and a small cabin of grass, where the fire is lit with barley crop waste and the barley grains are put for roasting. Women sit near the cabin’s entrance hole and collect the barley grains for beginning the process of roasting that preserves the grains’ nutrients and cooling properties. A man goes inside through the small opening for roasting the grains.

Fifty-year-old Ramkaran, who is one of the members of the small team managing the unit, gets inside the grass cabin and receives the utensil of grains after the fire is lit in the oven. He has all the conventional equipment scattered around him. Interestingly, the opening of the small cabin of grass and bushes is barely large enough to allow the entry of a single person, who can push his way inside and come back only by crawling.

Demonstrating the procedure for preparation of the healthy food, Ramkaran puts the barley grains inside the oven in a utensil with twig attached to it. In the oven’s high temperature, the roasting process is completed within a few minutes. The grains are then taken out to be cleaned, processed, sifted and transferred to another utensil.

The women check the grains and test the quality of roasting. The entire process takes 10 to 15 minutes. Other villagers can also bring their barley grains for roasting on the payment of a price. The roasted grains are spread under the shadow of a tree for cooling and arriving at the normal temperature. Once fully cooled, they are ready for consumption. The grains can be eaten in the raw form, known as dhani , or mixed in water to make a drink, locally known as s attu .

As a repository of the traditional Rajasthani cuisine, the ‘unit’ effectively provides healthy food to the desert dwellers.

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