One of the biggest joys of visiting home is sampling some of the staple foods that you grew up on but now long to eat. No, I’m not talking about Maa ke haath ka khaana, although that has its own matchless bliss, but the native foods from your homeland that don’t taste the same even if you try cooking them in the kitchen of your home away from home.
For the benefit of those who don’t know me, I come from Nahan, a small but beautiful hill town in Sirmour, Himachal Pradesh. When you think Himachali food, famous dishes like Madra, Mittha, Mahnni, come to mind, in addition to specialities like the Chukk from Chamba. Our food in Sirmour has some unique elements that are distinct from foods elsehwere in the state. Here are my top five favourite foods from my homeland that every foodie must try:
This is our version of what is more popularly known as patrode. Different states have different version of this humble dish that essentially entails smearing a spiced gram flour batter on the back of Colocasia leaves, stacking them in layers, rolling and then steaming them. In most parts, this dish is eaten like a snack or a side with the steamed rolls cut into circular shapes and then either deep fried or consumed as it is. We eat our Geeche as a sabzi, where the steamed rolls are cut and then tossed in a tadka of mustard oil, coriander and cumin seeds, sautéed onions, and powered spices. Tastes best with paranthas.
Askali is our version of idli, at least as far as the shape of this dish is concerned. Askali is traditionally prepared either on Diwali or Makar Sakranti. This needs special flour made from a mix of rice, wheat and urad dal. The flour is then whipped into a batter of flowing consistency and slow cooked over woodfire in a stone mould. These are prepared in three varieties – plain to be eaten with dal, sweetened, and bedhawi with a generous gram flour layer infused with local herbs and spices in the middle. My favourite is, of course, the bedhawi askali that is eaten with oodles of molten ghee. Yum, yum!
If I had to make a correlation, pattande would be the Sirmouri take on dosa, except these are made from very runny wheat flour batter and again cooked over woodfire on a thin but enormous tawa and rolled by hand. So yeah, making pattande takes some expertise or you risk ending up with hand full of blisters. Unlike a dosa, this preparation has a soft texture that in enhanced by a layer of ghee on the inside. It is eaten with kheer or kadhi.
Tehwar Ka Meat
Essentially, this is just mutton but you have to eat it to believe that it is nothing like any mutton you have ever eaten in your life. The onset of Magh month is celebrated by festivities in rural parts of Sirmour, where people give thanks by sacrificing goats in honour of their Gods. The goats are bought months in advance, fed the choicest of grains, and kept in designated dark areas, resulting in meat that is so rich in animal fat that it adds a whole different texture to the simple mutton, blowing your mind with every single bite.
This is a spicy pulao where the rice are cooked with naal badi, a special type of vadi that is native to Himachal and the neighbouring Uttarakhand made by sticking lentil paste on soft colocasia stems which are then sundried. This badi is very different from the more popular variants such as the Punjabi/Amristsari wadiyan, and has a firm texture. The firmness of the naal badi and the flavour of dried dal against softness of rice makes this a textural ride. Whenever we are in mood for something ‘simple’, we don’t do the typical pulao. Instead, we indulge in the humble badanj with some curd on the side. Oh, pure bliss!