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Reema Bhalla Mar 05 2014

What are the authentic Kumaoni foods?

Debangana Sen Mar 06 2014
0 people found this answer useful Useful ?Yes
Any traveller to Kumaon, Uttaranchal will soon realise that there is virtually no dhaba or restaurant left in the hills that offers authentic Kumaoni food. With the ubiquitous ‘ chow-meen’ and momo fever currently sweeping the hills, chances are that all you will get are chana bhatura, aloo-puri and a watery raita.

Photo of a scene in Kumaon (by Anurag Agnihotri)

For those hankering for an authentic pahari meal, therefore, the best way may be to wangle an invitation to someone’s home and ask to sample it. It is well worth a try to ask for ras-bhaat, churkani, bari, mungauri, charanji and the works. The staple food in the hills continues to be dal-bhaat, or lentil soup with rice.

Photo of Churkani - Black Bean stew (by Badagnani)

Rice is also served with a broth made from black soya beans (the same that is used to make tofu), locally known as bhatt, tempered with jhambu (a dried Tibetan chive-like herb) and topped with a delicious scoop of homemade ghee (clarified butter). Greens are always served at a traditional pahari meal. There is the sweet pahari spinach (like Swiss chard), mustard leaves and even cooked nettles (rather strong flavour but sweet). Rotis made with madua (a coarse buckwheat) are relished with ghee and gur (jaggery).

Photo of Pooris served with Alu sabzi (by Rashmi Gupta)

The grand finale is the pahari raita (a condiment made with yoghurt). The raita requires a separate billing for there is a large range: from the tangy yellow, mustard-flavoured cucumber raita that tingles your sinuses, to a groovy one made with sweet radishes and sour pahari limes tossed with chilli powder and roasted and ground cannabis seeds ( bhang ka raita). However, the seeds are the non-intoxicant part of the cannabis plant and add a zest that is quite unique. Do try it if you get a chance.

Photo of cucumber raita (by Elisabeth)

The other signature pahari vegetable is the potato gutka. These are made from large pahari potatoes and flavoured with coarsely ground coriander and turmeric. Cooked lovingly to a crispy finish in mustard oil, they are tempered with jhambu and sprinkled over with fresh green coriander. Along with fluffy puris (a kind of fried flatbread) and a tangy chutney made with sour pomegranate (darim), green chillies and bhang seeds, this is indeed food for the gods.

Photo of a Pumpkin Patch (by wfmillar)

All along the Kakrighat Valley (from Almora to Bhowali), the fields along the Kosi River produce sweet green peas, juicy green pumpkins, fat white radishes, capsicums and a variety of greens. If you can, stop at Garampani, a small village near Jalna on this road and head for Tewari Jalpan Griha. Until a few years ago, old Tewari cooked the meanest potato gutkas served with a sharp cucumber raita. Perhaps his sons have started selling pakoras by now, but that would be a pity. If you can coax the owner, do try your luck.

Photo of Raspberries (by Juhanson)

From late April till September, tiny shanties spring up all along the hills along the tourist routes to sell sweet berries (gooseberries, raspberries and strawberries among them) in leaf baskets, and the best roasted corn anywhere in the world. They rub a tingling mixture of green chillies and salt along with lime and no one can stop at just one. Juices and preserves, squashes made from blood-red rhododendron flowers are another interesting Kumaoni produce. Honey from the hives that dot the apple orchards, and homemade pickles are sold from makeshift ‘shops’ (often just an upturned wooden crate) and do brisk business all summer.

Photo of Bal Mithai (by vkumar)

Finally, the chewy bal mithai, encrusted with small sugared balls, is Kumaon’s best-known sweet. Its shyer cousin is the singauri, wrapped like a cone inside a maalu (fig-leaf), which must be eaten fresh. Made from fresh khoya, sugar and grated coconut, it is difficult to carry and, thus available only in Kumaon. Another such sweet is the aloo ki launj. A small shop in Bhowali sells it and it is worth braving the narrow bazaar and mad traffic to reach it. Did I tell you about the fat Kumaoni jalebis? The best breakfast is jalebis and milk. Walk vigorously to work them off.
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