How do you like this version of Christmas Cake? It was tasting somewhat similar but the only major difference was the color which instead of being a bit whitish it was much brown is color. It’s made of Ragi (Finger Millet) uttered my wife as she smiled along with all her cousins who were waiting to see my reaction. Ragi cakes are not that uncommon in the state of Jharkhand and instead of flour, it has been used for making flatbreads as well as for cakes. I had obviously tasted the flatbread version but for me, it was something of a new experience when it comes to Ragi Christmas Cakes.
Traveling around the mountains of Uttarakhand had got me another chance in experiencing Ragi. It was for the very first time that I was traveling around this state and was very excited to see new places as well as to experience the regional delicacies.
The one thing that was very common was welcome drinks whenever we reached a hotel or Tourist Rest House (TRH). While most of them served fruit squashes it was a bit different when we reached Syanachatti. After the traditional welcome with garlands and tilak we were served glasses of red colored juices. Initially, I thought we were served Rooh Afza but it was tasting very different and much refreshing. On asking we were told by the TRH manager that it was actually Buransh Juice. The manager surely understood that we were new to it so to make it clear he told that its actually Rhododendron juice.
It came as a surprise to me that Uttarakhand is one of the largest producers of Buransh juice and the state is actually blessed with an abundance of Rhododendron Arboretum trees and the locals extract the juices from the bright red flowers and are bottled which further is sold in the retail market.
By the time we reached Syanachatti it was quite late and was time for dinner and to make it more exciting for me I was told that for dinner we will be served traditional Garhwali dishes.
A deadly concussion of hunger and excitement was quickly filling up the air and as I waiting for the cooking to finish I went for a quick tour of Syanachatti. It was actually a junction of sorts with hotels, bus stop, and a small bazaar. In the hills, evening sounds the end of the day and most shops put their shutters down however at Syanachatti it was bustling with travelers. The small tea shops were also having a brisk business thanks to all the tourists.
Back at the TRH the dinner was finally ready and I got my first taste of Garhwali cuisines from Uttarakhand. We were served Poori which was locally known as Sewla. These are no ordinary Poori but were having an inner stuffing of Gahat / Kulath ki daal (Horse Gram). The gram is soaked overnight in water after which it is boiled and then ground into a paste. The flatbreads (Poori) are stuffed with the daal and then deep fried.
The Pooris are served along with potato curry known as Aloo Ke Thechauni which consists of small-sized potatoes cooked in the Garhwali style. The small varieties of potatoes add a different taste to it since these taste much better than the bigger sized potatoes that you get in the market. Locally grown in the mountains these are perfect accompaniments along with the Pooris.
The Poori in itself was very heavy since there was a thick stuffing inside along with the potato curry this was enough to calm down the hungry tiger inside my tummy.
Along with this, we were served a type of rice known as Khichwani. This is actually made from Jhangora (Barnyard Millet). Jhangora is very low in calorie and rich in iron thus making it perfect for diet conscious people. Unlike boiled rice this was not free-flowing instead was a slight dry sticky type. This is also eaten along with the potato curry.
Jhangora also has a religious significance in the hills since this is a must during fasting. After any fasting Khichidi made out of Jhangora is eaten as part of the ceremony.
A good meal according to me is incomplete without a sweet dish and there was just that perfect solution with Jhangora Ki Kheer. Basically, it was the same Barnyard Millet boiled in sweetened milk and then thickened up by keeping it on the flame.
Dinner was just perfect in Syanachatti and it was just the right food that I needed for a perfect night’s sleep. My Garhwali food adventure did not end here and the next adventure came at Harsil. We had stopped at Harsil for our lunch at the local Tourist Rest House.
Along with Yellow Daal, Bhindi Bhaji (fried Okra/Ladies Finger), Jhangora Ki Kheer we were served Mandua ki Roti. Mandua is very common in Uttarakhand and this is nothing but Ragi (Finger Millet). Wheat flour and Ragi flour are mixed in the ratio of 1:3 with one part being wheat flour and three parts Ragi flour. A dough is made and then made into a flatbread and serves with a dash of butter.
Initially, I did not associate Mandua with Ragi but after seeing the roti it was clear to me that these were none other than Ragi which was also used in backing that Christmas Cake at my in law’s house.
The last Garhwali meal experience was at Raithal. It was really late nearly midnight and after long delays, due to mountainous roads, we finally reached the village of Raithal. The villagers were surprisingly still waiting for us. After a traditional welcome, we rushed into our room to freshen up and head straight to the dining table for the first even nonvegetarian Garhwali meal.
To start with we were served Gahat / Kulath ki daal soup which was just the perfect thing needed as it was bit cold and the thick soup was the best thing ever to have happened.
Followed by something called Kafuli which is a dish prepared by cooking together spinach and fenugreek leaves along with traditional spices. A mix of rice or wheat is made which acts as the base for the dish. The spinach and fenugreek leaves are mixed with the base and served. The dish feels bit sticky and gets the deep green color from the presence of spinach.
The next item on the menu was Phanu, different lentils like Gahat, Arhar, Hara Moong are soaked overnight and then the skins are removed. A thick paste is made by grinding them together after which its cooked on a pan with oil along with various spices like turmeric, coriander etc. After a thick gravy is prepared with this just add some ghee and fresh coriander leaves.
Next on the menu was Lungru ki Sabji which are actually Fiddlehead Ferns. These taste really different from any other vegetables that I had tasted during the trip and the preparation tasted quite unique with fewer spices and more of the basic taste of the fern. This is a perfect accompaniment with Mandua ki Roti.
Along with Manuda ki Roti we were also served Red Rice which comes straight from the village itself. The rice is relatively thick and since the husk is not removed with machines and instead traditional husk separators are used.
Last but not the least item for the night was Garhwali style Bhuna Mutton slow cooked on wooden flame. The mutton was very heavy when it comes to the usage of spices and the meat was really soft must be due to the extended cooking on wood flames.
As for the dessert we were served Jhangora ki Kheer but there was a twist. The kheer was bland without sugar and we were given a separate bowl full of sugar which one needs to spread over the kheer as per taste.
Dinner was finally complete and thus ends my Uttarakhand Garhwali food adventure. On an ending note, I have to mention about Jain Shikanji which has nothing to do with Uttarakhand Garhwali food but does require a mention. We got to taste this on our return journey from Rishikesh to New Delhi. While crossing Modinagar in Ghaziabad you will surely come across several Soda-Shikanji shops and amongst all of them, Jain Shikanji is the oldest and most known. So much so that many shops have sprung up around that locality all selling Shikanji. It’s nothing out of the ordinary Shikanji which is just lemon juice added to soda water with some rock salt. However, it’s always good to be at a place which has a legacy when it comes to food and drinks.
I traveled across Uttarakhand along with six other bloggers as a part of Bloggers Bus 1.0 organized by Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board. It was a truly memorable experience sharing a week full of memories with Rangan Dutta, Namita Kulkarni (Radically Ever After), Anindya Sundar Basu (Pickturenama), Swati Jain (Buoyant Feet), Amrita Das (Travelling Ides of March) and Upendra (Vagabond Images).
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