When I landed in Sarmoli in April this year to celebrate my birthday with birds, I had no idea of the gastronomical journey that awaited me. While I knew that, as in most villages, the food would be fresh from the farm to the kitchen, I did not expect Kumaoni food to be so distinct and unique. Why? Because I had never heard of Kumaoni food before. And I wonder why?
|Bhaang ki chutney- chutney made with cannabis seeds.|
I stayed with two different hosts during my 10 day stay there. While with the first host, I tried a few unique things like bhaang ki chutney, and Bhaang ke pakode, it was my second host who completely blew my mind with the varieties she whipped up for every meal.
Kumaoni food is best described as simple, earthy, rustic and robust. The meals are essentially simple but bursting with flavours and full of nutrients. It is characterized by the use of herbs that are unique to the place, such as Timur, Jimboo, Gandhrayani, etc. In the kitchen of my second home-stay, all meals were prepared only on the traditional 'chulha' or hearth and not on cooking gas. So, by default everything was slow cooked and the chulha imparts a distinct taste to the food while enhancing its taste several notches higher.
All the dishes were served on Kansa plates and bowls. Traditionally in India, Kansa (an alloy of copper and tin) was used for eating because as per Ayurveda, the alkalising properties of the metal are very beneficial for one's body. That, and the love and enthusiasm with which Bhanu, my hostess, cooked each and every meal, satiated my body and soul.
|My hostess cooking on the 'chulha'.|
|The cute kitchen from the outside.|
|Jimboo leaves being sun dried.|
|Bhaang seeds/ Cannabis seeds.|
My second host, Saraswati Thakuni’s sweet grand-daughter named Bhanu was the magician in the kitchen. With a commendable passion and pride in Kumaoni food, she put up a splendid display and gave me a taste of most things that Kumaon is known for!
|Giant radishes in the farm.|
Here’s what I ate. Be warned you’ll be extremely hungry by the time you finish reading this post!
My first meal was plain parathas, delectable rajma and Bhaang ki chutney. And the wheat, rajma and bhaang, everything is from their own farm. Need I say how I savored every morsel of it.
|Rajma and parathas.|
|Rotis, malka daal and saag.|
|Mundve ki roti, masoor dal and gobi subzi.|
|A fritter called Chunni.|
One breakfast was lavish with Mundve ka halva, a Kumaoni noodles called ‘Kokla’ and jimboo parathas. Mundve is a millet widely eaten in Uttarakhand and is similar to finger millet (ragi, nachni) in colour and taste. Jimboo is a herb that is eaten fresh mixed with parathas or dried and used in gravies and lentils. I loved the Kokla so much that Bhanu made that on the morning I was leaving and packed some for me to eat on the way back.
|Thoya seeds- a bit like cumin seeds but much stronger in flavour.|
|Mundve ka halva, jimboo parathas and Kumaoni noodles called Kokla.|
With tea, one time I was served a fritter called ‘chunni’ made with wheat flour, sugar and rice flour.
Another herb that is liberally used is Thoya. It looks like cumin seeds much has a much stronger flavor. Bhanu made some thoya fried rice with it for dinner one day.
|Bhutt (black soya bean) being cooked.|
|Close up of bhutt.|
|Mundve ki roti, bhutt daal and muthiyas.|
There is another pulse called ‘bhutt’ (black soya bean)which Sarmoli has stopped growing but which they procure from another village. Bhanu had got some to cook for me. It’s very high in nutrition and I was told that her grandmother’s generation and before that, women had a meal of this bhutt dal and worked in the farm and fields the whole day and remained strong even in their old age.
|Jiya soup with jaggery.|
|The herb called gandhraini.|
|Thuner, a bark of a tree also used as a culinary herb.|
|Atte ka halva.|
|Dried bitter gourds.|
|Clockwise from left- Dubka, dried bitter gourd subzi, Phonn and roti.|
I did a whole day trek-cum-bird watching trip to the upper reaches of the forest and my host had packed some out-of-the-world delicious gobi parathas and rajma. Gosh! I have never tasted gobi parathas as scrumptious as this.
|Rajma and gobi parathas.|
My trek guide had carried a typical Kumaoni snack called Khajura with him made by the local women. It’s similar to shakkar para but coarser.
|Timur, a spice like black pepper.|
|This is the timur tree, full of thorns. Wonder how they pick the timur from this?|
The hosts has organized a pooja one day so for Prasad they made Atte ke halva, made with wheat flour, sugar, ghee and milk.
|A pancake called Puli.|
|This is a fragrant root which is fed to the cattle. It was so fragrant, was tempted to take a bite!|
In Kumaon, they grow a bitter gourd which is actually sweet. They call it meetha karela. They dry it and use it round the year.
|Bhanu, my sweet host cooking spinach.|
|Rotis, spinach saag, Dubka.|
|Another fried rice called Bhumla with spinach saag and Dubka.|
Another very traditional dinner was a dish called Phonn which is made with buttermilk, mundva flour, rice, timur, bhaang seeds and a tadka of jimboo. This was served with Dubka, a dish made with butt daal, and a herb called gandhrayani.
|Giant sized lemon trees. The Kumaonis pickle these lemons.|
|See how big it is?|
For breakfast another day I was served a sweet pancake called ‘puli’ made with wheat flour, sugar and milk. This was served with curd.
|I did a sketch of the rhododendron flowers.|
|A local woman Bina, making the rhododendron juice.|
Five days was a short time indeed to experience Bhanu's hospitality. I have promised to go back and soak up more of the mountains, cuisine and peace.
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