Uttarakhand is popularly known as ‘dev bhumi’ or ‘land of gods’ in Indian mythology and scriptures. The beauty, nobility and rich spirituality of this state are celebrated across the length and breadth of the country. But little do we know about the culinary treasure of Uttarakhand, or how the people out there in those hard, hilly terrains prepare their meals with very limited ingredients.The state is divided into two parts- Kumaon and Garhwal . Both of them have pretty distinctive tastes when it comes to food but at the same time, they share some common ingredients and cooking styles.
Kumaon offer foods that are organic and have wonderful health benefits. If you are trying to lose weight or detoxifying your body, then go for a health retreat in Kumaon. Or if that is not possible, then replicate the recipes in your own kitchen to make your stomach hale and hearty.
Till now we know Kumaon as a land of pristine Himalayan beauty, edgy rivers, and the hunting ground for Jim Corbett. Sadly, the various hotels and restaurants that are coming up in this tourist spot, serve the same ‘tried and tested’ Chinese, Indian and some Tibetan foods (momo, thukpa), and leading the authentic Kumaoni cuisine lost to the pressure of ‘popular’ demands.But if your interest is genuine then try to get invited in a traditional Kumaoni household and gorge on some delicious, simple and highly nutritious foods.
The traditional fare
Rice and chapatti are the two staple foods in a typical Kumaoni diet. As people are pretty hard working there and lead a tough life, they don’t have the luxury of having meals in every two hours, as per the popular notion!In morning, they have a hearty meal with rice, cucumber raita, salad, chapatti, urad (black lentil), gehet or chana (black gram) dal, aloo ke gutke, and chutney.Kumaoni people have an early and light dinner and during night, they don’t prefer eating rice. So a dinner mainly consists of chapatti, dal, ghee and vegetables.
Various lentils, soya beans, red chillies, herbs and very little spices- these are the main ingredients to cook up a satisfying meal at a Kumaoni household.The main condiment for any Kumaoni brunch is various chutneys. Bhang or Cannabis seeds and pomegranate seeds are mainly used in chutney preparations.
There is a famous winter condiment called sana hua nimbu which is made from- radish, curb, lemons, and cannabis seeds, and do wonders to keep oneself worm during those chilly months.When it comes to sabzi, Kumaonis use organically produced fresh and local leaves and plants. You can have a highly nutritious and delectable sabzi made from leaves of nettle plants (shishun), chudkhani (black soya), bhatiya (white soya), spinach, and ras (an assortment of soyabean, gram and lentil).
Cereals like mandua and buckwheat are made use of making chapattis; and they are savored hot with sabzi or gur (jaggery)/ghee especially during winter.Curry is a favorite form of cooking vegetables in Kumaon, and mainly curd and lemon juices are applied to season the curry or jholi (as it is known locally).Though the region is steadily on a vegetable diet, there are some communities who eat meat of mutton and chicken, and this trend is growing rapidly across the area.
Kumaonis consume tea with lots of milk and sugar and drink it during several times in a day to keep them warm and energetic- thus making it almost a life-saving potion.Apart from that, there are types of locally brewed alcohol that you may find here.
In India, milk is the primal ingredient to make any sweets or dessert. But it’s not easy to find milk in abundance, in hilly terrain. So in Kumaon, only in special occasions like a festival or at puja, liquid or condensed milk is used to cook kheer and sweets.Jhangora kheer is made from milk, sugar and home-grown cereal Jhangora.Ball mithai is another popular dessert, decorated with sugar balls and has khoya khir stuffing inside.Singodi is a unique sweet dish, wrapped with oak leaves and infused by condensed milk.
Aloo ke Gutke is probably the best known snack that you will get at various eateries in the every nuke and corner of Kumaon. Yummy potato wedges deep-fried with cumin seeds and local condiments like jamboo and jakhya, and finally garnished by coriander leaves.Another widely-admired kumaoni snack is Badeel- which is a diamond shaped deep-fried, chana daal mixture. And when it is served hot with garlic or coriander chutney, you may feel heavenly pleasure inside your mouth.