Wild asparagus that grows on the
slopes of HImachal Pradesh and eaten as a dish has anti-cancer
Pradesh): You can begin with a baked yam leaf starter,
move on to a dal slow cooked and sauteed in mustard oil and wind
up with lip-smacking sweet rice...The traditional cuisine of
Himachal Pradesh is a vegetarian's delight.
A riot of herbs,
berries, cereals and fresh vegetables grow wild on the wet rock
faces of the Himalayan slopes sheltered by canopies of towering
pines, deodar and silver oak trees at elevations of 5,000 feet and
above. And much of it finds its way into the food.
The most common platter is the "Dham" meal - a vegetarian feast
cooked by Boti Brahmins, who are cooks by tradition. These feasts
are popular community meals in the remote villages of Chamba,
Mandi, Lahaul and Spiti districts during religious fairs or
The food acquires religious significance because it is offered to
the local gods before being served to guests who squat
cross-legged on the floor to eat from 'epattalsi' or plates of
fresh green leaves.
"A sticky variety of rice grown locally, lentils, herbs, fruits,
beans, grams, yoghurt and traditional Indian spices are the
mainstay of Himachal food cooked in mustard oil and clarified
homemade butter," chef Somdutt Sharma, a native of Himachal
Pradesh and an authority on its cuisine, told IANS.
The fact that most of the districts in the state are difficult of
access compel people to keep their cuisine basic and simple, the
A Dham meal usually begins with a combination of starters known by
names like atkori or patande or pathroru - basically buckwheat or
yam leaves and wheat or gram flour rolled into cakes and pancakes.
In the Chamba district, which houses Ala town, a 10-hour ride from
state capital Shimla, the pathroru is steam baked leaves of yam
coated in layers of gram flour, Sharma said. The starters are
served with tamarind or mint dip.
It is followed by rice, and sidu, a local variety of bread eaten
with butter, and lentil broth.
"The rice can be cooked with butter milk, turmeric and salt as a
variation," said Sharma, who works at an eco-tourist resort, Aamod,
in Chamba district.
A platter of finely-diced lingru or jungle asparagus fried in
mustard oil and flavoured with spices and chillies provides
sustenance to villagers.
The asparagus is eaten with bread, clarified butter, kheru - a
tangy buttermilk soup cooked with turmeric, spices and garnished
with diced coriander and pickled apples flavoured with herbs,
pepper and rock salt.
The lentil dishes - madara, moong dal and makhni - are different
from their counterparts in the Gangetic plains.
The lentils are boiled, lightly sauteed in mustard oil, flavoured
with whole spices, salt and served with large dollops of clarified
butter, unlike in many Indian states where they are cooked over
slow fires with a heavy combination of spices, Sharma pointed out.
The historic Chamba Valley is famous for a lip-smacking madara, a
curry of red kidney beans, yoghurt, tomato, spices and clarified
butter. It is often cooked with a big delicious variety of
potatoes, sourced from the farms of the Central Potato Research
Institute located at Ala town.
The moong dal gets a makeover too.
"It is usually cooked in two ways - a green broth and a yellow
soup cooked with pungent mustard, curd and spices. A spoon of
clarified butter is used as garnish," the chef said.
The dessert is a staple meetha chawal - rice cooked with jaggery
and dry fruits.
For those who still want their meat, there is spicy sour chicken
or mutton cooked with apple seeds, pomegranate seeds and spices.
"Women are generally vegetarians in the hills while the men eat
meat," Kamal Kishor Thakur, a hotelier from Kangra Valley, told
According to chefs at small eateries in Ala, promoting traditional
food among tourists was becoming difficult with the culture of "maggi
(noodles) and omelettes" invading the quickeat stops by tourists
"Even the mountain eagles like omelettes!" laughed a cook.
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