Living in urban cities, people are scarcely exposed to the vast cultural diversity of the country. In situations like these, well-researched and aptly-curated food festivals come to their rescue. These festivals not only serve as a platform to showcase the cultures and the regional food, but also act as a great immersive insight into that region.
Chef Vishal Atreya, Executive Chef at JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar, took it upon himself to bring the cuisine of Garhwal, Uttarakhand to Mumbai, and to ensure that he does justice to the authenticity of the flavours of Garhwal, he travelled all the way to Uttarakhand along with Kripal Amanna of Food Lovers. The team travelled from Mussoorie to Bhatoli, Belgaon village in Tehri and Kempti Falls, and interacted with the locals to pick up and understand the nitty-gritties of the cuisine.
Although Uttarakhand owes its popularity to the ‘chaar-dhaam‘ of the sacred Hindu pilgrimage and hence is known as ‘Dev Bhoomi‘ or the land of the Gods, not much is known about the food of the state.
I asked Chef Atreya why he chose this unique cuisine and about his approach towards it, he elucidated:
I embarked on nothing short than a culinary escapade to Garhwal- the land of historic inscriptions, popular for homing ancestral customs and culture. In a time like today’s, where traditional cooking styles and authentic cuisines seem to be dwindling, we wish to take upon ourselves to discover more and more about the lesser-spoken about native cuisines. Bearing in mind the same, we chose the cuisine of Garhwal- one of the least spoken about cuisines in India yet one that is full of earthen flavours. With the Flavours of Garhwal festival we have made our best attempt to showcase this native cuisine
At JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar, the chef and his team have replicated their knowledge to perfection.
The first thing one is offered once they’re comfortably seated is the burans ke phool ka sherbet, or the juice of Rhododendron flowers. Found in the Himalayan terrain, burans are known for their bright scarlet-red bell shaped flowers filled with sweet nectar, and holds medicinal value too. It offers mainly fibres and is a good source of Potassium, Calcium, Iron and Vitamin C.
As part of their dinner buffet, the Garhwali dishes on offer were Kal Bhatt, Gahat Dal, Kafuli, Rajma Chainsu, Aloo Janjori Ki Khichdi and Jahkia Pulao accompanied with Gahat ke parathe and Manduwe Ki Roti.
Popularly known as buckwheat or millet grain, Manduwa is a widely used seed in the state of Uttarakhand. They make rotis that are eaten with generous helpings of homemade ghee. The other flatbread that is widely eaten in the Garhwal-Kumaon hills is the Gahat Parantha which is best enjoyed with Kulath Dal or dahi (curd). For the parantha, the dal is soaked overnight, pressure-cooked, mashed and stuffed in kneaded wheat flour with lot of garlic, green chillies, salt and cooked, rolled into flat bread over a hot griddle or tava. The residual water in which the dal is soaked is used to cook other gravies, since it is said to cure kidney and liver ailments.
The Rajma Chainsu was very different from the usual rajma that we’re used to. Chainsu is a process of pre-roasting the grain/pulse and then making a coarse paste out of it in the silbatta (stone and pestle). These are then cooked in mustard oil in a kadhai with jahkia and tomato paste, resulting in an extremely delicious gravy that can be eaten with either roti or rice.
Kafuli is another famous preparation. Made using wild spinach leaves from the region, it is tempered in garlic and jahkia. Garhwalis always cook their greens, especially leafy veggies, in lohe ki kadhai (iron woks) as they believe the iron gets transferred to the dish making it more nutritious.
The Kal Bhatt is made out of tiny black soya seeds. Bhatt is a commonly used name for soya, in the state. The dal-like dish leaves a bitter aftertaste and as Chef Amitesh Virdi of JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar mentioned, it is an acquired taste and not everyone might warm up to it. Bhatt ki chutney is another popular preparation.
Food is extremely deep-seated in the Garhwali culture, so much so that traditional songs are themed around it. For instance, there’s a famous folk song, ‘Bedu paako baara maasa’ which is about a berry that grows throughout the year. Women in Garhwal often hum songs while cooking because of the belief that it purifies the air in the kitchen and infuses positivity into the food. Now, you know the secret to their exquisite cooking!
It is a commendable initiative by Chef Vishal Atreya and the team of JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar to bring the indigenous cuisines of India on a platter to the city clientele. Being brought up in Dehradun and with a family which finds its roots in Uttarakhand, I can vouch that this was as authentic as it could get. Although the difference in taste is a given, considering that with the change of region and its water, the flavours differ too.
Note: This is not a review of the festival, but a feature on the Flavours of Garhwal.