I have been on a break for sometime now and have enjoyed my time off thoroughly – travelling, reading and spending time with my sister and family. When we both are together, we explore new places to eat, search for new places to visit and simply laugh and annoy each other! This time, my sister was insistent on starting our eating expedition with some traditional ‘Bihari’ fare. So, I searched far and wide (well, on the internet!) and the first interesting stop that I happened to stumble upon was a piece of beautiful writing on a blog about the humble ‘sattu’ (powdered, roasted chana). So, enamoured was I by all the writings about this delicious cuisine, that I decided to dedicate my first post back, after a little jolly break, to spicy, mustardy, very nutritious Bihari cuisine.
Mustard oil is commonly used, though regular vegetable oil is used too, for cooking. Most vegetables are tempered with Jeera or ‘Panch Phoran'(literally “five seeds”, namely saunf, sarson, methi, ajwain and kalaunji), adding it a distinct flavour in addition to light sautéing / frying called ‘bhoonjana‘. In a typical Bihari household, a ‘Bhunjiya’ is made 4-5 times a week, if not more! Two things to keep in mind while cooking – the size of the lid and the frying pan/ kadhai: they should fit perfectly and the second point to remember is to alternate sautéing and steam cooking to get the perfectly cooked; crisp from outside and soft from inside – the most exquisite ‘bhunjiya’.
Another technique used is ‘smoking‘ wherein smoked red chilli is used to infuse a strong aroma in the food. ‘Baingan’ bharta comes to mind and makes me wonder if the ‘smoking’ technique was taught to the world by the very clever people of Bihar?
I am sure most of us would have either seen or tasted the eternal favourite ‘Litti-Chokha‘ at some point in our life. Drool-worthy tomato or baingan (eggplant) chokha with hot and fiery litti – you cannot go wrong with that, can you? Did you know that ‘litti’ was a staple in the court of Magadh? Back in the day, soldiers would break the dough (stuffed with the ‘sattu’ filling) into chunks and leave it buried under thin layers of sand to bake under the sun. So when they returned, they could find perfectly baked ‘litti’ that was dunked into ghee and eaten. Transported there, yet?
Tried the sattu ka parantha or the bhunja with gughni yet? What are you waiting for….browse away and get inspired to cook (or just eat authentic Bihari food at a friend’s home or a restaurant). Extremely healthy, fiery sometimes, delicious all the time! Enjoy folks…
There is so much more that I could add – Roti-ghee-shakkar with milk (my boy’s favourite!), the delicious ‘bihari khichdi’, ‘karela ki bhunjia’, ‘Bajkas’ or ‘pakodas’, always accompanied with an array of chutneys and pickles, and of course sweets.
If you’re in Delhi, do try the Bihari food at The Potbelly Rooftop Cafe in Shahpur Jat. This comes highly recommended from a friend. Chilli Pepper in Bangalore and The Home Cafe by Dolly Singh in Bandra/ Khar, Mumbai are other ‘go-to’ destinations for Bihari food. ‘The Home Cafe’, a home based food cafe is located in one of the quaint lanes of Bandra, opens up its house to food lovers to experience this unique dining concept over the weekend between 10:00 AM and 2 :00 PM.
Nothing quite like the taste of regional, rustic food, cooked using local ingredients and traditional methods, savoured with friends and family amid chitter-chatter, occasional banter and lots of laughter! Here’s to happy times!