Relish Dogra Cuisine in Covid times

Ankita Sharma
Food is an important part of the culture of a region and food culture tells a lot about the culture and traditions of that region.So far Dogras are concerned, they lead a simple and hard life but never let their hard life come in the way of their celebrations and enjoyment.As most of them live in the villages and do farming and rear cows and buffaloes, they take delight in taking milk and milk products such as curd, lassi, cheese, butter, ghee etc.They also have a tradition of cooking and savouring Dogra dishes such as Ambal, Madra, Keurs, fermented cakes (khamires), Auria etc on the eve of religious and social occasions such as marriage /mundan/Namkaran/sutra ceremonies etc.Moreover, food cooked in big copper vessels called ‘Saglas’ over ‘Daans’ with dried wood as fuel and served in biodegradable cups and plates called ‘Doona_Pattal’on such occasions serves to break their monotony and adds colour and vibrancy to their otherwise hard and mundane life.These dishes are nutritious and easy to digest.But unfortunately, these dishes are fast losing charm with our young generation who are switching over to less nutritious and harmful fast food.The Union Government has ordered lockdown across the whole country including the UT of J&K and advised people to practice social distancing during this period to protect themselves from the deadly virus Covid-19 which has taken the toll of thousands of lives in many countries including America, Italy, China, UK, Iran etc. More and more people are being tested corona positive.So it is advisable for one and all to stay at their homes to stay safe.During the lockdown, our mothers and sisters have to do a lot of work while preparing and serving various dishes to cater to the likes and tastes of all the members of the family.The main problem with them is what new dish to be prepared everyday.So it is time to explore the vanishing or the vanished Dogra dishes,cook and relish them.These dishes are easy to make as they involve simple recipes and need only a few ingredients.In villages,on the day of the marriage or any other function, the people would dig’ daan’ on which they would place saglas to cook their favourite food such as rice,rajmash (red kidney beans), pulses and a big iron pan to prepare ambal using pumpkin, tamarind and jaggery with traces of fenugreek leaves.Instead of frying daals, the cook or the sayaan,as he was called, would use a burning coal in hot mustard oil and apply dhuni to rajmash and other pulses to give them a unique aroma of smoke.The Syan would not take food till it was offered to Gods before being served to the guests who would take the food while sitting on the mats.This dhuni was also applied to chutneys and savouring the chat of kimb (citrus medica).This tastier food contained little spices with the result it was easily digestible and it had a distinct taste and aroma of its own.Thus there were a large number of favourite dishes in the days gone by, which are gradually vanishing and being replaced by fast food items such as noodles, burger, momos etc.The rice cooked on the wooden fuel and the daals,, especially rajmash and black gram, maa ka madra garnished with dry fruits and ambal cooked by using pumpkin, jaggery and tamarind had a distinct taste.Dhuni was also used to add aroma and flavour to kimb(Citrus medica) and shasha (chutney made from unripe mangoes).Daal da madra and Shuaron (Dates) ka madra used to be famous dishes eagerly relished which are losing charm with the modern generation these days.’Sund’ prepared in Desi ghee used to be sent by the parents to their pregnant married daughter.The parents would cook khameeres and pathorus from fermented dough or buy sagaaraans or suchians made from maida and send them to their daughters and relatives on the auspicious occasion of Rakshabandhan and Bhai Dhooj in big bamboo baskets called bakhaars.
Then, we had tangy foods like Auria (made from spiced potatoes and dahi and fermented rye),Maani made from semi ripe mangoes, Timbroo ki Chatni, Anardaanae ki Chatni (made from unripe dried pomegranate, mint, etc) etc.which was relished by our ancestors but which are losing ground to modern junk foods.Most of these dishes can easily be prepared at home during the lockdown period and served to the members to their surprise and delight.On Lohiri, the Dogras used to prepare Tricholi, on Bhugga vrat’ bhugga’ made from seul, alsi (flax), etc,on Makarsankriti’,khichdi’ was prepared, which were eaten with all the members eating together.On auspicious occasions, Babroos and Rotts were prepared and offered to the gods on various occassions such as Bash dua or Dhrubri.These days food is cooked in aluminium or steel tubs on LPG and a large no of spices are added, which make the food indigestible.Even at home daal was cooked in clay pots locally called kunnis on wooden fuel over a slow fire.What was unique is that they would use purely home ground spices to add taste and aroma to the food.’Maaki ka Toda and Sarson ka Saag’used to be a staple food, especially during winter but it is less popular with the younger generation.Cakes(Todas ) made from maize flour obtained from water mills called ‘gharats’were also savoured with lassi/curd or with Sarson (mustard leaves) saag.Lassi was usually taken in big glasses called adni wala glass, having a strong base.The daal such as Roungi (black eyed beans) and Kulth (horsegram) having medicinal properties used to be quite favourite and were relished with rice.Whenever a guest or close relative came, he was served ‘keurs’ made from maida.The new bridegroom was also served Keurs with sugar and curd by the friends and cousins of the bride.As we have sufficient time during the lockdown,these popular dishes such as Khichdi,Daals such as Kulth/Roungi, Babroos, Rotts etc can be prepared at home and savoured.
Charoli is another dish which can be easily prepared at home.First wheat flour or Maida is mixed with water and beaten fast to produce batter.A vessel called Charolu (lotta) having three to five holes fitted with tubes, is filled with the batter and spread on a big tawa.It is generally spread on the tawa first in clockwise manner and then in anticlockwise manner such that a netlike pancake having concentric rings is prepared.It is then folded twice to get four pieces of the cake and then relished with rice kheer,sweetened milk or Madra.This dish is very popular in Thial-Khoon Belt and can easily be prepared at home.Plakdian is another dish which used to be wuite popular in the days gone by.It can be easily prepared by making a churan of fried wheat flour and putting it into the samosa like structures made of flour and then frying them.
There used to be vast fields of sugarcanes and people used to extract sugarcane (rau), boil it to get pargao and jaggery which were served even to the travellers who passed by.In sweets, Desi burfi, mesu,Alsi (linseed or flax) laddoos, sevian _mande /chille,icecream (malai burf) made from milk and served on banyan leaves were delicacies which are seldom cherished these days.’Gaadal’prepared from the milk of buffalo, which had recently delivered birth to a calf was savoured and also distributed to the neighbours.Ambla(sour) saag prepared from sarson with jameeri’s (Citrus aurantifolia) juice, Suttu Puttu used to be a favourite dish prepared to celebrate the Ahoi Ashtmi.Rotts prepared on the eve of Dhrubri was a dish which was eagerly awaited.Then there was’Paaji’ which consisted of rott, gulra, khameere, mathian, sagaran, suchian etc, which were sent to the relatives on festive occassions and which have now almost passed into oblivion..Among the forest produce consumed by Dogras are mushrooms, guchi (morel), kasrod (fern stalks), tarad (dioscorea)etc.The Dogras were also fond of taking homemade pickles made of unripe mangoes, lime, galgal(Citrus aurantium), kasrod (fern stalks), tarad (dioscorea) dhio(Artocarpus lakoocha), adrak, lasura, keora (agave), katrair(Bohenia variegata) etc.and also of vegetables such as knolkohl, beans, potatotes, etc which are now losing ground to sauces, pickles, etc sold by big companies.The ‘Rayta’of the flower buds of agave (having longest stalk of inflorescence) and Katrair (Bohenia variegata) used to be relished as a delicacy but which has now almost gone out of vogue.Chille, Draupars, Sattu etc fried in desi ghee and taken with desi tea also used to be very popular among the Dogras and can easily be prepared and savoured at home during lockdown.Not only this, the Malai burf made from Khoya and served on Banyan leaves used to be a delicacy savoured on eve of melas.Kheer prepared from rice and milk and garnished with dry fruits was an item usually prepared frquently but which is now served usually on eve of pitr shradhs.Kalas made from maida,alongwith Gulra, were sent to the inlaws of the newly married daughter and also to the other daughters of village married there.The logic behind this could be that people in the olden days would carry the palanquin of the bride to far off places,sometimes taking days to reach the bridegroom’s family.So in order to enable the people accomanying the bride to sustain themselves during the long journey,Kalas and a pitcher full of gulra were were despatched.But this custom has now vanished in the midst of rise in standard and facilities of transport and so have kalas except in some rural areas.
Cooking and promoting traditional Dogra foods and recipes are an excellent way to preserve our culture and pass it down to the children.There is need to prepare the Dogra dishes such as Rotts, Suttu-Puttu,Babroos, Sattu,Khamire, Charolian, Keur, Rice Kheer garnished with almpnds& Kaju,Maa Madra,Auria,etc, which are full of nutrients, can be easily prepared at home and are easily digestible.With sufficient time at their disposal during the lockdown, mothers can preparethese foods and afford an opportunity to the young and the old to savour these healthy foods prepared from healthy ingredients.It will help one and all to pass their time in a useful and enjoyable manner and also help the parents to develop in their children the habit of taking home cooked food and promote such traditional foods as are rich in nutrients and thus popularise these vanishing foods which are losing charm with the young generation.