Having chosen a deshi theme, I will be talking of Indian Foods. Nothing in particular. Some random observations foraged over the years. Disclaimer: I am neither a foodie nor some kind of a Chef- in- the-making taking advantage of the period of lock down.
A sweet battle with our neighbour
Unlike some Indian states which are locked in bitter battles with their neighbouring states, Odisha has a sweet dispute with its neighbour West Bengal. I am talking of Rasgulla – the round, spongy and syrupy sweet that Bengalis call as Rosogolla and Odias as Rasagola. What is more, the battle had a sweet ending when the Registry of India awarded GI tags to both – naming the Bengali version as Banglar Rosogolla and the Odia version as Odisha Rasagola.
Fellow blogger Dr. Anita Sabat was at the battle frontier to get GI tags for Rasagola. In case you want to know more about GI tags you can visit her blog. She has adopted GI tags as the theme for this year’s AtoZ challenge.
Flavours of Temple Foods
Rasagola is one of the many dishes whose origins are closely related to the rituals of Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri. I have already written a post about Odisha Temple Foods. As children we used to eagerly wait for temple festivals of our village as well as those of our relatives.
In our village there used to be a month long festival connected with our village deity every year in the month of Chaitra i.e about this time of the year. Though in a lesser scale it is similar to the Thakurani Jatra I have described in my post about Bellaguntha. On the last day of the festival they conduct a grand community feast in front of the temple which is inside a Mango Grove. Not only do the whole village contribute in their own way, some in cash and some in kind, everyone also help in the preparation under the direction of the chief cook. This is an occasion to bond over food irrespective of the caste and other divisions.
Search for local flavors in the age of standardization
The Puri Jagannath temple kitchen has never deviated from its recipe or ingredients in the last nine hundred years. The regular and festival foods prepared by temples are a great way to have a taste of the local flavor. But temple food has its limitations because all kinds of masalas or vegetables cannot be part of temple cuisine.
Marriages and other big family functions used to be great ways to experience a large spectrum of dishes with local flavor. But these days a buffet marriage dinner held in Bengaluru hardly tastes different from a Bhubaneswar or a Delhi marriage dinner that has been outsourced to a professional caterer. Even 90% of the dishes are the same.
Of course this is a natural consequence of the social changes we have gone through in the last two to three decades. In our village whenever any family had a function, in addition to their relatives, the whole village came forward to help. We used to stay awake the whole night before the D-day decorating the pandals, cutting vegetables, bringing drinking water and doing other activities. Apart from the loud speakers and musicians and a cook or two nothing else used to be hired. The pandals and the coverings used to be prepared out of the branches and leaves collected from the surroundings. People had less money but it was more than made up by the cooperation of neighbours and relatives.
The feast consisted of locally available ingredients. Today we get cauliflower (and even mangoes) through out the year. But those days non-seasonal and non-local vegetables were almost non-existent in the local market. Use of chemicals, fertilizers and hybrid seeds were less widespread. So the vegetables were at their authentic best. The cook too did not know anything other than the local recipe.
Gradually the same trend is catching up with the hotel food. Barring a few hotels that exclusively specialize in local cuisines, hotels all over are moving towards dishes that would have a common appeal. A couple of years back when we visited Odisha we observed this trend. We had difficulty in getting authentic Odia cuisine, especially in the popular tourist circuits. Sometimes I watch the vidoes of You tuber Harish Bali who makes travel and food videos of different places of India. He has made a series of videos on Garhwal region. Everywhere in the region he had to make special arrangements with the locals to get authentic Garhwali food.
Ultimately, will many of the local flavors die out, to be revived and showcased as million dollar dishes in five star hotels by celebrity chefs?
What is common between this Brahmapur hotel and a temple visit?
You have to leave your shoes outside before you enter this hotel in Brahmapur which is known as Pidha hotel. It is famous for its special mutton recipe that they have been preparing for the last fifty years or so. Like the recipe, the interior of the hotel and the way they serve has not undergone any change. There are no tables or chairs inside. You have to sit on the ground and you will be served food on a khali which is made by stitching saal leaves.
Brahmapur is another B-town I have been closely associated with. Apart from silk sarees and the nearby Gopalpur on sea, this largest city of South Odisha is famous for its street foods. Here is video to give a food tour of the city.
Then there are those who have nothing to eat
Annam Brahman iti vyajanat – Know that food is verily Brahman – said our ancient Rishis. Food is the first basic need of any living being. India used to be a land of plenty till it was colonised. Since then a segment of Indian population has been struggling to get this basic need fulfilled. They will be the ones hardest hit by the present lock down. Let us all spare some thoughts for them and do whatever we can in cash, kind or some volunteering activity.
PS : This is the sixth post of my April A to Z challenge 2020. My theme this year is ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’ where in I explore various facets of India and also some places and events of India I have been closely associated with.
All posts of the AtoZChallenge can be accessed here.