For people who enjoy food, there is always a variety of options to explore. India's diversity and varied cultures only add to the fact that there will always be a new cuisine around the corner for you to discover. If your curiosity leads you to look for unique experiences, exploring the rich culinary tradition of Kangra is something to consider. The food here is a celebration of taste, and the credit goes to the talented Brahmin cooks called bawarchis, who are the original innovators of the region's cuisine. Amongst festive food, the traditional Dham meal served at weddings in Himachal Pradesh is a must-try. This cuisine is prepared by botis, who are Brahmin chefs in this profession for generations.
Every village had a bawarchi or two, commissioned to cook at weddings and special occasions, who were rewarded with a bagful of wheat at the end of the year. Over time, the bawarchis have created a standard repertoire that can only be made at a gathering. Preparation for these meals begins a day before, with slow cooking over low heat and the utensils used for cooking typically being copper ones. But some dishes have their charm in their simplicity, and there is a delicacy for every occasion, each boasting a distinctive style of cooking.
The highlight of the Dham is that it is served in courses in Pattals or leaf plates to people who sit on the floor. The dishes include rice, Madra (Sepu Badi/ Mukund Badi, Rajma, etc), Palda (a curd-based dish for curry), mustard-based raita, pulses, and meethe chawal (sweet rice). We spoke to Maharani Saheba Shailja Katoch of Kangra- Lambragaon to get her insights into the famous cuisine and her interest in food.
Tell us about how your interest in food started.
My interest in food started very early on. I remember when I was in boarding school, my grandfather would ask me to make a list of dishes I wanted to eat during my holidays, and that made me excited. I think that's what led me to take an interest in food.
What is the significance of Dham cuisine in the culture and traditions of your life
Dham cuisine is an integral part of anyone who belongs to the Himachal region, whether it is a pooja, havan, wedding, birth or death. The significance of the Dham cuisine lies in the fact that it brings the community closer together in times of festivals and celebratory occasions. It is having a meal with the community to celebrate any occasion.
The first dish you ever made on your own
The first dish I made was Hari mirch ka keema, a recipe that I picked up from my grandfather's cookbook "Cooking Delights of the Maharajas".
Only a few people are familiar with Himachal's traditional food. How important is it for you to preserve the culture that you are a part of
I grew up in a family that follows culture and customs in daily life. Promoting culture through indigenous cuisine is one of the ways to advocate for our roots and the traditions that we come from. The food reflects a lot about the area and its people, and through food, we hope to encourage more people to take an interest in our region's cuisine.
What is your opinion about passing the Dham cuisine to the younger generation Do the youth in your family take an interest and actively want to learn about the cuisine
If the youth is introduced early in life to culture and cuisine, they develop a taste and interest in it. My son loves Dham cuisine and helps me promote it through our museum at the Kangra Fort.
Tell us about your fondest memory of preparing Dham food and your first teacher.
Dham is cooked by brahmins called botis. I have learned about Dham food by following a recipe book called "Kangra Valley".
What is your favourite dish to eat
All the dishes in the Dham cuisine are delicious. My favourite has to be Mah Ki Dal.
How different is the food you grew up with in your home state from that of Kangra
Sailana food is extremely rich and predominantly non-vegetarian. Kangra food is very simple and cooked without onion and garlic. It is a vegetarian cuisine.
Lastly, any anecdotes you would like to share about any of the Sailana recipes from 'Cooking Delights of the Maharajas', the cookbook of your great grandfather
My grandfather perfected every recipe he cooked by the response of all his friends and family eating it. Until everyone was not satisfied, he kept repeating the dish. Cooking always meant family time in Sailana. We all gathered around my grandfather when he cooked, and there would be some interesting conversations that followed around food. His passion was to cook unique dishes, and we loved to taste them.
Meethe Chawal Recipe
Rice - 1 cup
SugarâÂÂ¯- 1 cup
Saffron - 2 pinch
Yellow food color - 1 pinch
Cardamom - 4-5 ( crushed )
Black cardamom - 2 ( crushed )
Cloves - 8-10
Milk - 1 cup
Rose water - ½ tsp
Ghee - 2 tbsp
Chironji - 2 tbsp
Almonds - 10-12 ( chopped )
Cashew nuts - 10-12 ( chopped )
Raisins - 2 tbsp
Gently wash the rice and soak in water for 1 hour. Strain. Mix milk, yellow food color, saffron, rose water and sugar in a bowl. Heat 4-5 cups water in a pan. When it comes to a boil, add the soaked rice. Cook till the rice is 80% done. Strain in a sieve and mix a tsp of ghee in the rice. Keep aside. Heat the remaining ghee in a pan. Add almonds, cashew nuts, chironji and raisins and fry till golden brown. Add cardamom, black cardamom and cloves. Fry for 20 seconds. Add the milk mixture. Bring it to a boil. Simmer the heat and add the rice. Cover and cook on low heat for 10-12 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork. Serve hot.