BY ANUBHUTI RANA
It has been said on many an occasion that, for travelers, the journey is the destination. Be that as it may, this particular road drive was anything but. A painful nine hour drive from Delhi to Mussoorie along busy and not particularly very scenic highways, left one thinking what awaits. Not a great sign!
Actually, things started looking up after we lost our way from Dehradun to Mussoorie. We took a wrong turn, and ended up some ‘back lanes’ leading to the hill station. But sometimes things go wrong for good. The road had no traffic, it was smooth mostly, and the landscape stunning. The smiles, rather grins, were back by the time we checked into the JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa.
After freshening up, it was time for a sundowner. With local Garhwali villagers sharing their food and stories with us city-slickers. Imagine the setting. In the background is the setting sun over peaks and valleys of the Himalayas in all its fiery, orange glory; its chilly in peak summer; we are sitting in the open in a cosy, outdoor setting of a very fancy and modern hotel; beautiful Garhwali women clad in their traditional best are sitting amidst us and describing the local fare being served around as snacks. This set the tone for the following two days. A great sign indeed!
We were on a trek, albeit of the driving variety. And drive we did, starting early next morning – a couple of hundred kilometers in the winding, picturesque hills around Mussoorie. We were on a food trail, a Pahari food trail to be precise. Guiding and leading us all through this trail was Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, the well-known culinary expert, writer and consultant.
Pahari cuisine is not to be confused with other regional high-altitude cuisines of India. Pahari food is a distinct regional cuisine by itself – made up of two branches. Namely, Garhwali food from the Garhwal region and Kumaoni from Kumaon. Essential differences being mostly due to the locally available ingredients. Owing to the hard lifestyle of pahari people, their diet needs to be filling and nutritious at the same time. It is therefore very protein centric, comprising of a variety of dals or lentils, substantiated with rice, meat and green leafy vegetables. Some staple varieties of dals being tor (pigeon pea), gehat (kulith or horse gram), rajma, lobia, kala chana, kabuli chana, whole urad, bhatt (black soyabean), arhar or toor, malka (masoor or red lentil split and skinned) moong and chana. Predominant being the urad dal. Leafy greens which are local are colocassia, mustard, chawli, radish greens, pahadi palak which is indigenous spinach. There is also an indigenous fern called Lingure and kandalee (poison ivy). Greens are mostly just chopped and stir fried in smoking mustard oil and tempered with a mustard like spice called jakhiya. The starch in Garhwali cuisine comes from normal wheat flour, rice and millets, predominant being jhangora or barnyard millet.
We were to get a taste of these as guests of the two villages we visited on day one. Warmly welcomed with much fanfare and love in Lakhamandal, we sat cross-legged in great anticipation after many hours on the road. Being a temple village, we ate a satvik or pure breakfast. Dal stuffed puris, chutneys, urad pakoris, semolina filled sweets made of rice flour (see pics) – food items though not tasted before, yet, not alien to the taste buds! It was a grand breakfast, to be followed just in a couple of hours in yet another welcoming Garhwali home Pantwadi, by lunch. Simple, aromatic, wholesome, hygienically prepared and fresh off the cooking stove – the favourite rajma, rice, alu tamatar ki sabji, roti – served with love and care.
The more one tries different cuisines, the more one tends to reach the conclusion that end of the day, the beauty lies in using seasonal and local ingredients. And one can’t ever go wrong with freshly prepared food!
One cannot thank our hosts JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa and curator Rushina enough for a delightful time.