Book Review - Exploring flavours, tastes of the 'bhansa ghars' of Bihar

October 24 2017

Book: The Bhojpuri Kitchen; Author: Pallavi Nigam Sahay; Publisher: Westland; Price: Rs 499; Pages: 166


Biharis love their food, don't they? Why else would they carry their "achaar" to far off cities where many of them migrate for work, or queue up in front of the "litti-chokha" stalls outside Metro stations? Now, a trained chef explores the varied cuisine of the state and describes her discovery of the "bhansa ghar" in a new book.


"The Bhojpuri Kitchen", authored by Pallavi Nigam Sahay, also carries wonderful pictures of the cuisine by photographer Shabin E. Chef Nigam, who trained at the Grand Hyaat, Mumbai, received her culinary diploma from the International School of Italian Cuisine (ICIF).


Strangely, the author did not grow up around the "Bhojpuri Kitchen" and it was only after her marriage that she came to develop an interest in the state's cuisine. Her curiosity about Bihari cuisine began on her "kacchi" (a ceremony performed a day after the wedding, where traditional dishes are prepared and served to the bridegroom's party).


"I was absolutely fascinated that day by the delicious baingan badi ki sabji (aubergine curry with black gram cakes), pachphoran kohra (pumpkin cooked with five whole spices), machli ka sarsowala jhol (mustard fish curry), mutton curry, arwa chawal (parboiled rice), spicy chicken kababs and kaala jamun (Cotton cheeses dumplings in sugar syrup). Since then I have been on an unending saga of loving and learning Bihari food. This book is about my beautiful journey across various Bhojpuri bhansa ghars (kitchens)," Sahay writes in the introduction.


She also reminds her readers that almost every festival in Bihar -- Holi, Diwali, Dussehra or Chhath -- is more about celebrating food and serving different dishes than anything else.


"In fact, Biharis even change their wedding dates to complement their appetites. I have never been to a family wedding on a Tuesday or a Thursday, the two days when the majority abstain from eating non-vegetarian food. No wonder then that one of their ex-CMs was called Rabri, and many kids in the state still respond to a sweet name -- Laddoo," she notes.


So what does a usual day in the Bhojpuri kitchen look like?


Sahay paints a complete picture at the onset of the book. It starts with the aroma of fresh tea simmering on fire. During summer, a refreshing elaichi (cardamom-flavoured tea) is preferred, while on colder mornings a hot, adrak masala chai (spiced ginger tea) is welcome. And this is a very special time as all family members sit together before getting busy with their daily chores.


A traditional lunch comprises steamed rice, daal, bhujia, curd and salad. It used to be the main meal of the day, eaten together by all family members at home. But obviously, owing to altered lifestyles, eating patterns have changed. For evening snacks, there are bachka, bhabhra (Bengal gram pancakes) and choore ka pulao (flaky rice with green peas). They go perfectly with a cup of tea.


Dinner, Sahay mentions, is usually a combination of roti and two types of vegetables. Most families in Bihar, the author maintains, do not opt have rice for dinner, although they may add a non-vegetarian dish such as chicken or mutton to the meal. The menu is a little more elaborate on the weekends.


Sahay also provides elaborate recipes for a wide variety of Bihari dishes -- the legendary litti chokha; choora mattar; Bihari halwai-style mutton; machli ka sarsonwala jhor; the delectable bhujias; the unique parwal ki mithai, thekua and other fantastic sweets.


"The Bhojpuri Kitchen" is not only a celebration of several recipes, lest they be forgotten in the future, but also of the region's festivals like Chhath, which is yet another reason for the kitchens to come alive with food befitting the Gods.


(Saket Suman can be contacted at saket.s@ians.in)

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