A village house in the desert district of Barmer, Rajasthan. Photo: © Bipasha Majumder
It was a chilly winter day and we were in a village close to the Pakistan border in the desert district of Barmer, Rajasthan. After a hectic day of activities, we were called for lunch at the home of an Adivasi woman who had fought against tradition to celebrate the birth of her daughter. The lunch was a simple fare of hot bajre ka roti loaded with ghee and jaggery. On the side, we were given a thin but spicy kadi made of curd. Between the taste of the ghee and jaggery loaded rotis and the hot kadi, I was lost in a culinary delight I did not know existed. The winter sun, the blue sky, wispy clouds and a chilly wind added its bit of magic to that day. The taste of that meal still lingers in my mouth.
My favourite food moments or memories are not of those in some five star restaurants or any exotic foreign cuisine joint but of those simplest of meals that I have had in the villages of India. Whether it's eating the softest bhakri and spicy jhinga curry in a Konkan village, khichdi and zunkha in the midst of a cotton field in Vidarbha or a humble meal of roti, daal and aloo sabzi with onions and salt in a forest village in Chhattisgarh, the taste remains incomparable to any food I ever had in the cities.
There was a time (in my childhood) when my father used to buy wheat (grain) from the grocer. He could easily figure out a good variety from the bad and would insist on a particular type because of its taste and health benefits. The wheat would be taken to the local chakki to get flour which was then shifted to get the husk out and later stored. The same process was followed for almost all the other food items we bought - from rice, to most spices like red chilies and haldi which were first dried, ground by hand and then stored. The process was tedious, time consuming and physically exhausting but the food that ended up on our plates was pure and tasteful.
A forest village in Chhattisgarh. Photo: © Bipasha Majumder
With the advent of branded and modified food and its ease of use, we now have food but not that taste. India originally had more than 100,000 varieties of locally grown rice but its fast getting contaminated due to the usage of hybrid seeds created by corporates. So, now we have polished rice which looks good when served but has no taste of its own, atta which is getting whiter by the day and the most important traditional yet packed-with-nutrition crop of millets is all but forgotten. Kutki rice, once known as the food of the extremely poor tribals of Chhattisgarh, is sticky when cooked yet it's tasteful, filling and extremely good for those suffering from diabetes. Atta with a bit of husk is a good source of roughage and all varieties of millets have health benefits which are way higher than rice or wheat flour.
In our pursuit for health fads and acquired tastes, we may have forgotten that real health and taste lies in our locally grown food only. Some of the rural communities have thankfully not forgotten that and traveling across the length and the breadth of the country, one can still get lots and lots of taste of it.
Bipasha Majumder is a communications officer with a leading NGO. The steady destruction of nature and wildlife, especially in the Himalayas, which she calls her ‘home’ is an issue very close to her heart.
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