24 Oct 2016 13:18 IST

Taste and feel of a bygone era

Unique dishes and cooking styles liven up the festival season in the hill States

Diwali is a time for festive cooking, and rural India is replete with unique dishes made using traditional contraptions.

One such implement is the chaunsi used to prepare eklus, a delicacy that takes centre-stage during Diwali celebrations in some parts of Himachal Pradesh.

Made of stone, the cooking appliance is heated on a choolah (earthern stove) and, in a matter of minutes, 50 eklus are ready to be eaten. Demonstrating her culinary prowess, Kanta Devi of Batal village, Solan district, says the preparation is considered auspicious and eaten with ghee and jaggery.

When kept covered, the chaunsi allows the eklus to be baked and steamed simultaneously. Equally unique are the luska tawas. Engraved with flowers and other designs on its base, this tawa (griddle) is used to prepare luskas, another quaint festival treat made from rice batter.

The chilru, too, is made from rice batter, but with a bit of baking powder added to it. Though the ingredients are the same for the various preparations, the method of cooking varies. The accompaniments also differ. Some are eaten with milk, others with daal (pulses) or ghee and jaggery.

“In the olden times there were not too many varieties of food available. Every dish would be made of either rice or wheat, depending on what grew in the fields. So homemakers tried to vary the taste and form of the different dishes. Later, they became traditional items for special occasions. Made without oil, they are not only easy to digest but also easy to prepare,” explains Kanta Devi.

Battu Devi, aged over 80, points out that hill women do not have much time to spend in the kitchen. “It is not just a question of meagre means or lack of resources or ingredients. Even today, women in hilly terrains work very hard, slogging in the fields, taking care of children, cooking and even fetching water, so where is the time to make food that is time-consuming? This is especially true of poor households.”

Ranju, Kanta Devi’s daughter, has come home for the festival season from Chandigarh, where she works in a private company. She says that today not many women are aware of the traditional items made during Diwali or other festivals. Also, it is difficult for these simple dishes to compete with the goodies that are making their way into village markets.

“Simple, traditional items will soon disappear from rural kitchens, as will traditional cooking implements such as the chaunsi and the luska tawa from local markets. There is a need to preserve them, what with urbanisation steadily eating into the village ethos,” the young woman says.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.)

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