15 Aug 2020

Ferns, Nettles and Lentils: The Uniqueness Of Himachal Cuisine

In the vast mountain lands of the Himalayas, far from the world of Rajma Chawal and Sambar, food takes on a slightly different avatar here.

Scratch that, “slightly” might be an understatement.

For a region where growing fresh produce is relatively difficult during the off-season, Himachal is home to one of the most diverse cuisines found in the country, seasonal vegetables and fruits take precedence here over the rest of the country’s staples such as potato, tomato and onion. Even when the land faces tough times, say unavailability of produce or high prices, Himachali cuisine continues to surprise, morphing its dependence, moving to lentils, pulses and grains. Nutrition is also a priority among the hills. Most people lead physically demanding lives going up and down the winding, steep paths. Most of their food consumption reflects this.

So what do the people of the Himachal really eat?

Village Life in Himachal Pradesh

Going wild: While some varieties of produce are more commonplace, there are numerous fruits and vegetables that are found nowhere else, thanks to climate conditions and endemic characteristics.

Take lungdu, for example. Known as the Fiddlehead Fern in English, this fern and its intricacies are found almost nowhere else in India, apart from in Himachal and her Northeast brethren. The Himachalis use lungdu as most people do potatoes; it can either be part of a dish or be used on its own. It also has to be harvested in time, before the fiddlehead of the fern unfurls, else it's just a pretty plant. 

There’s also Bicchu Buti Ka Saag, a saag (leafy dish) made of the aptly named stinging nettle. Locals navigate through streams and meadows to find the plant, then carefully dissect and gather its leaves. After a careful wash (all this caution for good reason), it can be turned into a leafy dish like any other leafy veggies. The nettle is rich in omega-3 acids, Vitamin A and Vitamin C, among other things.

Another more popular plant that is used in Himachali cooking is Bhaang. You may know it is Cannabis Indica, of the marijuana family. It proliferates up north, used in the more traditional ways of smoking and consumption as a drug. However, it’s also quite used as a vegetable in cooking. The seeds are an essential ingredient of kadhi, a creamy stew similar to soup that’s typically eaten across the country.  

Fruits and spice: While most of us consume fresh ripe fruits at the end of a meal or on their own, Himachalis put a spin on fruits and actively use them in cooking too. Ambua, a mango based chutney/gravy, is made with ripe or raw mangoes when they’re in season. Indian cherries, known as Lasure, are turned into a curry or a pickle. Indian figs, known as Bhruni, are also turned into a curry/dry dish.

The Quintessential Himachi Village

Kullu Trout Image Credits: Himachal Tourism

Lentil land: Lentils form an integral part of a Himachali diet. During winters and scarcity of vegetables, lentils, grains and pulses are almost entirely what the people rely on. One of the most exotic examples of the Himachali obsession with lentils is called Dhaam, a feast that was initially meant for royalty, but is now commonplace during festivals and private occasions. Dhaam is a slow-cooked feast consisting entirely of lentils and rice, and no vegetables or fruits are on the menu. The dals are cooked over nearly 12 hours, and this affair is overseen by Botis, a group of Brahmin cooks who are experts in the art. Even on normal occasions, a bevvy of Himachali foods and snacks use a lentil base. Bhaturu, for instance, has a similar name to the Bhatura that everyone is familiar with, but is a different flatbread, made with fermented urad dal (black gram). Gulgule is a sweet doughnut-like snack made with wheat flour.

Want to experience the best cuisine that Himachal has to offer? Join us at Rakkh resort in Palampur and let your taste buds be treated to a culinary journey like never before!

Ghamrota Village Post Office Ballah ,Tehsil Palampur, District Kangra, Jiun, Himachal Pradesh 176061