Growing up, I did not have any good friends from Bihar or Jharkhand. I had a few students in my class when I was pursuing my post graduation, but none of them stuck as good friends, they remained just classmates. But there was a girl living in the room opposite mine in my hostel during my post graduation days, from whom I did manage to learn a few things about Bihari cuisine. And then, thanks to that fateful day when I decided to read Chetan Bhagat’s Half girlfriend (Oh, how I still curse that day!), I learnt about Litti-Chokha. However, all trough my life, my knowledge of cuisine from that part of the country, remained negligible. So, while attending the Sattvik Food Festival organized by Shrishti NGO in Ahmedabad over Christmas, when I saw a stall exhibiting and serving cuisine from Jharkhand, I had to make a visit, and make sure I learnt everything I could. There were a few dishes on display, and I like an inquisitive child, asked as many questions as I could think of. The volunteers were very kind to me, answered every question I had in as much detail as they could. Thankfully, I visited it in the afternoon, so there was not a lot of crowd around, and I could sample and learn in peace. These are not dishes you would easily encounter on Google over all those popular recipe sharing websites. These are traditional recipes of rural Jharkhand households, but worth a try. This is what the culinary diversity of India really is. Jharkhand has quite a large tribal population, and a lot of their dishes are deep fried, it’s the most common method of cooking they use.
The first dish I learn was ‘Charpa’. In many parts of Jharkhand, including the ‘Panch Pargana’ area (Bundu, Rahe, Sonahatu, Silli, Angara, Arki and Tamar blocks of Ranchi and Khunti district), Charpa is a special food item prepared by frying mashed rice, generally mixed and served with spicy vegetable preparations. So, the name of the dish will be derived from what it is being served with, like Sembi Charpa, Egg Charpa, etc.
The next I tried ‘Khapra Pitha’. Khapra Pitha is a kind of rice cake. It may or may not have a stuffing. The one I had was made from rice and urad flour. This one was cooked in earthenware, giving it great earthy flavors. It had a sweetish taste, nothing pronounced. I was told that it is also prepared by the womenfolk on the special occasion of Bandna Parab, which is a kind of thanksgiving ceremony, thanking nature for the bounty and good harvest of the paddy crop.
Next in line was ‘Dhoska’, and till then I would only laugh when Kareena said in 3 idiots that Gujarati foods have scary names. Dhoska was definitely a more intimidating one I felt. Dhoska or Dhuska, as it is sometimes known as, is a very famous preparation of Jharkhand that is made from mashed rice and lentils, and is generally served with either aloo dum or mutton curry. Dhuska is also a festival preparation. Sometimes vegetables are added into the rice and lentil batter before shaping it into the dhuskas and frying them off. This is a savoury dish, and generally feels good with a spicy accompaniment.
Next I tried ‘Mouba ka cake’. This was a cake like preparation made from Ragi. This I was told, is not totally traditional, but something people had developed over time as a dessert. For people not native, this was taken as a healthy food and consumed, but in Jharkhand, this is something women prepare as a dessert or as a mark of celebration. The dish is simply steam cooked.
Next was something a lot more relatable, something I already knew from my own childhood – Kodri ni khichdi. I had caught jaundice when I was barely 6 years old, and the doctor had forbidden the consumption of any pulses or cereals. But I was allowed to consume sesame oil, which luckily was what my household already consumed everyday, and kodri, also called as foxtail millet, which is a rice-like grain. Mom would add in the vegetables and make a khichdi out of it for me to eat. Time passed on, but my love for Kodri never decreased, and I still Kodri ki khichdi, as much as any other form of Khichdi. So, seeing Kodri ki khichdi as a traditional food of Jharkhand was both a surprise and a joy. I tried this, and it was considerably bland, without any salt in it. I thought maybe they forgot to add in the salt, but they tasted it and told me it was perfect, and I did not dispute the claim any further.
Overall, I got to learn a lot from the stall about the cuisines of Jharkhand, and it was a great experience. I was just getting started at the festival, which would go on to be a two-day long super eventful experience for me, that I would definitely never forget. This was going to be the best Christmas ever!