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Decoding the Kumaon Taste Palate

Cuisines of Uttarakhand are distinctly unique, simple and yet savoury. The names of the dishes have pahari connect but with a touch of mainstream languages, which makes it easier to decode if given a chance to understand. Inclusion of local ingredients in most of their delicacies is their speciality and the recipes orbit around lentils and pulses of their geographical origin and few common green leafy vegetables. To appreciate them in full glory, one needs to develop a taste for Kumaoni dishes.

Lying in the foothills of the great Himalayas, Kumaon is located in Uttarakhand, the northern hill province of India. It’s cool and fresh mountain breeze, the ethereal Himalayan scenic view, tall swaying Pine and Deodar trees and the rolling cultivation of hill crops win everyone’s hearts. A representation of the simplicity and diversity of this place is seen in its cuisine.

Since Kumaon is located in a cold region, people use warm spices such as coriander, mustard and fenugreek to keep up their body heat. Though the food is quite simple and nothing fancy like the butter chicken, it is nevertheless, extremely delicious.

One of the traditional dishes that you can find in small eateries along the winding hill roads is aloo ke gutke, which is essentially potato wedges fried with local herbs like jakhya and jamboo and then topped with coriander leaves. A humble serving of Aloo ke Gutke and Bhatt ki Churkani is just irresistible in this region and weather. In Kumaoni homes, people don’t use cumin or mustard to temper dals. They use jakhya, which is like a tiny mustard seed and helps indigestion. Hill spinach is a common dish to accompany chapatis made of madua or finger millet seeds. Topped with dollops of ghee and jaggery, this is an ideal winter dish.

One can also see seasonal diversity in the Kumaon cuisine. For example, during the warm summer months, the cooling triphala is included in the diet, while the monsoon sees the preparation of the delicious, warming surka, a drink made with takeera (soaked, pounded and dried wheat), almonds and cardamom.

Since the people living here are predominantly vegetarians, lot of lentils are used to fulfil their protein and energy needs. The common pulses that are relished are gehet, gauth, toor, swanta and gauthare. These pulses are usually enjoyed with rice. The pulses, beverages, and fruits here are quite different from other parts of India. Some typical Kumaoni fruits are hisoi, kaafal, kilmudi, mekauti and narangi while the juices preferred are burash or rhododendron juice, rose juice and malta juice.

The cuisine from the region is heavy on ghee to help one combat the freezing temperatures. Lentils too enjoy a prominent place in the food mix. Bhat ki dal, for instance, is a black lentil that is rich in protein. It is used to make churkani, which can only be cooked in a cast iron kadhai. The iron from the kadhai and protein from the lentil make it an extremely nutritious dish. The Kumaonis also believe that their lentils have therapeutic purposes. The Kulath or gahat dal is believed to be beneficial for those suffering from stones. If one has this dal continuously for 10 to 15 days, it’s said,  he or she will be cured.

The cuisine has something in store for those with a sweet tooth as well. There is the famous bal mithai that can be found in sweet shops across the region. It is a chocolate studded with sugar balls. Singhori is a sweetmeat moulded in an indigenous leaf called malla ka patta that results in little cones fragrant with an elusive scent of the leaf packaging.

Kumaoni cuisine appears simple in its looks, however, the thing that makes the cuisine truly unique is the array of unusual flavours from wild pahari herbs and seeds like the jakhiya, faran, chippi, bhang seeds, gandherni and jumboo.The extensive use of local herbs and ingredients lends a unique freshness to the dishes.

Kumaon Cuisine along with other National Regional and International cuisines are discussed and practiced at the Hospitality College at Amrapali Institute, Haldwani. Amrapali Educational Institute is a top ranked institute in Nainital.

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