Placing Litti Chokha on the map of India, Bihar’s cuisine has entered the list of trendy food and is getting the much deserved love & appreciation
It was not too far back that a group of friends and I discovered Litti chokha, a popular traditional snack from the eastern state of Bihar – and that too by accident.
Walking around in Dilli Haat, New Delhi, we came across an acquaintance happily gorging on a plate of what he called “the unassuming but amazing delicacy of Bihar”. Upon ordering this dish for ourselves, we opened our palates not just to a new (for us) but an immensely tasty dish too. For the uninitiated, litti is a spicy roasted dumpling stuffed with gram powder mixed with a variety of spices. Whereas, chokha is a mix of a well-roasted brinjal and potato mash with a lot of tomatoes, garlic, green chillies and coriander thrown in. As we down it with Sattu – a drink prepared with roasted gram powder, water, rock salt and roasted cumin – the person manning the stall tells us that this is one of those quick, on-the-go preparations that being wholesome and filling is often had for breakfast as it keeps you feeling light and energetic through the day. And together with Litti Chokha, he adds, Sattu is helping Bihar’s food find a favoured place on the gourmets’ must-haves list of traditional food.
Sure enough, if Rajasthan boasts of its Lal maas and Dal baati choorma, the state of Kashmir proudly offers its Wazwaan and the southern states their amazing varieties of dosas, among other innumerable dishes. Bihar, too, we concede, has an exciting smorgasbord of goodies to offer.
“Unlike the cuisine from the North-West frontier that has been enjoying immense popularity among foodies for the past several decades, the fare from Bihar – that also includes food from its neighbouring regions such as Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, etc – has started making its presence. Food lovers are coming to realise that food from the areas around Patna Sahib is not just aromatic and flavourful but equally tasty and healthy,” says Nishant Choubey, a Michelin-plated chef, who hails from Bihar and is working to ensure that cuisine from his home-state gets the attention it deserves “even if it’s a tad too late,” he adds with a smile.
Food expert and blogger Dipali Bhasin attributes this spurt of interest in Bihar’s food to pop-ups and food festivals. “These have led to the popularity of the cuisine of Bihar. Of course, Instagram has helped too, for we as consumers of good food are inquisitive and want to experiment more. With similarities to the already popular Bengali food, Bihari food has caught on and its Mutton curry and Dal pithi are greatly relished.”
Having grown up eating his mother’s preparations of Parwal ki mithai, Makhane ki kheer, Atte ka thequa, Pakodia and Thasa, Nishant has been working hard to replicate the authentic tastes of the region at The Foreigners’ Café, his restaurant in Delhi’s Rajouri Garden. It was a challenge to make a dent into this predominantly Punjabi neighbourhood but Nishant managed to do just that. His clientele here includes not just Biharis but Indians from across the board and the expat community as well.
At the growing number of outlets serving Bihar’s cuisine, which includes The Potbelly Rooftop Cafe in Shahpur Jat, New Delhi, you can take your pick from quite an interesting fare – Maithili thali, Bihari tehri, Dana jhamarua thali, besides the crispy Tarua, a pakoda-like preparation coated with rice powder, Dal peetha, a momos-like creation that comes with stuffing of some spicy daal, Doodh peetha, satua, etc. “What makes the cuisine from my state particularly popular is that it uses healthy ingredients like mustard oil, yellow mustard seeds, etc,” adds Nishant.
With Buddhism and Jainism enjoying a major following in Bihar, the emphasis, for many, is on vegetarianism but the non-vegetarianism fare is equally exotic starting with its Mutton curry, free range chicken and baby lamb enjoying immense popularity among foodies. The Dora kebab, Bihari boti, Bihari chicken masala need a special mention too. Fish curry preparations are relished in areas around the Mithila region because of the number of rivers such as Sone, Gandak, Koshi and, of course, the Ganges, flowing through it.
The food of Bihar is highly seasonal. In the summer months, you will find a variety of sherbets made of pulp of the wood-apple (bel). Then there is Aamjhaora besides the Sattu. Among the snacks, Makhana remains a hot favourite. “Now it’s also being touted as a health snack that’s good for diabetics but the people of Bihar knew of that from very long,” smiles Nishant. The Makhane ki kheer is relished as a dessert too. Dates jaggery is enjoyed in different ways in homes. Besides having it just as it is, gur ki kheer and gur ki chai is counted among the specialities.
It’s interesting to note that the cuisine of Bihar enjoys a major presence in Mauritius and some African countries too – having travelled there in the late 1800s when many people from the region shifted there to work in sugarcane plantations. There, it has assumed a slightly different avatar, for example, the Bihari parantha came to be called Faratha, and the Dholl puri, which is called the national dish of Mauritius, is a take-off of the Aloo and dal puri preparation.