Lost in the chase for advancement, we seem to be running right back to our roots
With our focus on millet and plant-based diets, let's take a walk back in time to understand how it all began
There are a number of sayings and adages that express the importance of our elders' knowledge and wisdom. We are all familiar with the 'old is gold' and 'with age comes wisdom'. And as I scoured the internet for a new topic to write about, i definitely stumbled upon an old and simplistic gold mine. Turns I did not have to go that far to figure what should my March editorial line-up look like. In fact, I had to travel a little back in time and take inspiration from my ancestors. So here I am, putting down my thoughts on food that we've all wondered and thought of but only for a fleeting moment.
It comes as no surprise that consumption of food is what all living beings have in common. And yet when you take into consideration humans, history sure made bifurcation and division even in our cuisine. It wasn't intentional, but sure these adversities and hardships have given rise to a myriad of cuisines that now fall under the big title 'Indian food'. Let me elaborate what i want to point out here. Our country has been under the influence of many colonies like the Mughals, Portuguese, French and the British. All of them contributing to our cuisine in some way or the other, for the better and for the worse. Then we faced sever droughts, natural calamities and disasters that eventually left us with no option but to innovate a new dish all together, just so that survival was possible. And a number of these dishes, that were once born out of adversity and belonged only to certain groups of people, have over time gained immense popularity among the general crowd, unveiling a number of health benefits. It almost like finding a diamond in the rough, only the rough was our backyard all along.
From mastering over 60 different ways to prepare lentils, all because they are the protein equivalent to meat, making it a viable option for a balanced diet for those who choose a plant-based diet, to a rich and royal dish such a nalli nahari that was first invented by labourers as a breakfast dish to help them power through a day of physical labour, there are a number of dishes that has its roots in the house of the working class or the soldiers on our borders. If I were to talk about the potential candidate to become the National Dish of India: the khichdi. A dish so simple with its roots going all the way back to the times of the Mahabharata and what was once referred to as a 'sick-man's food' is now a popular favourite not just in our country but across the globe, given the ease of preparation and the amount of protein that it packs. It fascinates me to know that while our ancestors had it right all along, how did we stray away from our roots?
We also cannot ignore millets, now that we've come so far. Millets was a popular choice among the farmer folk of our country. It was the perfect choice for a meal given that it was available for cheap and had an immense nutritional content, helping them stay on their feet all day long. while millets have been consumed by homo sapiens for about 7000 years now, it is the year 2023 the United Nations declared as the International Year of Millets. The world across is realising the benefits of a produce that the farmers of India already knew. Not only knew, they also gave some of the most delectable recipes, like bhakri and pitla to name some. And since the bhakri was to be eaten with something, this is when our beloved thecha (a spicy paste made with chillies) comes into play. Even today, millet-based dishes are very prominent in the rural areas of the country. while we, the folks with higher education, are just learning of them. I'd call this irony at its best.
The few dishes mentioned in this story does absolutely no juistice at all to all the hidden gems of our culinary heritage that was birthed on a chula and somehow has found its way to the global map. But you as the reader also needs to understand, that if I sat uncovering these dishes now, this would be a very long read. So I'll just leave this as conversation starter: Have we really lost ourselves in the contemporary world to forget our roots? Or has this craze for a western-influenced approach to life made us realise that we actually were way far ahead than we were giving ourselves credit for? I'll let you think about that for a while.