The food of Bihar is a living tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation. I remember when I was really young and my mother would painstakingly make these amazing delicacies and I would just dismiss them demanding she make me Italian or Chinese instead but, as I have grown older I have realized the importance of my culture and traditions and how it is such an important part of my identity. Having parents from Bihar and Jharkhand and being brought up in the steel city of Bhilai in Chhattisgarh I have been exposed to various cultures and traditions. Ever since I was young i have had the privilege of having friends from all over the country with different traditions and cultures in Bhilai which gradually in a strange made me appreciate my own culture heritage and traditions.
As a young kid when I’d see my friends celebrating their festivals with so much enthusiasm and gusto I would question what was my heritage? what is this heritage that my friends seem to be so proud of and boasted of and took so seriously. As I grew up I gradually started discovering and observing that the festivals and traditions that was so close to my family was so different from what my friends had, and I realized these played a huge part in our identities and individuality and what made us such unique individuals different from each other. And I started learning to appreciate my own heritage, sets of traditions and the culture that we had.
Since I have lived in a town with people from diverse regions, I have had the privilege of experiencing food of my own culture which we used to have at home and also of my fellow friends of different culture and traditions. What we eat, how we eat it, why do we eat it is so different among different cultures and traditions.
It’s not just about the food but the memories attached to it, the tradition and reasons behind it that makes it so special for a person. It brings to life the memories of our mothers and grandmothers making it and making sure we ate till our stomachs ached. Every food has its own special meaning and history behind it, how it’s related to a special occasion or festival or how it forms a daily part of our lives. The cuisine that i consider integral part of my heritage is Bihari with some specks o Chhattisgarhi delicacies in it.
I have had some really great local cuisine in Bhilai thanks to my Chhattisgarhi friends .One of my absolute favorites is tamatar Ki chatani or phatka or jojho made by Chhattisgarhis which is eaten with rice or roti. It’s not a complementary dish like chutney usually is but a staple food.
Another one of my favorites is Sabudana Ki Kichdi it is one of the healthiest and most delicious cuisines of Chhattisgarh that is not only eaten in the Chhattisgarh but all around the country. Sabudana Ki Kichdi is a dish prepared with the soaked Sabudana balls. To add the flavor to the dish various vegetables and spices are added that provides a delicious taste to the plate. Sabudana ki Kichdi is fondly eaten during the fast, but it accounts for an important lifestyle cuisine for the people of Chhattisgarh.
Tilghur is a sweet ball, prepared from sesame seeds dip in dark jaggery mix, with roasted peanuts. The same is also known til ke laddoo. This sweet ball is usually made in the Makarsankrathi festival of the Hindus and is a special treat in the state of Chhattisgarh as well as Bihar.
Another delicacy was Chawal Ka Cheela (Rice Pancake) which is a very crisp paper thin cheela made with rice flour. It is a very easy and light dish. Since Chhattisgarh is the rice bowl of India it makes sense that this cheela consist of daily breakfast at Chhattisgarhi homes.
Apart from the local cuisine I had the pleasure of having cuisine of the places where my parents grew up namely Bihar and Jharkhand.
Each major festival in Bihar has a signature dish linked with it. thekua for chhatth, pidukiya for teej, tilkut for Makar Sankranti – and pua for Holi.
Thekuas: it is The Bihari version of cookie and is made with whole wheat and jaggery and is deep fried. This sweet is associated with the sacred festival of chhath wherein it is offered as Prasad. It needs no preservatives and it is preserved for several days for eating, due to this reason you can see a lot of Bihari students travelling to their hostels with dabbas full of thekuas.
Pua: it is a sweet which is a customary dish made every holi, Pua is sometimes confused with Malpua, but the two are not the same. Malpua is soaked in sugar syrup post-frying, while pua is not – it has sugar mixed into the batter itself. A good pua is thin, crisp when just-fried, and mildly sweet. Because puas are dry and can pass for snacks as well as desserts, for me, it is the essence of holi and no holi is complete without indulging in some delicious puas.
Satputiya ki sabzi is a local vegetable found in Bihar and other regions. I have very fond memories of having this with my mother after she broke her Jeeteya fast. Popularly known as Jeeteya the holy festival of Jivitputrika is observed by women in Bihar for the long life and wellbeing of their children. Mothers keep fast throughout the day without taking even a drop of water. Normally, the fast is observed for the well-being of sons, but my mother would do it for all her children including my sister and i. For this reason the food as well as this ritual is close to my heart.
Litti chokha: The lip-smacking taste of Litti Chokha, is savored by one and all, it’s probably the most popular Bihari cuisine and needs no introduction. It the grand welcome to the food of Bihar, in all its ghee-dripping glory. It consists of wheat and sattu with spices, kneaded into round spicy balls, dipped in ghee. The texture of Litti along with the crunchy crust makes it a foodie’s delight. Chokha is prepared by mashing boiled vegetables (most common being potatoes, brinjal, tomatoes), adding spices and chopped onion, garlic etc and served with Litti as a complimentary delicacy. Earlier litti’s were baked in coal or over cow dung cake but slowly with passage of time it is also baked in oven which still retains its essence.
Food is needed for more than just survival and sustenance it is more than just a biological necessity ,it plays a great role in integration of cultures and helps one appreciate the beauty of other’s culture and heritage.
It is important to conserve this heritage as it forms an important part of our identity. While everyday foods can illustrate cultural identity, they can also create a space for individual identity as well.
It is also important that the food be preserved in such a way that its essence is not lost. When every day or ritualistic foods are taken out of their original context, they are manipulated, taking on new interpretations. Not only does the movement of these foods manipulate their use and meaning, but it also impacts their ability to act as vehicles for identity. These manipulations and alterations can be seen within the culture of origin as well as the recipient culture. A local bakery in my town used to serve puffs filled with sattu and pass it off as Bihari litti, for an unsuspecting person who has never had a litti before ,won’t know the difference and would form his opinions based on the appropriated cuisine offered to him. As our culture is dynamic it is very difficult to define and preserve authenticity but at the same time we shouldn’t lose the main essence of our heritage. It is not so much about an exact recipe as the way of preparation or the style of consumption of a particular ingredient or dish that defines this inheritance of food.
Passed on from generation to generation, it is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their ever changing environment and their history, it and provides us with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity and the ability to understand other’s better through their food culture.
Loss of heritage will lead to loss of a part of our identities. Imagine a world where we just get only so called mainstream westernized food and our next generation wouldn’t have the privilege of having had this cuisine, wouldn’t know what it is that makes them unique and what their heritage is. Deep connection with the identity and cultural distinctiveness of is a fundamental element of our intimate identity; if this is lost a part of our identities will be lost.
Misrepresentation of the culture as mentioned above when it loses its essence is upsetting and is a threat to the heritage.
The Indian food culture is one of the finest in the world when it comes to nutrition and overall wellbeing but the western culture’s invasion with the fast food is wiping out the Indian food from the platter at a very alarming rate as a result even the most famous bihari delicacies is not to be found among the younger generation of the so called bihari elites.
The appeal to the younger generation for traditional food is very less.
Ways to overcome threats to heritage:
Mutual respect as well as a respect for and mutual appreciation of this intangible cultural heritage, should prevail in interactions between States and between communities, groups and, where applicable, individuals.
There should food festivals where the Bihari food is not just limited to litti chokha. To spread and celebrate the culture of Bihar and Chhattisgarh and instill pride among people for the state’s heritage, to acknowledge, understand and celebrate their culture and work towards its preservation. To create awareness among the youth to develop a sense of ownership of heritage
Since it’s not easy to cook dishes in an authentic way, for a person who has never been exposed to this culture or tradition, an official YouTube channel dedicated to teaching how to cook the recipes of traditional foods of Bihar and Chhattisgarh can be started. Similarly other states can follow suit.
Every state should have a dedicated food walk, where people visiting the state can enjoy their food culture and it will also provide a source of income for the local people. There should be a food retreat in every state where people come to relax and enjoy the cuisine of a particular region and this should be advertised on the official tourism page of Bihar and Chhattisgarh so that when people come to visit a state they have the opportunity to experience all aspects of the heritage tangible as well as the intangible.
Documentation can be done of all the recipes so that it can be preserved in its purest form where its essence is not lost.
Food is something that brings us all together it is something that is almost always shared, at lunch, at festivals at parties or in hostels etc. It is something that brings us together and helps us appreciate each other for our uniqueness and culture and forms and important part of our heritage.