There’s more to Bihar’s food than Litti Chokha.

“The history of Bihar and the region dates back to the times of Chandragupta Maurya in 250 BC,” begins Chandana Nandkeolyar Advani, Mumbai-based home chef. It is obvious that the culinary culture of a region with such rich history has tales to tell of its own. Bihar, as we know it today, was part of a bigger entity comprising of Jharkhand, parts of West Bengal, Odisha, eastern Uttar Pradesh and little bit of Nepal. This kingdom has strong connections with the erstwhile Magadh, Maithili, Bhojpur and a few more. The food therefore is a confluence of these diverse traditions that reflects the age-old flavours. 

Similar to Indian languages and dialects that change every 200 km, Indian food too shows similar rustic nuances. “With each province, the tastes differ, barra is from Jharkhand, while bhabra (fried pancake of besan and green peas) is from Mithila. These recipes are prepared differently and taste different as well,” says Nandkeolyar Advani who conducts pop-ups in the city and Pune in association with Authenticook. At the same time, there are overarching commonalities such as general vegetarianism, smoking of food, the use of mustard oil and the spice mix paanch phoron. Kathal ki tarkari, a curry-style dish made of unripe jackfruit, is an example the home chef gives to emphasise the importance and uniqueness of the state’s vegetarian cuisine.

To simplify the state’s complex cuisine, she says that Bihari food is rich, but it’s not due to the ingredients used. It’s the style of cooking and techniques that gives it the delightful twist. “For instance, Bihari cuisine barely uses dried fruits and nuts. However, despite the richness of flavour and texture, the food is not heavy and is easy on your digestion,” she adds.

Bihar also has a rich kebab tradition which is an influence of the Mughals and Nawabs of Awadh. Nandkeolyar Advani elaborates, “Non-vegetarian dishes from Bihar are very famous. TV shows in Pakistan speak of Bihari kebabs with reverence.” It is said that these kebabs have also made their made way into Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s memoirs, who was known to be partial to the meaty morsels. Old shops in Patna still sell these coveted kebabs. The technique that goes behind making these kebabs is unlike any other and requires time and patience to ensure that the meat is succulent and just melts in your mouth, adds the home chef. Nandkeolyar Advani, herself, comes from an aristocratic Bihari family and has learnt the secrets of the cuisine from her mother and a bawarchi by the name of Maqbool. 

The region of Champaran is known for taash, a grilled mutton dish served with beaten rice (chivda) is popular as an evening snack. There is also a thriving pescatarian community in Bihar thanks to the multitudes of rivers and tributaries including Ganges, Son and Koshi.

But these kebabs never received the spotlight the way litti chhokha did. Once a poor man’s meal, litti chokha is Bihar’s biggest culinary export. Even celebrities such as Aamir Khan are known to go weak-kneed for this delicacy. A wheat dumpling stuffed with sattu is traditionally baked over charcoal. Similar to Rajasthani bati, they are generously drizzled with ghee, but the similarities end there. Litti is served with a mash of either roasted potatoes or roasted aubergines; the chokha uses chargrilling technique to cook the veggies that is then tempered with whole dry spices.

The underdog but also the hero of Bihar’s cuisine is sattu. Not to be compared or substituted with besan, which is chickpea flour, sattu is made with roasted Bengal gram. A powerhouse of energy, the flour sneaks its way in numerous Bihari dishes. From litti and parathas to a stand-alone sherbet that is equivalent to a modern day protein shake!Sattu was always a poor man’s food, where they would knead around 250 gm of sattu with water and consume it with onions and chilies,” says Nandkeolyar Advani of the humble flour. One of the biggest reason it is so widespread in the state is because it offers energy and strength to those involved in occupations that require intense manual labour, keeps the stomach full, yet is easily digestible. In summer, sattu keeps the body cool and protects it from the viciousness of the dreaded Loo or the summer heat wave that engulfs whole of northern India.

That said, food culture of Bihar still continues to be understated and largely unexplored. Something that needs to change very soon.

You can savour Chandana Nandkeolyar Advani's Bihari mealExperience Magadhat Neel, Tote on Turf, Mumbai in association with Authenticook from July 20-22, 2018.


Featured image: Authenticook
Other images: Shutterstock.com

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