The Curious Case of Bihari Cuisine: Part 1

Despite the many Biharis across the country, and across the continents (Mauritius, countries of the West Indies and Fiji come to my mind easily), and Biharis in Bihar, of course, there is no popular recognition of the Bihari cuisine. We do not have restaurants announcing in big and bold that they serve authentic Bihari cuisine. No Bihari food festivals in five star- or even three star- hotels. Not even does the friendly neighbourhood restaurant announce: “Specialist in Chinese, Mughalai, Punjabi and Bihari cuisine”. A pity, the Bihari cuisine has failed to grab the attention of other fellow countrymen? Or is it that the Biharis have failed to position their cuisine as something unique. I understand that there is Gujrati thali, Bangal ranna, Andhra mealsu and Kashmiri waazwaan. But, alas, no Bihari cuisine. How come?

It is my humble endeavour in this post to educate the non-Bihari reader on the delights of the Bihari cuisine.

Maybe us Biharis are to be blamed. When asked for our favourite meal, we just utter “Daal-bhaat-chokha”. Or sometimes even “maad-bhaat-chokha”. I am in love with the aforementioned stuff as well; I am a Bihari and I understand the delicacy of what other people would believe is rather pedestrian.

Daal is something which all of us Indians have regularly, albeit with varying differences. But have you had the Bihari daal? Arhar dal, just watered down so, with a heavenly chhaunk of “panch-phoran”? (Can you visualize the description of this dish in fancy five star restaurants: “Toor lentils, cooked to the right consistency with perfection and seasoned with a unique, mouth-watering combination of five spices”.) And chokha, the exotic mashed potatoes with a liberal touch of mustard oil and a sprinkling of salt. Some would also add to it a burnt- and mashed- red chilli to impart to it spiciness and an exotic taste. Bhaat, you exclaim is the mundane rice? Well, mundane the rice may be, but have you experimented with various types of rice? Usina chaawal (parboiled rice) or Arwaa chawal (the long-grained rice, with a flavour of its own? And either variety of rice is cooked with varying degrees of consistency, depending upon the family traditions passed down the centuries.

A cousin of the above is maad-bhaat-chokha. Maad, the starchy fluid drained out of the pan (tasla) during an intermediate stage of cooking rice is used as a substitute to daal. Sometimes relished even without the chokha– with a piece of a pickle. Nimki, or the sour lemon pickle, made from large lemons, being a favourite. Sure there will be a quantity of maad left behind on your plate. Just lift up the cheepa, or chhipli (plate in Bhojpuri-speak) to your lips and quaff the residual elixir!

You find the above combos too cumbersome, all this effort to fix your daal-bhaat, or maad-bhaat? Fret not, you can always feast on khichdi, the ultimate comfort food. I have dwelt on this in much detail in earlier posts of mine. Suffice it to say that should you wish to have the khichdi, do not forget its traditional accompaniments as mentioned in the following ditty:

Khichdi ke chaar yaar,

Dahi, papad, ghee, achaar.”

I have written earlier about khichdi on my blog. Here is part 1 and there is part 2.

Oh, you are not in favour of chaawal, at all, and you wish to try some alternate stuff? What about Janera ke khichdi? Khichdi made of corn?

Or maybe you are a wheat afficionado. Multiple delicacies beckon you! Roti and paratha are mundane. Maybe you should try some varieties of makuni. Makuni of different pedigrees. Makuni is what others would call bharwaan paratha. With either mashed potatoes, or phool-gobhi (cauliflower), or murai (radish) as the filling. Technically correct. But this description equates it to the heavily commercial Punjabi fare and misses out on the unique combo of the Bihari spices, specially the two jewels in the spicy crown: ajwain and mangarial. Don’t understand? Head out for a dinner with a Bihari family!

The cuisine of Bihar is not limited to chawal, roti alone. You should seek out the vegetables that the Biharis eat. Lauki, konhda, nenua, jheenga etc. But the king of all Bihar vegetables would be parwal. Parwal is rather unique to Bihar and to some other parts of the East. (Notably in Bengal, where it is called potol. In fact, the Bengalis are so fond of it, some of them even occasionally name their offspring, Potol!).

If you happen to come to our local market and see a throng of men and women around the rare shop that sells parwal, you can be sure that the customers are nearly all Biharis or Bengalis. Each one in the crowd pressing this little yellow-speckled green sabzi between his or her finger-tips and evaluating if the parwal was “fresh” or “boodha” (over-ripe). Some would even break this tender vegetable between their fingers. If it gave way with a smart, crisp snap, then it was fresh (and by extension the entire lot). If it gave way reluctantly and ended up as a squishy mass then it was boodha!

But why this lavish attention on parwal, a sabzi which rest of the country does not even bother to consider in their scheme of culinary activities? The simple answer is, they are not aware of the magic you can work with the imperial parwal.

It can be made into a bhujiya (not to be confused with Haldiram, Bikaneri or generally speaking, the Rajsthani bhujiya- those are made of plain or spiced besan); sautéed slices of parwal with potato or on its own. (What a delight it is to crunch those lovely crisp parwal seeds!). It can be a gravy sabzi, either in glorious isolation or combined with aloo. You can halve each parwal and stuff it with a mix of spices- and you get kaluanji or bharwaan parwal. You could mash some boiled parwal, throw in a few table-spoonfuls of mustard oil and spices, salt, to taste and you get parwal ka chokha. Or, you can even prepare a totally delightful mithai with it. Just that instead of filling it with spices, stuff it with khowa and dry fruits. Parwal ki mithai!

You said you do not quite enjoy green vegetables? Maybe you should try a combination of veggies and some other botanical produce as well! Like pieces of vegetables coated with a batter of gram flour- besan– and deep fried in oil. Sounds familiar? Of course this is bajkaa, aka “pakoda” in all-India speak. Or would you prefer green leaves wrapped in a batter of besan; “rinkwachch”? (Aka patra in Gujarati, one of those famous starters of a Gujarati thali, farsaan). If you really do want to avoid vegetables, worry not, the Bihar cuisine has khandera, cuboids of fried besan cooked in a spicy gravy. Best relished with chaawal. And so many other varieties!

You want more adventures into Bihari cuisine? Wait a bit, I will soon write about the ubiquitous, and multi-faceted,  “sattu”. Here I come, part 2 of the curious case of Bihari cuisine!

47 Responses to The Curious Case of Bihari Cuisine: Part 1

  1. Raghav says:

    My favorite line“Toor lentils, cooked to the right consistency with perfection and seasoned with a unique, mouth-watering combination of five spices”. I never read anything like this on DAAL preparation.

    After Bihari dialect, this one on our culinary culture
    is a real mouthwatering piece.

  2. Kishan says:

    Very interesting.
    The most common fast food in Mauritius is “Dal Puri”. It’s a type of Roti stuff with Dal and is yellow in coulour.
    You will not miss someone selling a Pair of Dal Puri stuffed with vegetables down there.

    We do have a vegetable called ‘Patol” also.

    I have visited India twice but could not see the type of food we generally have in Mauritius which for sure must be BIHARI Cuisine.

    If anyone can guide us where we can have Bihari food, i will definitely try it.

    • santoshojha says:

      Dal-Puri is still made, but mostly for ceremonial occasions. Not as common as in Mauritius! I relished the dal-puri at the Quatre Bornes flea market! Paper thin and served with lovely aloo-sabzi. Washed down with a glass of alouda! The food I had at Mauritius was authentic Bihari, that I can tell you. Perhaps more authentic than what you can get in Bihar.

      Unfortunately, to my mind, there is no restaurant specializing in Bihari cuisine. When you are in India next, you are most welcome to my house in Bangalore for a nice meal!

  3. Seema says:

    Ok….must tell Kiran now that we will only have mouthwatering ‘Bihari’ cuisine next lunch! 🙂

  4. Ahish Athawle says:

    Ha ha ! Finally, the ” Sattu”..yet to come.. still it seems around !!

    Great stuff. You sounded like a Bihari Sanjeev Kapoor or even better. Waiting for the “Sattu” !

  5. Debuda says:

    There are many more popular Bihari specialities like litti-chokha, thekua, etc.

    What about non-veg dishes? I do know that a large percentage of Biharis are non-vegetarians.

    • santoshojha says:

      Totally agree on Litti-chokha and thekua.

      I propose to cover sattu – as I mentioned in the post- in my next piece. And that will include litti et al. Thekua will come under yet another post on Bihari snacks along with belgarami, nimki, kasaar and tilwa/tilkut.

      I really have no idea about the non-veg stuff. While I love non-veg., I was raised in a pucca veg family!

  6. Sandeep says:

    Good One, Litti Chokha is the one I am eagerly waiting for. Mere mention of the same brings water to my mouth. 🙂

  7. Gini says:

    Wow! That’s a fantastic way to familiarize people with some of the evergreen typical Bihari cuisines!Maybe someday there will be a “Bihari by Nature” restaurant in this globalized world! Now, I must make an addition to your list since I’m also a Bihari and grew up eating many of these stuff. Enter “Godila” nowhere close to the Hollywood movie”GODZILLA”!!! Well ‘Godila’ is made with ‘peas’ or ‘matar’. Peas are cooked in the pressure cooker after sauteing the usual onion,ginger,garlic,tejpatta and garam masala! Sounds familiar? Check with your better half!

    • santoshojha says:

      Love the name, “Bihari by Nature”!!!
      By “godila” do you mean mutter ka ghughni? My better half thinks so.

  8. RIcha says:

    Super nice.. and i smiled all along 🙂 Craving for it.
    In your next post you could probably also write about- ‘pittha’.. and there are some stuffed pittha with ’tisi’, which i have not found anywhere else..
    then remember anarsa.. sweet, fried cookies which i guess is sprinkled with some sesame..
    then Rajgir ka khaja… in fact khaja is something that you don’t get anywhere else..
    then ’tilouri’ and ‘adouri’… tilouri made of chwala batter and adaouri made of daal..
    Let me think of more and i would post again… par ek Bihari sweets par bhi ek post banta hai..

    • santoshojha says:

      Thanks, Richa! Adouri was a big miss, thanks for pointing it out.

      I have in mind a post on Bihar snacks and savouries as I mentioned in another comment of mine earlier. Besides what you have mentioned, I could add pua, pataura, tilwaa, makhana ka kheer, gaata (a chewing-gummy thing sold in the villages). Look fwd to more suggestions….

  9. Dolly says:

    Biharis are more likely to call Bhunjiya.Bhujiya is rather a more posh version.

  10. gini says:

    No infact’ghugni’is slightly different as its just stir fried but ‘godila’ is almost like a curry thingie! Someone mentioned ‘Tisi’ and I must add that when I made it for my Mallu husband, he couldn’t stop licking his fingers! And btw, the english name for ’tisi’ is flaxseed….I was stunned when all these years I never realised that this crop grew right in our village backyard! I discovered it only recently that our cuisine does have some healthy stuff! Like a fool, i was making the Singapore supermarkets richer by buying the “the organic, pure flaxseed right from Australia”….!How ironical! Please add ‘besan ka chokha’ too!

    • santoshojha says:

      “Godila” or “ghughni”…. I am confused now! The “ghughni” I know of has a slightly thick gravy. So maybe we are talking about the same thing.

      Thanks for the educational one on tisi. I have now learnt a new word; flaxseed. (besides godila, of course). And please do contribute to our economy by buying tisi in India, we need to keep our GDP growth at 8-9%, the Singaporeans can wait!

  11. Rajiv Sahai says:

    So you see its all about marketing; of which you are I think a specialist.
    Why do you think a hen’s egg costs so much more than a humble fish’s?
    Well, a hen lays one egg and makes a helluva noise about it while a fish lays quietly, millions of them.
    Unlike the ‘white race’ Indians and more particularly Biharis never keep records or boast about themselves. So many of our achievements like our cuisine is largely unheard, unsung and unappreciated by the world.

    • santoshojha says:

      It is time we spoke up for the Bihari cuisine. Don’t you think so? Why should our fellow Indians not discover its joys?

  12. Amit Das says:

    What an interesting and informative piece..for sure will look around for restaurant serving Bihari food here ! Potol is my favourite as well and my mom used to perpare everything like Fish, Chingri ( prawn)etc with Potol especially during winter !

    • santoshojha says:

      Amit: We do not have Bihari restaurants in India, pretty remote chance you will find them in Singapore! Btw you know that I love Bangla cuisine, potol, maachh, chingdi, et al. The authentic Bihari stuff you will get when you visit us next, in Bangalore!

  13. squarecutatul says:

    Waah waah ! So you are a culinary expert too !

    Parwal/potol is indeed a Bihari/Bengali speciality. I had forgotten all about it.

    Incidentally,what is called “konhda” in Bihar is called “kaddu” elsewhere. What is called “Kaddu” in Bihar is called “Lauki” elsewhere.

  14. squarecutatul says:

    I am not a culinary expert, and as I mentioned, I had forgotten about it altogether.

    When I think about it, it may well be available in places outside Bihar/Bengal as well.

  15. I landed on your blog after a Google search, and boy o boy, am I glad ? I am a Bihari too, and I enjoy each and every thing that you have described in your blog. Kudos !

  16. There are some more unique things like Noni Ka Sag,Marua ke Halua & Roti, Makai ke bhat etc.

  17. Animesh says:

    May be we can also add Ol ka Chatni, Arbi ki sabji, Kathal ki sabji or kathal ka achaar, Sahjan ki sabji, adauri & moongauri ki sabji to the now burgeoning list of bihari cuisine. It would indeed be a good idea to open a bihari exclusive restraunt. I am sure it will do some really brisk business.

    • santoshojha says:

      Kathal ki sabji and achaar , how could I have forgotten that! My favourite dish/ pickle!
      Indeed a great idea to open a Bihar restaurant. I even did a back-of-the-envelope business plan for it, sounds most promising. Any takers for a partnership on that one?

  18. dr sharad says:

    i wish to know if there is any good authentic cookbook on bihari cuisine available in India

    • santoshojha says:

      I may be wrong, but I have not come across such a book. Please let me know if you find something.

      • dr sharad says:

        Thanks for ur reply .
        As per the web ,there is one book BIHARI CUISINE by Rekha Arun Kumar released in 2010, but the details if its availability are not known. .
        I can let u know the reference on the web , which is as below:

        Cookbook on Bihari Recipes Released | PatnaDaily.Com
        26 May 2010… Thakur releases a book on Bihari cuisine written by Rekha Arun. … Patna: Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday released four books in ……/1684-cookbook-on-bihari-recipes-released.htm

        I wish if one can help to locate it
        dr sharad

  19. santoshojha says:

    Thanks for this info. I will certainly check this one out.

  20. Anish Banerjee says:

    Want to have a detailed list of the spices and condiments of Bihar and Jharkhand. Can you provide the detailed list that is used in this kind of cuisine. I give you a format for the same below :
    Hope you have sufficient data for these. Grandma’s and local restaurant chefs can be of great help.

    The Spice Route – Bihar and Jharkhand

    Botanical name :

    Local name :

    Cultivated area :

    Variety –

    Kind –

    Type –

    Season :

    Charecteristic :

    Look –

    Texture –

    Flavour –

    Aroma –

    Best to Use :

    Name of the dish :

    Cooking Method :

    Legend / History :

    Therapeutic / Nutritive value :

    Origin :

    Shelf Life :

    Quality checks :


    Anish Banerjee.

    • santoshojha says:

      I wish I could help, but I am hardly an expert on spices and condiments! I do not even know how one can go around getting the exhaustive data you need.

  21. DC says:

    Santosh, finally I managed to have a look and feel I have missed some interesting exchange going on. Just a thought..I have not come across the English name for Potol or Parwal. I had read a Botanical name..probably Trichosanthes… but none in English.

  22. Arch says:

    really very nice post… i just loved it….its sad that we do not have any bihari restaurants… but yes we can find bihari mess in many places..especially south india.. and i have seen all kinds of people liking the taste there… really love our bihari home food..u can also mention kohda ke fool ka pakoda and august fool ka pakoda.. aruvi ke patta ka pakoda.. hara chana ka pakoda..especially holi k time

  23. Ravindra kumar choubey says:

    We are thankfull to all that we are able to collect our old words .as we are just forgetting this words.Today if we ask people that what is doodh called in Bhojpuri ,some people may not be able to tell GORAS.for aam papdi it is aammawat .We should try to add even names of Food grains like Janera,jonhari,saanwa,tangooni,kodo,boont (chana),rahar(arhar 4al.

    • GuyanaG says:

      So true and it’s the same in places like Guyana where the young generation are not interested in our traditional cuisine. Come to Richmond Hill, NYC for baigan choka and roti, doubles (bara and channa), aloo pie (chokha fried in a flour batter etc etc.

  24. feret says:

    The flavours of Bihari cuisine are still authentic just because it has not been commercialized like Punjabi, South Indian, Gujarati etc. cuisines. I would rather not have any Bihari restaurants, and preserve the authenticity unlike the other ones which are kind of characterless because of the mass production.

  25. R. Ishita says:

    Visited your site by accident. I was looking for a recipe for ole ki sabzi. Though i did not find that, i did find a lot of like minded biharis who miss the home cooked flavours, the colourful language and warm hospitable and homely surrounding….
    love your blog and the take on the humble sattu and parwal… reminded me of home and ma….

  26. Isha says:

    Hi just came across ur blog n how I love it.use of proper Bihari words like tasla,murai reminded me of my childhood.wat bliss!!keep writing we need more n more people who are proud of their Bihari lineage

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