The Curious Case of Bihari Cuisine: Part 2

Ask any true-blue Bihari friend the defining dish of Bihar and I can bet you that you would find a near unanimous agreement on Litti-chokha. As your friend utters Litti-chokha, you can see a blissful, faraway look on her or his face.

A look of nostalgia, fascination and complete entrancement. If the questioner were a Bihari himself, he would immediately sense a burst of sensory stimuli; a wintry evening, star-lit skies, fragrance of fired cowdung-cakes, heady aroma of ghee being heated, and sounds of bantering men. Confusing?

That is the magic the mere mention of Litti-chokha casts on the Biharis. Welcome to the magic!

But before we talk about it, let us first talk about the humble sattu where all this magic starts.

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One of the joys of being born and raised in Bihar is undoubtedly sattu. Most readers of this post may not be aware of it and it is my proud privilege to introduce to you the joys of this ubiquitous (at least in the Bihari/ East UP households) food ingredient. Burgers and Pizzas, take a walk, sattu (and its preparations) is the fast-food to beat all the fast foods! The source of culinary delights for the farmer, the traveller, the BPO guy (or girl) from Bihar or the retired person all by himmself. In summer or in winter. Or the rainy season.

Sattu is powdered chana. Chana is soaked in salt-water, dried and then roasted over hot sand by the friendly neighbourhood roaster, aka bhad-bhoonjha, in his, well, the bhaad. Once roasted, this is ground in the chakki. The ground powder is the magical sattu! Lest you still suspect of it being besan– which it is not- let me clarify to you the differences; sattu is chana dal with the seed-coat, soaked in salt water, dried and then roasted and ground. Besan is chana dal (without the seed-coat) ground without roasting.

And this humble sattu is the ingredient of many-a-joyous meal.

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Travelling for an indeterminate time and distance and not sure where you will get your next meal from? No worries! Just carry a parcel of sattu tied in a thin muslin cloth, or more practically in your gamchha. And when you feel hungry, just stop-by somewhere on the way preferably next to a well in a village. If you have carried your own pinch of salt, good, or else feel free to ask for a spoonful from any baniya nearby who will never say no to you. You could either carry an onion with you, or could get it from any villager, even a pod of green mirchi. Draw some water from the well and settle down to prepare your repast. Segregate a quantity of sattu powder into a corner of your gamchha, add some water to the dry sattu powder, knead it into a thick mass, add some salt, knead it some more. Now you are ready for you meal. A portion of this dough along with a bite of the onion and mirchi taste divine. Tasty, nutritious and very convenient. Meal done, and off you go. Just remember to tie back the remaining quantity of dry sattu in the other corner of your gamchha so that it is ready for your next meal. Once you are done with this remainder in your next meal, wash the gamchha well and it is now ready for use as a towel after your bath the next morning. Rinse it well again and give it a few seconds to dry and it serves as a receptacle for your next supply of sattu you might buy at a road-side bania shop to take it along with you on your onward journey.

This recipe can be had at home as well, the only difference being that at home you have the luxury of a thali (or chheepa in Bhojpuri-speak). And if you have some sattu sticking to the thali– as inevitably there will be- add some extra water into the thali, stir it around to include as much of the residual sattu into the suspension you have just engineered, and there you have a wonderful liquid to wash down your repast with! This is called Libhri.

If you don’t fancy salted sattu, then there is an alternate solution as well. Replace salt with sugar, and add spoonfuls of ghee to taste. Add the requisite amount of water, enough to knead the quantity into strong dough. And then you can have, what is called “ghenvada”- by the mouthfuls.

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But the piece de resistance, if I may be allowed a French phrase to describe something intrinsically Bihari, is the Litti.

Now, how do I describe this icon to a non-Bihari reader. Let me attempt.

You first prepare a mix of dry sattu with salt and spices and add a quantity of decanted spicy oil from a jar of mango pickles to make the mix even spicier. Atta is moulded into rounded hollow balls into which you fill this sattu mix. As the balls are getting formed, you stoke a “barbecue” with dried cowdung cakes (gointha). The atta/sattu balls are then inserted into the smouldering fire with potatoes, baingan and tomatoes following it for company later. After sometime, the vegetables are pulled out manually, followed by the littis. The roasted vegetables are peeled off their burnt skins and mashed along with spices, salt and mustard oil. That is the “chokha”. The littis, once they are removed from the fire, are sieved free of the ashes of cowdung cakes on a thin muslin cloth. The hot littis are then served along with chokha with bowlfuls of ghee. The diner pokes a little hole on the top of this litti spheroid and pours into this cavity a generous quantity of the melted ghee. And this is then relished with the chokha.

As you greedily bite into the hot litti you wonder whether it is its intrinsic temperature which makes you go “see-see-see” or is it the spicy mix which causes this. But you don’t care as the litti tastes divine. Period!

Given the amount of smoke a cowdung-cake barbecue generates, it is prudent to have this affair outside the house. And considering that preparing sattu means sitting around the fire, undertaking this activity in the winters makes a lot of good sense. And somehow, from my childhood I have seen men taking charge of the barbecuing bit, the preparatory work for the litti-chokha being done by the womanfolk inside their rasoi.

Ah! The joys of litti-chokha!

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PS: Litti has now got commercialized, here is a sample of the banner of a stree-side hawker. Another hawker I saw even proclaimed that he was invited to run the litti stall at Laloo Yadav’s daughter’s wedding.

PS: You may read the first part of this piece here.

19 Responses to The Curious Case of Bihari Cuisine: Part 2

  1. I cannot tell you how sorely do I miss Sattu . While you are at it , you can also write about Thekua , Nimki and Pidikiya🙂

  2. Sandeep says:

    And this was the mouth watering post. Really enjoyed🙂

  3. Shrabonti says:

    There’s a place called Chilli Pepper on Outer Ring Road near Marathahalli that serves awesome litti-chokha. Try it out sometime!

    • santoshojha says:

      Apparently it is run by a Malayali who has spent many, many years in Dhanbad. I have not been there, my wife has.
      As an aside, what a name(Chilli Pepper) for a joint serving litti-chokha!

  4. This post is absolutely brilliant! It sure is very difficult to communicate the blissful delights of sattu to a non-bihari. Sattu is one thing I ask for everytime my parents visit me here and then I get to indulge myself with Litti Chokha, Sattu Paratha, Sattu chutney, sattu ghol, and various such culinary delights. Sattu Zindabad!

  5. Atul says:

    So Ranchi (Doranda’s) litti is famous all over Jharkhand. Waah waah.

    Incidentally, another Bihar delicacy that I can think of is Khaaja. It is one sweet that even non Biharis can find tasty. I remember I had taken Khaja (5 kgm) to my hostel after I returned back from my holidays. And hostel mates who never knew what it was came repeatedly to my room to savour it.

  6. Gini says:

    Absolutely gorgeous!! Your post on “Litti-Chokha” is prompting me to day dream yet again of a Bihari restaurant! Well, thanks for the recipe! Some of my friends have been curiously asking me if I can pamper them with this evergreen combo and guess I may try it out soon….though without the chilly wintry skies!!

  7. Gullu says:

    Santosh,

    Great start. Pl. do not miss out these in your later posts. There is urgent need to educate the general public in this matter. For details / recipe contact Pritidi on +91 9415 228536.

    Love

    Gullu

    a) pyaaz ka choka (sliced kacha pyaaz with dash of raw mustard oil, salt, and mashed roasted red chillies).
    b) Dalhi puri (not to be confused with the puran polis)
    c) Basmati dhan ka chuda (I have not found anything comparable elsewhere, say Katrni from Bhagalpur or Marcha from Bettiah) to be eated with dahi & Gud, or shallow fried with a dash of garlic.
    d) Ramruch (aka boot-kareji) not to be mistaken with gatte ki sabji though there are commonalities.
    e) Tora (made from partly smashed soaked black gram).
    f) Kathal ka achar and kathal ka kabab.
    g) Dhuska.
    h) Ole ka chutney / achar.
    j) Pakur ke patte ki pakodi (This can be made only for 3 -4 days in a year when the fresh leaves come out of the pakur tree. I forget which time of the year this happens.
    k)Nenua phool, Kohda phool ka pakoda.
    l)Nooni ka pakoda.
    m)Hara chana ka ghughani.
    n)Rikhvach (made from the leaves of kachchu)
    o)Bhabhuri
    p)Dhoka
    q)Khesari Dal ka pakoda (Correct way of cooking khesari dal is to soak it overnight and then wash it. The toxic chemicals which cause lameness is washed out by the process). It is really nutritous and tasty, which got missed out in the propaganda and I have not seen khesari dal in the markets for over 20 years now! What a pity.

  8. Atul Kumar Rohatgi says:

    Hi Santosh, what a description. I almost wetted my shirt with saliva while reading the details of Litti chokha, and the different delicacies of Sattu. Great write up. However, I doubt Bihari’s will ask any stranger for Salt. No one will like to be what is called a Namak Haram.
    It was fun reading it.

  9. manish singh says:

    delcious litti and chokha mouth watering…One should also include the sweet item laktho,belgrami,khurma these all from arrah district…

    • santoshojha says:

      Lakatho, Belgarami etc. are coming soon!!

      • Rajesh Pandey says:

        Sir,
        This is really a good collection of Bihari Cusine.How do you recall all these things?I used to have Lakatho regularly during my school days at Village.This is almost 20 years back.
        regards,
        Rajesh

  10. Deepak says:

    Excellent post , Satua (sattu) and its delicacies can never be forgotten . This is the food of everyone and every section of Biharis.Unfortunately this is going beyond from many hands because of its price rise.Now it has been restricted to those sections who can afford it.

  11. […] the first interesting stop that I happened to stumble upon was a piece of beautiful writing on a blog about the humble ‘sattu’ (powdered, roasted chana). So, enamoured was I by all the […]

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