You’re sitting near a foggy window. The first rains have just begun. The air around you immediately seems more exciting with the prospect of a cancelled work day due to a heavy downpour, watching the children of the gully (street) with their paper boats, or still better, your father’s Kishor Kumar song that plays on repeat.
As you open the window, the petrichor wafts in through the gaps. While some would term this moment ‘magical’, in your experience, there is one thing that could add to the charm — a steaming plate of snacks.
Across India, people have different ways of celebrating the monsoons, the South with their parippu vadas, and the North with their ancient yaje drink. The monsoon map of India is a reflection of how the country unites to put together a visual feast.
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So while you take your pick of what you wish to toast this moment with, here are some stories behind a few famous monsoon dishes.
1. Bombil Bhujna
The pride of Maharashtra has always been the Bombay duck, which owing to its versatility, can be used in a plethora of dishes. One such dish is the bombil bhujna or Bombay duck curry. This marinade of fish with coriander and green chillies is an ode to the weather around.
For those who love themselves some seafood, this is a dish you can’t miss out on.
2. Parippu Vada
The love affair between the rains and fried snacks cannot be forgotten. The two complement each other like no other. So, when the Southern states get started with their parippu vadas, we cannot help but embrace these delicious delights.
What compensates for their fried nature is that these are wholesome as they are made from lentils. Into the vessel go a mixture of chana (chickpeas) and toor daal (split pigeon peas) and this is mixed with onions, ginger and other spices to result in beautiful golden brown fried fritters.
You can’t go wrong with a warm bowl of comfort, and Chhattisgarh firmly believes in this. The recipe has been passed down through the ages, with the initial versions being prepared with gondi and kareel now known as bamboo shoots.
The modern version witnesses more ingredients added to make it a tastier blend. These include chillies, curry leaves, cloves, and spice powders that will contribute to the essence of the dish.
4. Singhade ki sabzi
The monsoons bring with them two things, one is a fresh air of relief and the other is the chance of catching a cold. Thus food preparations during this time are carefully curated to be nutritious and give the body that extra boost to fight infections.
One such preparation is Delhi’s singhade ki sabzi prepared with singhade (water chestnuts), mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric, aamchur (dried mango powder) and besan. It’s health on a platter. The combination of ingredients helps the body prepare its defences against the harsh weather.
Rajasthani traditions tell of how this sweet dish is prepared on occasions for the daughter’s new family. Through time, the concoction of ghee, flour and sugar has gone from being a simple sweetmeat to finding its way into the hearts of people across India.
During the monsoons, this honeycomb-shaped disc-like sweet provides you with the calories required to give the body heat as well as aid in digestion. Today, many versions of the sweet have made their way into modern stores. These include malai ghewar, chocolate ghewar and rabdi ghewar among others.
The brew tells the story of the hills. Indigenous communities have always believed in the power of the drink, due to its unique ingredients. It is said that the drink is hallucinogenic and is also known by the name of ‘ayahuasca’ in communities that belong to those areas. When the stem and bark of the Banisteriopsis caapi are mixed with the leaves from medicinal shrubs legend says it results in a concoction that awakens the mind.
The drink goes beyond its culinary significance but also has a special place in spiritual areas.
7. Muya Awandru
Tripura decided to take things up a notch with its rice flour-based gravy that, in some versions, contains snails. While snails are an optional addition, the gravy comprises bamboo shoots, fermented fish and chilli peppers. Once ready, parsley leaves are used for the garnish. Tripuris are big believers in using fermented fish also known as berma in their dishes as it is extremely healthy due to no oil being used during cooking.
It is said that the aroma of the dish is invigorating and is the most special element of the dish.
8. Nakham Bitchi
The dish is one of the many cultural nuances of the north-east. Major food platforms describe this dish as a ‘must try’ for anyone who visits Meghalaya. The marriage of spice and tanginess it represents with its choice of ingredients is unique. The dish comprises dried fish that is boiled with spices to create a beautiful texture. Vegetables are then added to this mix to create a wholesome blend.
The bowl of soup is comforting and is said to be best eaten after a heavy spicy meal, as it acts as a palate cleanser.
9. Paa Saa
The preparation of this dish is tedious, but the outcome is enjoyed and relished by many. Preparing paa saa is more of a community effort as people get together to catch the fish and then mince it in a way that every part is utilised with nothing going to waste.
For some, it is the taste that works its magic while for others it is the green colour lent to the dish by the uriam leaf. But the leaf also has an important function in that it neutralises the taste of the raw fish. Along with these ingredients, there are also chives, coriander, ginger, garlic, chilli, and white basil.
The ever so humble roasted corn on the cob is a treat in the monsoons. There is something about standing on a street that has been drenched in rain and awaiting your turn as the vendor roasts the corn. The smell adds an old-world charm and as butter dribbles down the yellow, with a dash of lime to add the zing, the monsoons have never seemed more magical than now.
Edited by Yoshita Rao