People make cultures. And cultures can be learned through the palate. In a candid chat over snacks at Potbelly café, Delhi, Chef Pallavi talked about the making of her book (The Bhojpuri Kitchen) and desire to bring the regional cuisine of Bihar to every home:
(She trained at the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai and received her culinary diploma from ICIF, Italy. Pallavi is featured on YouTube channels such as Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana, Food Food, India TV.)
Bihar is not popular for its cuisine. The only dish we know is litti chokha…
Well, that’s the reason I wanted to write this book. People in Bihar love their food. They are careful about the technique, the spices and the dishes and you can see it in the way they cook. You will find over 70 recipes in the book.
What inspired you to write this book?
I belong to Bhopal but my husband, Kunal, is from Bihar. As a young bride, I went there for my first puja and it was also holi. Trained as a chef, naturally I was floored by the food made in my in-laws’ kitchen. This feast was an introduction to different flavours which left me mesmerised. There were all kinds of chutneys (oal ki chutney, imli ki chutney, hari chutney), ghughni, achaars, pakoras (pohe ke pakore), choora mattar, sattu drink, litti chokha and lots more. A halwai had been called and he had made the traditional chulha. He made mutton on that and I had never tasted anything like that.
From where all did you collect the recipes?
From all over, wherever we went, whichever kitchen had something different. My father-in-law was born in Champaran and we went there, as he loves travelling. We went to a hut and asked the man for kebabs. He made such delicious kebabs for us in the evening. The chicken had been marinated so well and they were juicy, melt-in-the-mouth. I saw food being cooked at festivals and on different occasions. You will read all the stories in the book.
Why didn’t you name the book Bihari Kitchen?
The idea was to bring out the regional cuisine and Bhojpuri is the way to describe it, as that’s what it is.
Did you ever eat the traditional way—on leaves?
Of course, that’s how memories are made.
What kind of thali comes out from a Bhojpuri kitchen?
Like any other place in India, they have a three-course meal. There will be roti, steamed rice, dal, ghughni, bachka, papad, sabzi such as kofta/besan ki sabzee/arbi ki sabzee, makhane ki kheer, parwal ke mithai, malpua…A popular local drink is taadi.
Which is your favourite dish?
There are variations of the original cuisine these days. What is your take on that?
I feel we shouldn’t murder the soul of the authentic food. We can give the variation another name.
Which is the one spice that is always used in this kitchen?
Gol mirch or black pepper. In fact, there is use of khade masale (whole spices) and khada pyaaz (onion).
Which is your mom-in-law’s favourite dish?
She is a quick cook. In fact, she makes dal parathas in jiffy and likes fish curry.
You move a lot between Muscat and India. Have you taken this food there?
Yes, there is a Women’s Guild of Oman. We have designed Indian menus there. I used to also do culinary classes and even the Indian women there like to learn Indian cuisine.
Which is the one dish which you would like to popularise, just the way butter chicken is synonymous with Punjabis?
Which food do you think should make a comeback?
Teesi ki chutney should make a comeback. People make such a noise about flaxseed these days, but it has been part of this cuisine forever.
Do you plan to have your own café or pop-up?
I have already started a café in Bhopal with a friend.
As we live in a time when women don’t want to cook elobaorate meals, youngsters are busy, do you think fresh meals are going to take a backseat?
I don’t think so. People are so health conscious. In fact, the times of burgers and fries are over. People like simpler, original and authentic recipes. They want to cook fresh and fast food and that’s where these recipes help. An aloo paratha or paneer paratha is so much more healthier than a burger or a sandwich and it doesn’t take long to cook.
The Bhojpuri Kitchen
Price: Rs 499