My Food Tales from Himachal

Travel and Food

Food brings people together

Of all the things in the world, there are very few things that can bring people together. And we are totally aware of the item that tops this list. Its FOOD!! Be it a sauteed reindeer in Scandinavia, Nasi Goreng of Indonesia, Piri piri chicken of Mozambique or Ceviche of Peru, it is what we all can connect with and come together as one.

Food is essential to any living organism on this planet. We can undoubtedly say that there is no other species that has the potential to transform the food we get from nature as humans do. The discovery of fire, need to kill harmful microbes in food and the need to preserve perishable food for longer durations forced us to invent new ways to transform food and experiment with different ingredients as a means to survival.

Dance of flavours

A beautiful bi-product of this transformation is what fuels our food and plays with our taste buds today — Flavor

Flavor makes the food appealing even when you feel full. It titillates the taste buds and in turn makes your brain release dopamine making you happy and satisfied. The human tongue can perceive 5 basic tastes — Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter and Umami. It is the mix and match of these basic tastes that give any food its distinctive flavour.

A lot of cultural influence

It is no secret that the food we eat and like today has a lot of historical significance and cultural influence. Food can tell us a lot about the society of a region in the past and the present. It can also talk about people’s struggle with food and how they managed to survive. The cuisines we have today are developed as a process of survival.

Like many external factors, food has a important role in shaping a human’s personality. After all, food is something very near and dear to everyone with which we interact on a daily basis. It has the potential to sketch our personality like other socio-cultural influences

What brings the taste in food?

Broadly there are two aspects of food that gives it a taste that we all enjoy.

  • Material aspects: Micronutrients (Vitamins and Minerals), Macronutrients (Carbohydrates, Proteins, fats), acids present in the food
  • Non-materialistic presence — Climatic conditions, time of harvest, ambience, temperature and preparation methods

Mix and match (permutations and combinations) of both materialistic and non-materialistic aspects of food in different amounts is what works out the taste in our food.

My food experience in Himachal

Chole Paratha/Kulcha — Delhi

Although I intend to talk about the food in Himachal, I felt I will be doing a grave injustice if I don’t mention Chole Kulche/Parathe from the streets of Delhi.

We landed in Delhi from Hyderabad and we had a day to kill before we caught our train to Shimla that night. Without any hesitation, out first and the only choice of food that whole day was from the streets of Delhi. A humble Chole Paratha can never be missed when you are loitering on the streets of Delhi and contemplating on which historical monument to visit next. The Chole is freshly prepared with all the spices and condiments like made-to-order. Not to mention the queues you usually have at these redis to gulp down the chole parathas with spiced buttermilk.

Chai (Tea) — Shimla

A hot beverage is what we all crave for when we are in colder climates. Undoubtedly the goto drink when you are in India is a nice spiced Adhrak wali chai (Ginger infused milk tea). This chai gives you the comfort, warmth and coziness that we are looking for when we are fully covered in thick woolen clothing to keep every inch of ourselves warm.

It probably the quality of milk available in the region, the Chai patta (tea leaves) that is used, the temperature of the drink, the ambient temperature, the expectations from the place and the cravings from within. I have been quite unsuccessful in recreating the same feeling of comfort and warmth anywhere else. So when in Himachal, it is worth trying this humble adhrak wali chai.

Aloo Paratha — Shimla

Many people might argue that the best Aloo Paratha can only come from a punjabi household. But I totally deny that and so will you after looking at the picture on the left.

The hand knead dough and the perfectly stuffed aloo with little bit of green chilli, coriander, ginger, slapped onto the tawa and roasted on medium heat with generous amounts of ghee will make you take a short trip to the heaven and back. Mix vegetable achar and thick curd mixed with boondi and kala namak are perfect sides. Truly a dance of flavours in your mouth.

Dosa, Scrambled Eggs and Coffee — Indian Coffee House, Shimla

I being a south Indian, a customary visit to the Indian Coffee House wherever I go is a must. The consistency in the dosa and scrambled eggs across all their outlets in india will never disappoint you. The QSRs of today which run on the marketing line of consistency across outlets are put to shame with this delicious Dosa and scrambled eggs.

The aura of the place is the same from the pre-independence times even today. The locals gather every evening to discuss local politics, hangout with friends who they knew since 50+ years and have a nice evening nashta with some freshly brewed filter coffee. the waiters are so friendly and quick in their service. I once had to ask for their secret recipe of scrambled eggs and the tip given by them works for me everytime. ICH is a perfect example of people and food coming together.

Momos — Lakkar Bazar, Shimla

Is it even a trip without trying the famous momos in one of our north indian hill stations? I am not a huge fan of momos in general. But the chilled weather coupled with a mild breeze and more importantly people walking by and stopping at the momo stalls to order one whole plate for themselves and happily engulfing each momo as if it is going to run away from your plate soon, made me want to go and have them myself.

Being vegetarians we tried paneer momos. The filling was a mix of grated paneer, grated cabbage, onions along with some spices and aromatics. It was truly a perfect evening snack for us. the hot steam that comes out of the steamer every time the vendor takes it out to serve a fresh order was very attracting. After all food also gets its taste through the surroundings and ambience. So in this case the surrounding did the trick for me.

Ajay Tea Stall — Mix Veg curry — Fresh vegetables — Full of flavor

This was a gem of a place that we found in Shimla. We visited this place at least for one meal every day while we vacationed. Any kind of superlative degree will not do justice to this place. It was simply an amazing experience.

The menu was a simple north indian food. The usuals — Kadai Paneer, Mushroom Masala, Mix veg curry, Tawa Roti, Jeera Rice and so on. But the taste is what makes it stand out. The kitchen set up is right in front of you and your food is made to order right in front of you by the famous owner in this photograph. The ingredients are fresh and you can instantly feel it to be very nutritional. Our favorite here is the Mix-veg curry. the crunch in the vegetables like beans, cauliflower, broccoli and yet they being cooked perfectly made us take a ride to the wonderland. The other curries were equally delicious.

They also serve in half portions which lets us try multiple dishes and relish all the flavors in our visits. The most important ingredient he add in your experience there is the talking and wittiness by the chef. He makes you feel comfortable, jokes around, lightens the environment and makes you enjoy your food. Anyone who is looking for some tasty food, good people, feel good environment must definitely visit this place when in Shimla.

Manchow Soup — Mall Road, Manali

We started our journey to Manali from Shimla and reached the place by around 8PM. The temperature difference in the regions were drastic. The strong cold breezes that blow as you walk on the streets of mall road definitely makes you want to have a hot bowl of soup.

What’s better than a Manchow soup that is full of spices and flavors that helps in generating heat from within!! The vegetables were fresh and crunchy. The broth used in the soup was flavourful and full of umami. It gave completeness to the slurp. It was GOOD!! We probably finished a big bowl of hot soup in about 5 min. We guzzled the soup away.

Strawberry, peach, Apple, Cherry Jam

Fruit Preserves and Jams are something that we don’t forget to get back with us whenever we go any hill station in India. We are no different. The wide variety of jams available from different local indigenous fruits and flowers give out the best flavor. My personal favorite is this small household company call J&J. Their strawberry jam is probably the best I have ever tasted. But we could not buy strawberry due to lack of stock.

So we brought back Silky Apple with us. This is very similar to Apple butter as called in some north american cuisines. Its silky smooth infused with aromatic spices like cinnamon and clove. If you like apples and preserves this is definitely a must buy. If you are not too much into apples, than strawberry should be your choice. It is simple sugar and strawberries cooked and preserved to perfection.

Pahadi Khadi and Jewel rice or dry fruit pulav

Himachal Pradesh cuisine is known for Himachali pulav. It is very similar to the iranian jewelled rice. It can be clearly said that one copied from the other. Its mildly cooked with traditional local grown biriyani/pulav spices, vegetables and lot of dried fruits and nuts.

It is a strange combination of delicacy and richness together in taste. The Pahadi Khadi is the perfect combination that goes with the pulav. The Khadi is simple yet flavourful. There are many versions of the khadi available today but nothing can beat the traditional Khadi Pakoda. It is definitely worth giving this combination a try.

Closing note

What can travel be without food. I think it is food that teaches us more about the place, its culture and heritage than the place itself. It is food that bonds people and lets each other understand. It is food that bridges the gap between us individuals in this diverse world.

So taste and experience local food and enjoy the place even more in your next travel.

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Sabareesh Chittuluru

Sabareesh Chittuluru

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I am a simple guy thinking and pondering about different things in life. My writing are diverse and reflect the state of my mind at the time of writing.