Get your hands on some delicious food at this Bihari pakwan pop-up

Apr 11, 2018, 10:02 IST | Shunashir Sen

Attend a Bihari pakwan pop-up that has an array of dishes indigenous to the state and stars one made popular by farmers' the famous litti chokha

Litti chokha
Litti chokha

The world owes a great debt to peasants not just because of their sweat and toil down the ages, but also because of the food they have contributed to the culinary history of mankind. Take haggis for example, the national dish of Scotland. According to some accounts, its genesis lies in the notorious Highland Clearance of the early 18th century, when farmers evicted by their landlords in hordes were forced to travel south on horseback in search of work. The womenfolk would thus mince a sheep's offal with herbs and stock, and then pack it in a casing made of the animal's stomach to preserve the meat during the long and arduous journey. And from those humble origins, it has now come to represent the culinary tradition of an entire nation.

Chicken do-piyaza
Chicken do-piyaza

Similarly, ratatouille is a vegetable stew that owes its roots to peasants in the Provencal region of France. But we don't have to look beyond our own shores to acknowledge the contribution of farmers when it comes to famous recipes. We merely have to look at litti chokha, a dish that is synonymous with the cuisine of Bihar. It consists of sattu encased in balls of flour dough, which are baked, dipped in ghee, and then served with an accompanying mix of vegetables. The combination made it a perfect for farmers who spent long hours in their field under the sun, since sattu has cooling properties and is a great source of energy as well. And it was also so wonderfully tasty at the same time that the dish has made its way everywhere from the courts of Mughal emperors to street-side stalls in modern-day Bihar.

Now, it will also make its way this weekend to Mumbai, into the kitchen of Rachna Prasad. A home chef who started a canteen service in 2014, she is hosting a Bihari pakwan pop-up in Powai. Though Prasad's interest in cooking started from her interactions with a chef during a stint many years ago in a Delhi five-star, her expertise lies in Bihari cuisine, since she is originally from Patna. And the menu thus contains an array of dishes indigenous to the state, such as sarso waali machhli, kaddu ki kheer and, of course, litti chokha.

A traditional Bihari thali
A traditional Bihari thali

Sattu in the city
"It's basically a summer dish," Prasad tells us about the famous Bihari staple, adding, "And there are many forms of it now. For example, in our family we also use mutton mince as the stuffing for litti, instead of sattu. The process of making it is the same, over a charcoal fire, and I can bet that your mouth is watering at the mere thought of this variation."

It's not a completely misplaced bet, we'll admit. But we ask Prasad about the meeting points between Bengali and Bihari cuisine, since quite a few of the dishes on her menu, such as ghoogni and the mustard fish, are staples in both neighbouring states. She says, "Yes, there are definitely many similarities given the fact that we share a border. Both cuisines rely a lot on panchphoran, for instance. But while Bengali food is somewhat on the sweeter side, Biharis prefer their dishes spicy. In fact, no proper Bihari would ever touch bland food, unless they are suffering from some sort of medical condition."

Rachna Prasad
Rachna Prasad

Counting her chickens
She adds that the strength of a Bihari family's financial condition is gauged by whether the members have added ghee in their daal or not, and that when it comes to meat, people in the state prefer khassi — a small goat that weighs 4 to 5 kg — to chicken. Why, then, is Prasad herself serving chicken do piyaza at her pop-up instead of a mutton version? "It's because the feedback I have got is that people here prefer not to eat mutton in the summer months. So, I didn't want to take a chance," she answers.

Prasad also says that the starters on the menu comprise mutton goli — a bullet-shaped kebab — and bhutta kebab, a patty made of deep-fried potatoes and corn. But the real star, at least in our books, remains the litti chokha. The dish finds a resonance in Rajasthan's daal baati churma, though churma is sweet while the primary flavour in chokha comes from brinjal. The home chef says, "I will be making mini versions of litti, since they are very heavy and can make for a meal in itself." Which follows, considering that the dish was originally the main source of sustenance for farmers toiling away at their fields, their selfless labour ensuring food on people's platter.

ON: April 14, 7.30 pm to 9.30 pm
AT: Nahar Amrit Shakti, Chandivali.
COST: Rs 1,600

Also sign up for
Eat like an East Indian
East Indian cuisine is one of the hidden gems of Mumbai's culinary landscape. Attend a pop-up that puts the community's food in the spotlight, be it pork indyal — the East Indian version of vindaloo — or wedding rice, a pulao made with caramelised onions and dry fruits. Also, don't leave without trying the cherry on the cake — a local honey that will feature in the dessert made of dried bananas.
ON: April 14, 12 noon 
AT: Giriz, Vasai.
COST: Rs 1,400

Tuck into Tamil fare
A pop-up featuring Tamil Iyer cuisine will naturally be a pure-veg affair. So, expect a host of delicacies such as paruppu (lentil with ghee), avial (a classic multi-vegetable preparation), urulai roast (spicy potatoes), thayir pachadi (a Tamil version of raita) and, of course, sambhar and rasam. 
ON: April 14, 1 pm to 4 pm 
AT: Kandivali East. 
COST: Rs 1,500

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