The cuisine of Bihar, the cradle of Indian civilization, speaks for itself about the history, culture and the special efforts of the local people to have their food as gourmet’s choice. The food matches the geographical condition, rich agriculture, local vegetation and the royalty.
The local cuisines show how it evolved over centuries. Remarkable factor of the Bihar cuisine is that the state has imbibed the best and most suitable aspects of Mauryan and the Gupta style of cooking.
During the Islamic rule, the non-vegetarian dishes of particular taste also developed with the “Khansamas” (royal cooks) making them mouth-watering with the addition of exotic spices and ‘khushboo” (edible scents). Bihar has also been under the reign of Turko-Afghan era and the mighty Moguls and naturally the exotic Mughal cuisine affected the Bihar style of cooking and the test of the habitant of the state. The changes in culture that swept through Bihar over the centuries also influenced the cuisine from time to time.
Wheat and rice are the staple food of Bihar. Vegetables are grown in abundance and cooked in a variety. A regular Bihari meal consists of Dal (Pulse), Bhat (Rice), roti, tarkari (sabji) and achar (pickles). But as season changes so does Bihari thali. It is said that just as the seasons changes four time in a year, so does the contents of the Bihari meals.
However, Litti has made a special identity of Bihar. It is a distinctive cuisine of this state: a part of the ethos and culture of the local people.
During the last NRI – meeting in Patna, the Diaspora Bihari’s virtually became sentimentally motivated when their eyes caught round – shaped mass of baked flour and “Sattu” placed in the platters alongside the bowl having “Chokha”. Yes , we are talking of centuries old Bihari food that in supreme in taste: Litti -Chokha.
Today, Litti Chokha has been catapulted into the national scenario because any one can have a bite of it in the railway stations, incidentally, it has become a trend for almost all Bihari politicians to throw “Litti –Parties” in New Delhi. But Litti is a part of Bihar’s historical past.
But What is a Litti ? The ancient most food of Magadh region ( the central part of Bihar , Litti had also played its own role in the history as the rebel sepoys during the Mutiny of 1857, would carry it as their staple food. As litti can be baked without any utensils, the mutineers virtually survived on it. They would bake it on the metallic sieve deep inside the jungles and ravines. A Litti remains fit for eating for more than 48 hours.
Prepared with flour and “Sattu” mixed with “masalas”, Liiti is made of different shapes the popular-most among them being the ball-shaped ones. It is prepared by twisting the palm of the maker. It is, ideally, baked in charcoal, wooden fuel and cow-dung. Often, people fry the Litti to make it more tasty.
In the Cnetre of Liiti , Sattu is stuffed with a mixture of such spices like black pepper, Thymol ( ajwine) , Ginger , Garlic , Mustrad Oil , Lemon Juice and Salt are placed. Chokha is prepared by tomato, brinjal and potato. Litti is eaten with Chokha, a very tasty gruel-like thing.
Making a tryst with sweet dishes centuries ago, the Bihar people developed an assortment of items with the help of locally available materials. The love for sweet dishes by the sons of the soil can be gauged from the fact that different cities or regions of Bihar are associated with different types of items. For any tourist, carrying those sweet items is virtually a tradition. One of the reason for it that most of the sweet items are dry: unlike “Rasgolla”, they do not contain liquid sugar juice.
For example the name of Gaya may be quoted. Gaya has been the origin of several sweet delicacies popular in the whole of Bihar. Tilkut, Kesaria Peda, Anarsa are the most popular sweets that bear the trademark of Gaya.
Tilkut being the most popular of them is prepared using till or sesamum seeds and Jaggary or sugar.
It is a seasonal (winter) sweet and only the Karigars (workers) from Gaya are believed to impart the real taste of Tilkut, One can find Tilkut carrying the label “Ramana Gaya” even in the far-flung places like Kolkata and Delhi.
Ramana and Tekari road are the areas of the city where every other house is a Tilkut factory.
In preparing Tilkut, sesamum seeds are poured in thick sugar juice— after this material is mixed till they turn hard. After this, the material is hammered to attain the spherical shape.
Kesaria Peda, which is mostly known as ‘ Gaya Ji ka Peda’ is yet another delicious sweet prepared from Khoya (condensed milk) and Kesar (Saffron).
The Karigars (skill workers) who prepare them possess special skill, imitation of which is not possible.
As saffron is used in making this type of milk-made sweet item, it is known as Kesaria Peda.
The chowk area of the city specialize in Kesaria Peda product.
To be in Bihar in monsoon and not to bite an Anarsa just cannot be possible.
In the street corners in almost cities, a visitor to Bihar can hardly miss people standing for minutes to buy hot Anarsas as they come out of frying pan.
It is also based on Khoya but it is deep fried and processed with sugar.
Anarsa comes into shapes “thin disk” and spherical.
The sweet is finally embedded with till (sesamum ) toppings.
The township of Barh may be a tiny one but its name circulates all over India due to Lai Ka Laddu: a very special sweet item whose origin lies in antiquity.
The main component of this Lai is Ramdana. These ramdanas are processed and mixed with Khoya and sugar. It is given different shapes: disk shaped, spherical and traditional “laddu” sized sweet.
It is very delicious having nutritional values. Often the sick and convalescing people are given this particular item because it is very easy to digest.
Originating in the squat – little hamlet Silao near Rajgir the mouth – watering sweet dish truly fits its name Khaja (just eat it). Yes, you really should eat a piece to realize its name. It is said Buddha was also fond of Khaja. The antiquity of Khaja can be understood from the fact that the name of its birth place figures in Mahabharat – it was at Silao where King Jarasandh was killed by Bhim of Pancha Pandava in a wrestling. Who knows Khaja might have been a chief sweet dish when Bhim had visited Silao ?
Varying in sizes, Khaja basically is made of very thin layers of flour matured in sugar juice. On drying up, it becomes hard but it virtually melts in the mouth the moment one eats it.
These sweets are dry and can be packed easily, preserved and transported, unlike the Bengali sweets which are soaked in sugar syrups. There is a tradition among the residents to gift the visitors with these sweets when they depart, as a token of love.
At the stroke of midnight on November 14, 2000 Jharkhand came into being. This particular area, known earlier as South Bihar, was born by cutting part of Bihar. As the food habbit, culture, religion and historical back ground of Jharkhand people happens to be same as the Biharis (barring the tribal people), this state is hardly having its own school of cuisine.
The tribal people may be using their ancient-traditional cuisines, but the non-tribal use the food more or less same as Bihar.
For the tribal, Mahua flour, maize , millets, edible roots and tubers continue to remain their main cuisine. They take bread of mahua flour and drink ‘Hadia’ a indigenous liquor made locally almost in every family.
Both male and female of tribal are very good hunters: they make pigs, deer, goat , hens and wild cocks as their target . They roast them and eat with ‘hadia’.
But during their festive occasions they prepare sweetmeat, ‘Thakua’ of flour mixed with sugar giving a fine shape of their deities thereon. The such foods are distributed to the neighbours too.