A Taste of the Woods

The small village of Vikramgarh, on the border of Gujarat and Maharashtra, hosted a group of photography students to lunch, the desi style. The meal, though simple, comprised of everything an out-station student craves. A generous serving of steamed rice bathed in dal (pulses), a side of beans and potato and an added flavor of garlic chutney. All was served on an over sized leaf from the woods nearby, while we sat under the shade of a temporary tent next to a lake.

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The dal was the hero of the show. Cooked over hours in a massive handi (utensil) on an open fire, it had a subtle smokey flavor that is unique to the style of cooking. There was nothing extravagant about it, since the villagers come from meager means. But it reminded me of the food served in langar (mass meals organised in Gurudwaras) which magically tastes delicious, despite the lack of luxurious ingredients.

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The chutney carried an extra punch of flavor. Its strong aroma and mysterious look forced me to ask the cook for the recipe. “It’s just garlic with salt, coriander and gram-flour rubbed into a paste” he said, visibly proud that a city dweller was taking interest in his skills.

This is where one of the cardinal rules of cooking comes from. Keep it simple, let the ingredients speak. The best things you see, come in simple packages.

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