Himachali Cuisine - Food from the State of Himachal Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh is also known as 'Dev Bhoomi' or the 'Land of Gods' and 'Veer Bhoomi' which means the 'Land of Braves'.
Himachali Cuisine: Varied as the land, different valley regions of Himachal offer a variety of cuisines on offer that can grip a traveller to come back looking for more.
Drawn from the farms and pastures the land grows, many dishes make a liberal use of the produce, herbs, nuts, fruits, milk and milk products.
In many belts, non-vegetarian food is the norm and most meals are centred around meat, cereals and lentils. Leafy vegetables are only a recent induction into the Himachali palate.
Traditionally, Himachali cuisine is dominated by red meat and wheat bread. Thick and rich gravy, with aromatic spices, is used in abundance as the base of many dishes.
Dham is the traditional food served in marriages or other functions. Siddu, Patrode, Cheele and Babru are the authentic snack dishes of the state.
Evolution of Himachali Cuisine - The Food from Himachal Pradesh
Himachali "dham" is the traditional food served in marriages or other functions and is made by Boti Chefs of the region.
Himachal Pradesh is a state having number of communities, races and cultures intermingled together.
The people of Himachal Pradesh have developed traditional food processing technologies for preparing the foods from locally available substrates largely governed by the ethnic preference, agro-climatic conditions, sociocultural ethos and religion.
However, there may be local variation from region to region. A number of traditional foods are prepared and consumed by people in Himachal Pradesh for centuries, and these form a part of sociocultural life of the hill people.
However, the production of these traditional foods and beverages has been limited to household level.
The know-how of traditional processes and technologies involved in the production of these products has been transferred from one generation to another.
The types of traditional foods and beverages of Himachal Pradesh are unique and different from other areas and are largely based on the climate and topography of the state.
The staple foods of the people of Himachal Pradesh are rice, wheat and maize but one can find local variations due to the pattern of food production and altitudinal variation.
In the barren regions of Lahaul spiti and Kinnaur, the local people consume the products having coarse grains (buckwheat, millet, barley) as the main substrate, while in the lower areas of the state (Kangra, Hamirpur, Bilaspur) people prefer rotis (chapatis) made of rice or maize flour.
While the everyday meal is the usual dal-chawal-subzi-roti, special dishes are cooked during festive occasions. Dham is a traditional feast celebrated in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
Dham is prepared and served on every joyful event or celebration in the family. Temples also serve a Dham on most of the religious festivals or auspicious dates.
Amongst festive food, the traditional meal, Dham (lunch served in traditional occasions) finds instant mention. The traditional Dham is celebrated with great enthusiasm & is cooked is cooked only by Boti Chefs (a particular caste of Brahmins who are hereditary chefs).
The dham offers one with an opportunity to be acquainted with the various delicacies of the state. The utensils used for cooking the food are normally brass ones called “Batohi“, “Baltohi” or “Charoti” in local languages.
Dham, a popular traditional feast prepared during marriages, local festivals, and special occasions of Himachal Pradesh, is a complete food not only according to Ayurveda but also nutritionally.
The ethnic foods, include rajmah madra, kadi, khatta, sepubadi, and so forth, exhibit a treasure of food heritage and are an integral component of the diet of the people in the state.
The cuisine is developed keeping in mind not only the geographical and climatic conditions of the state but also according to the traditional methods under natural conditions mostly from the staple ingredients.
Himachali dham is not just an insignia of tradition but also a mark of practical “Vedic” knowledge and is, thus, not only popular in Himachal Pradesh but also loved across the world.
It is believed that initially dham was served in the temples as Prasad, and hence, the entire meal is Satvik. Another unique aspect of traditional dham is that usually no vegetables are used in any of the dishes. It is purely made from various types of lentils and dairy products.
Some History About Himachali Cuisine & Dham
Chamba, one of the most beautiful regions of Himachal Pradesh, was saved by the mighty Dhauladhars from the successive waves of Muhammadan invasion.
When just like the plains in Kashmir, Sikandar Butshikan ruthlessly destroyed the temples built by Lalitaditya and his successors, the sacred mountains of Dhauladhars protected Hinduism and Chamba till eternity.
The brazen-carved cedar wood idols of Meru Verman at the ancient shrines are the glorious testaments of the same. Thanks to the mighty snow-clad mountain barriers for even protecting the Himachali cuisine, which since the Vedic era has remained intact and untouched by the Islamic cuisine.
The legend has it that the kings of Chamba were the descendants of Kusha, the son of Lord Ram. It is said that Raja Meru came from Ayodhya at an early age and conquered the mountains.
King Jaisthambh, one of the descendants of Raja Meru, was so bewitched by the Kashmiri foods that he wished to recreate those Kashmiri dishes in the local Chamba tradition with the complete yield of the province, to be offered to the local Goddess for her benevolence.
In that period, Chamba was known for rajmah (red kidney beans), a variety of spices, and milk. The unification of the style of cooking of Chamba and Kashmir and the amalgamation of the local crops led to the creation of a novel dish madra, and hence, dham came into the fore.
Madra is cooked in ghee/oil, and the uniqueness of this dish lies in its taste, wherein it is possible to perceive all the unique flavors individually, without the overwhelming flavors of onions and tomatoes.
Legends have it that the now famous Kangri madra was brought by the brides of Chamba to Kangra.
However, owing to the local unavailability of rajmah, it underwent a transformation and kabuli chana/ chhole(chickpea), instead of rajmah, is now used to prepare the now famous Kangri madra.
In fact, the madra has become a cuisine technique. Almost every district of Himachal Pradesh has its own unique madra being served in dhams from time immemorial.
The famous dhams of Himachal Pradesh are Kangri dham, Mandyali dham, Chambyali dham, Kinnauri dham and Bilaspuri dham. Other dhams include Lahaul and Spiti, Una, Hamirpur, Mandi, Rural Shimla and Kullu.
Dham is a Traditional Himachali Festive Meal
Dham is a good example of complete food as per Ayurveda having all six rasa, served in a proper sequence
The entire Dham is Satvik, which means even onion, ginger or garlic is not used to prepare it. Preparations for this elaborate mid-day meal begins a night before the event.
A temporary kitchen called Rasialu is usually built outside the main house with bamboo sticks as main pillars and steel sheets as roof to cook the Dham. Food is generally cooked in thick copper and brass vessels with a broad base and a narrow opening.
Regional Dham of Himachal Pradesh
- Chamba – Chambyali Dham – One of the most favourite Dham across Himachal Pradesh, Chambyali dham is said to be the birthplace of dham historically. The dishes are dominated by Madra and rajmah and kaala chana is a must. The madra dishes ooz with ghee and are to be eaten with rice. Chamba kadhi is another dish of Chamba dham with gucchi (local mushroom) pulao. Khatta is also served with available vegetables and the dham is topped off with a sweet dish. It can be sweet pulao or even halwa mixed with poppy seeds.
- Kangra – Kangri Dham – The Kangri Dham Thali’s speciality is telia mah, black lentil dal doused in ghee and mixed lightly with spices; served with chickpeas madra, kaale chane ka khatta (sweet and sour black gram mahni) and other curries served with rice. Moong dal is also used in some dishes. Kangri dham also makes use of the dhuni (dhungar) technique wherein, mustard oil is poured over a piece of burning coal and is placed in the dish and covered for some time to give the smoky flavor that is called dhuni.
- Mandi – Mandiyali Dham – This Dham follows the Ayurvedic pattern of serving food where the sweet dish is served first. Boondi ka meetha (Bengal gram flour dipped in sweet syrup) denotes the starting of the meal in Mandyali dham. After that, the feast begins – Sepuvadi (Fresh spinach leaves are made into a gravy and vadi is a deep fried fritter of black lentil and bengal gram) is served with rice. Next on the serving platter is kaddu ka khatta (Sweet and sour pumpkin dish made with tamarind and jaggery) and mah ki dal (black lentil dal) made in copious amounts of ghee. A different variety of madra with kidney beans is prepared and the ubiquitous kadhi is also served to be eaten with rice. Sometimes khatte chane (sweet and sour bengal gram) are also made and served in Mandiyali dham. The dham is finished by serving jhol – buttermilk like drink made by mixing curd and water.
- Kullu – Kullvi Dham – Kullvi Dham doesn‘t have many different dishes as compared to Mandyali Dham but it’s serving process differs. Like Chambyali Dham, 2-3 different types of madra like rajmah madra, chickpea madra and Gucchi Madra are served first with rice. The dham continues with telia maash (oil fried black lentils) with delicious kadhi, chane ka khatta and meetha chawal (sweet rice) completes the feast.
- Kinnaur – Kinnauri Dham – In Kinnauri dham, rice is served along with puri, halwa, and seasonal vegetables. There is also provision of liquor and mutton for the guests. Apricot finds its way in different chutneys.
- Hamirpur – Hamirpuri Dham – Traditional madra is the epic of this region prepared with pungent flavouring mustard oil. Onions and tomatoes are used wisely, but curd finds its place in many of the dishes. Dried apricots are used for preparing khattas. Palda, Maah dal rajmah and chana dal are the most sophisticated mouthwatering novelties.
- Lahaul and Spiti – Lahauli Dham – In Lahaul and Spiti district, rice is served along with chana dal (Bengal gram), rajmah (kidney beans), chole (chick pea), aloo gobhi sabji, and mutton. Hot spices and the use of ginger, garlic and onion is very common and in almost all the dishes.
- Una – Unaini Dham – In Unaini dham , rice, chana daal, rajmah, maah ki daal along with palda finds a special place in dham. Almost all feasts culminate with Boondi kaa meetha. The Food, the style of preparation and the eating habits of the people of this district is very much influenced by Punjab and Chandigarh.
- Solan – Solani Dham – Dham served in Solan, use onion and tomatoes based gravy for preparing dishes. Raita with cuccumber and Ramban (a wild thorny tree branch) is used as digestif. The Dhungar technique (adding smoky flavour) is used on Raita. Sooji ka halwa cooked in desi ghee is served as a sweet dish and usually served as the first course of Dham. Seasonal vegetables like Yam (Jimikund), Matar paneer, urad dal and a potato preparation is used in these areas.
- Sirmaur – Sirmauri Dham – In Sirmouri dham, rice, maah ki daal, pude, jalebi, halwa, and shakkar are served in dham. Patande, ainkulu, and sidu are some of the famous foods of Sirmaur district.
- Bilaspur – Bilaspuri Dham – In this moong dal cooked in ghee, serving as a rich source of carbohydrates; simple urad daal and tur daal cooked in the mouth-watering white mustard paste, followed by spicy sebu badi. Adding to the savory menu is khatta, which is unique as it consists of pumpkin, chickpeas, tamarind, and jaggery followed by the kadi pakoda which is a must. In the end, a sweet dish bundi ka meetha is served glazing the feast with irresistible kaleidoscopic colors.
- Shimla – Shimlai Dham – In rural Shimla, maah ki daal, chane ki daal, safed chane kamadra, jimikand (yam), paneer, kale chane ka khatta, and sweets such as badana (Boondi) or small-sized gulab jamuns are served.
A large number of traditional foods and beverages are still prepared in rural and tribal areas of Himachal Pradesh. These foods are unique to Himachal and some of these still form a staple diet of sizeable population of the state.
Some foods and beverages are also prepared during special occasions and constitute an important part of culture and tradition of the state.
Cereal and legume based foods and beverages are most popular followed by fruit, vegetable and milk based products with most of them being fermented.
Himachali cuisine has been influenced by Punjabi and Tibetan food style.
The prevalence of traditional foods in the state is largely linked to availability of raw materials, geographical barriers, environmental conditions, and different ethnic and tribal groups.
Special Food of Himachal Pradesh | Notable Himachali Dishes
Delectable dishes from Himachali cuisine that locals love & share.
Aktori – Aktori is prepared in the form of a cake or pancake made with the buckwheat leaves which is further cooked in the wheat flour. Although, the dish originates in Spiti Valley but it is frequently prepared and fondly eaten all over Himachal Pradesh.
Beduan Roti – A very unique stuffed roti/paratha from the Kangra Valley region of Himachal Pradesh. This is a Makki roti stuffed with a spicy filling made with Arbi. The result is a filling and delicious paratha that needs just some buttermilk and white butter as accompaniment.
Kadoo Ka Khatta – Kadoo Ka Khatta is indeed a very sumptuous dish made with pumpkin cooked in a spicy and tangy madra gravy and dried raw mango powder or amchoor along with other spices.
Babru – Babru is a famous dish of the Shimla. It has a filling of black daal along with spices. it is also called the bharwa puri and is served with vegetables and chutney. Babru is the Himachali version of a kachori.
Bhey or Spicy Lotus Stems – It is a delicious dish which is prepared with the lotus stems. Thinly sliced lotus stems are then cooked in the ginger- garlic, onions and gram flour which add the unique and great taste to the dish.
Chha Gosht – This is a lamb dish, having it‘s origin in the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. Chaa Gosht is a lamb meat dish that is prepared after marinating the meat in lots of spices. The meat is left to marinate in all the flavourful spices for a long time. The meat is finally cooked in gravy thickened up with yogurt and gram flour. The Chaa Gosht is a flavourful dish full of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, garlic and ginger.
Madra – Madra is a dish which belongs to the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. It is made using chickpeas, rajmah, curd, coconut and different varieties of spices, which enhance the flavour of the dish.
Pahadi Chicken – A very simple dish, this is chunks of chicken which is stir- fried and cooked in a variety of flavours and spices. The Chicken is cooked with coriander, garlic and ginger along with mint and spices.
Sepu Vadi – Sepu vadi is a delicious Himachali dish prepared by frying urad dal dumplings. It is a popular dish served during weddings and other special occasions.
Siddu – Siddu is one of the most famous Himachali dish from Shimla and Kullu . This dish is made by adding stuffing to the fermented dough and then it is steamed. Siddu is served with ghee, curd or chutney.
Khatta Meat – Spicy & tangy mutton made with anardana (pomegranate seeds) or amchur (dry mango) powder. Some recipes also include walnut ink into the preparation for its gravy version. Khatta Meat looks almost black in colour and is a specialty of upper regions. Usually, being dry khatta meat goes very well as a snack, so you’ll easily find this at any dhaba adjoining a wine shop in Upper Himachal.
Thenthuk – Thentuk is a noodle dish cooked in warm broth. The noodles are prepared by hand-pulling soft elastic type dough. The dough is then flattened and the noodles are added to a broth of meat and vegetables.
Kullu Trout – It is another delicacy of the Kullu region & is much-loved across the state. Trout fish is marinated with subtle spices to bring out the natural flavours and then shallow fried in mustard oil.
Tudkiya Bhaat – Tudkiya Bhaat is very famous in the district of Chamba. This rice is prepared by adding a takda to the rice along with spices, vegetables, curd, coriander etc. It is accompanied by chutney, curd and drops of lime juice to add a tangy flavour to the dish.
Beverages of Himachal Pradesh | Unique & Common Himachali Drinks
Popular Beverages from Himachali cuisine that locals love & share
Sura – Sura is a millet (Eleucine coracana) based fermented beverage mostly prepared in Lug valley of Kullu district. It is prepared by natural fermentation of finger millet (kodra / kached) flour.
Flour is kneaded in the form of dough and is kept for 10 fays in a container. After 10 days half-baked roties are made, put in to container and water is added.
After two days, dhehli made from traditional herbs is added and it is kept for 8-10 days for fermentation. Sura is consumed during local festivals like shoeri saja and marriages in rural area in Kullu especially lug valley.
Chhang – It is an indigenous rice beer made in the tribal belt of Lahaul & Spiti. It is a very popular traditional alcoholic drink consumed during marriages and other local festivals.
It is offered to the deities and also exchanged as an important gift during weddings and other auspicious ceremonies. Chhang is an indispensable hospitality beverage among tribals of Lahaul valley.
It is considered to provide protection against cold during winter months. The preparation of chhang involves solid-state fermentation of cooked rice and phab (the traditional inoculum) for 4-5 days.
After 4-5 days, it is filtered and filtrate is called chhang . Distilled form of chhang is called sra.
Fruit Based Fermented Beverages – Apart from these, various fruit based fermented beverages made from a number of local fruits are popular in Himachal Pradesh especially in Kinnaur district.
Chulli, angoori / kinnauri, arak / ara and rak are prepared by fermentation of wild apricot, locally available grapes, apple / pear and wild almond respectively.
Desserts of Himachal Pradesh | Unique & Common Himachali Sweet Dishes
Delectable desserts from Himachali cuisine that locals love & share.
Marchu – It is small sized sweet fermented bread. It is made from dough of wheat flour and semolina with milk, oil, yeast, fennel, dry fruits and Jaggery. The dough is fermented, pressed and then deep fried.
Mittha – Mittha as the name suggests is a local dessert of Himachal Pradesh. It is prepared with sweetened rice mixed with a generous helping of raisins and other dry fruits.
Patande – A popular breakfast dish of Sirmour district, Patande can rightly be called as Indian pancakes. Ladle full of smooth batter made from wheat flour, milk and sugar are poured on a ghee laden hot griddle and a thin pancakes like those resembling dosa(s) are made and cooked.
Boondi Ka Meetha – Boondi Ka Meetha is the most loved dish from Mandiyali Dham. They are deep-fried chickpea flour pearls dipped in sugar syrup. To enhance its taste, coconut, black pepper and fennel seeds are added.
What are the cooking methods for Himachali Food?
Traditional and modern methods are both employed for cooking Himachali cuisine.
Kitchen Equipment for Himachali Cuisine – The traditional vessel and equipment used to cook & serve Himachali food include:
Charoti / Batloi – The big brass vessels with round bottom and slender neck with collar. These are used for cooking all dishes including rice).
Dabru – Another brass ladle like container with a handle and a large bowl shape at one end. Dabru is used for stirring food and also for serving food to people invited for the treat.)
Kadchhi – It is the bigger ladle, but smaller than Dabru, used for serving in the feasts.
Chhadolu – A container made of weaved bamboo, which is used to serve rice. It is also used as a strainer for draining of the cooked rice. It is also used in draining washed pulses and vegetables.
Khara – It is bigger version of chhadolu, which contains almost 100 times the amount of rice a chhadolu can handle.
Kadhai – made of iron, may be of different sizes and used for cooking, frying and tempering.
Jhara – strainer
Palta – big spatula made of iron.
Chhabdi – weaved bamboo basket to keep breads.
Sil batta – mortar and pestle.
Chimta – a flat and big twizzer used to hold vessels and in preparation of breads.
Tenthu or (palta) – a big spatula with long handed, used in stirring food.
Sansi – to hold vessels while cooking or to pickup hot food in the vessel.
Chaklaa-Belan – used to roll rotis and chapattis.
Chhalni – Sieve
Thali – generally brass or steel thalis are used. They can be used for serving food, having food, covering cooking vessels and also for keeping the raw material.
Parat – big thali
Katoree – bowl
Degcha – big cooking utensil like patila.
Tawa – flat round iron plate used to cook rotis and chapattis.
Patila – cylindrical vessels made of aluminum with or without handle, used to cook food.
Pattal – leaf plates in which people eat food in painth.
More About Himachali Food | Himachali Cuisine
Dining & Eating Etiquette for Himachal Pradesh
Himachali households follows a similar or slightly varied dining etiquette as other states in North India.
Though certain dining etiquette varies regionally, there are many practices that are common throughout North India. Family dining is an established norm in most Himachali families.
Bringing and sending fresh fruits, sweets and food items as gifts to family members is a common practice in North India, particularly during the spring season. Food items are distributed among neighbours as well on special occasions and as a sign to show hospitality.
Invitation for meals – Invitation to a meal or tea is generally distributed few days beforehand & denying or not turning up for the invitation for no major reason is considered a breach of etiquette.
- The invited guest or elder person is given special respect and attention.
- The invited guest are requested to start the meal & it is considered rude if the host starts eating without taking into account the attendance of all guests.
- Table setting is done before the arrival of the guests.
- Family members or any occupants within one home make sure to eat together during the dinner.
- Hand washing prior to and after the dinner, lunch or brunch at any household of North India is a norm.
- It is considered rude to start eating food without asking others to participate in a meal.
- Use right hand for food intake and left hand for drinking water or drinks.
- Chewing food with one’s mouth open and burping in front of others is considered rude.
- The bread is eaten with the hands. Rice and desserts are eaten with spoons. Soup spoons are used for consuming soup and forks are used for eating noodles.
- Politely ask for the dish to be passed on instead of grabbing it from far across the table.
- DO NOT pass on your JHOOTA (food that has been in contact with your mouth) even to your family members in front of an Indian host.
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