Himachali cuisine has not gained much popularity among travellers. The major attraction of the state still remains its scenic beauty, and for good reason. However, food is an essential part of any culture and when it comes to Kullu, it doesn’t get any better than Kullvi Dham.
A Kullu Tradition
Kullvi Dham is a platter decorated with a variety of regional dishes. ‘Dham’, a Himachali version of ‘thali’, is an exquisitely delectable unit of the state’s cuisine, wherein the cooking is done in huge brass utensils.
Dham is a traditional way of feeding people and when we say traditional, we refer to the closeness of the cuisine to earth, quite literally! People sit on the ground, in rows, and are served food on leaves called pattals. They devour the food with their hands.
What’s On The Menu?
The menu includes a range of dishes with varied flavours. Dham is usually prepared and served on special occasions and festivals, but if you want to try it during other times of the year, you might just find it at a few local restaurants and dhabas. Currently only Sapna Sweets, located in Akhara Bazaar of Kullu district, serves this cuisine. All other restaurants prepare Dham only on a pre-order for at least 400 people.
Almost all of the dishes in Kullvi Dham are eaten along with boiled white rice. Here are the best ones:
Madra is a kind of curry which is cooked slowly over low fire in a huge brass container. It is the main component of Kullvi Dham, which adds the taste of authenticity to the platter. There are 2-3 Madra dishes in a wholesome Dham. The major inclusion in the recipe is that of curd, which is added during the preparation process.
Sepu Badi Madra: Sepu Badi are dumplings made of ground fermented lentil/urad daal. These dumplings are boiled in water and then deep fried in mustard oil. The gravy is made of spinach, yogurt and whole spices.
Safed Chana Madra: Safed Chana, also known as or chickpeas or Kabuli Chana is prepared with yogurt and spices like cardamom, cloves, turmeric and cumin to prepare a mouth-watering dish.
Ghandyali-Kol Madra: Ghandyali or taro is mixed with kol dal, which is a local variety of alubia, to prepare this dish. It is high on spices and is treated with yogurt and cooked for a long time to convert it into a madra.
Rajmah Madra: Again a very common dish of the Kullvi Dham, rajmah madra is prepared in the same way as the others. Yogurt, therefore, has a special place in Himachali cuisine as a whole.
Mattar Paneer/Guchhi Madra: Guchhi or morchella esculenta is a variety of wild mushrooms found in the hills of Himachal Pradesh. A very rare mushroom, these are quite expensive in the cities. In an exquisite Kullvi Dham one can find peas and paneer put together with guchhi into a yogurt tempered preparation.
Lentils form an integral part of Kullvi Dham. They are usually served one after the other and help to establish a balance in the menu, since madras can be quite heavy to digest. There are two basic types of lentils prepared at a Dham:
Chana Dal: Chana dal is split skinless black chickpea. The spices used are whole but the tempering is simple. It is cooked in brass utensils, which adds a distinct flavour to it.
Telua Maash: Kali dal or black gram is called maash ki dal in Himachal. As the name suggests, the dish is prepared in large amounts of oil (tel) and ghee. The result is a thick mix of the choicest spices with black dal.
Telua Maash is followed by Kadhi, a thick gravy made out of chickpea flour. Kadhi is prepared in most parts of India, especially in the northern states. What makes it different here is the addition of lakkad boondi (also made with fried chickpea flour). In many parts of Kullu, the deliciousness of a Dham is judged by the flavours of its Kadhi.
Khatta is lighter than the dals and has a tangy flavour. The placing of this dish in the menu is such that it helps to break the monotony of the spicy dishes mentioned above. There are two common types of Khatta; usually one is included in the menu:
Chane ka Khatta: Black chickpeas are used to make this type of khatta. The gravy is very light and amchoor or dried mango powder is added to the dish so as to bring an element of sourness.
Kaddu ka Khatta: Kaddu or pumpkin is a very peculiar addition to the Kullvi Dham. The unexpectedness of its inclusion into the cuisine is what makes its flavours even more delectable. Kaddu ka khatta is very easy to cook; it is tempered in a pan with oil, asafoetida, cumin, fennel, fenugreek and coriander seeds. Tamarind is used in a pulpy form for added sourness.
Raita is usually a light mixture of curd and spices but in Himachali cuisine, it is a totally different dish. In Dham, Raita is an ensemble of dry fruits like raisins and dried dates. The dish is tempered with rai or black mustard seeds. The resultant flavour is a mix of sweet and salty, yum! It helps in digestion and is therefore served at the end of the meal.
No cuisine is complete without dessert. Kullvi Dham desserts are especially liked by children. There are two types of sweet treats:
Meethe Chawal: Though all of the other dishes are already served with plain rice, meethe chawal or sweet rice is relished by the locals. A very simple recipe, sweet rice is usually combined with food colours like yellow and orange to break the tedium of white rice.
Boondi ka Meetha: Boondi is made out of fried beads of chickpea flour. The beads are then dipped in delicious syrup. Boondi ka meetha can be eaten on its own or by combining it with plain steamed rice.
Dham is an important part of Kullvi culture. It reflects the colourful and joyous attitude of the residents of this region. Its various flavours have become an identity for the people living in this hill-state. Over the years, Kullvi Dham has preserved the age-old culture of feeding people to their hearts’ content with a smile on the face and a sense of fulfilment inside.
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