Poori, peda and soul food at MahakumbhBy Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS
Monday, January 18, 2010
HARIDWAR - For centuries the spiritual soup for the millions crowding the banks of the Ganga river for Mahakumh Mela has remained unchanged - poori, sukhi aloo ki sabzi and suji ka halwa. The platter is usually topped by a dessert of peda, barfi, laddoo or a piping hot earthenware tumbler of milk with cream - typical of the region.
“Some people eat before the snan (holy dip) and some after. For the last 70 years, we have been ladling out the same fare to the pilgrims. After a plate of poori and halwa, people usually carry home a box of pedas (sweetmeats made of solid milk cream),” Sunny Arora of Prachin Mathurawala, a heritage sweetmeat shop at Bara Bazar in Haridwar, told IANS.
Arora, whose family has been in the business of traditional food for three generations, said the pedas were of two varieties - red and white.
While the red ones are made of overcooked milk, churned in earthen ovens for 15 days till it turned brown, the white pedas are made of a mixture of sweetened cottage cheese and fresh milk.
Pedas are offered as prasadam, or sacred food to Gangaji, the river goddess.
“People spend on food in Haridwar. We have a large NRI clientele,” said the shopkeeper, whose business is booming.
At a corner of Har-ki-Pauri, the owner of Gulati Shudh Vaishnav Bhojanalay stirs a steaming vat of kali chhole or chick peas flavoured lightly with coriander and red chillies to accompany the “oversized pooris (fried Indian bread) made of flour dough”.
“Business is brisk,” says the owner as he struggles to attend to the crowd.
Harihar Ramji Pooriwala, a shop famous for its pooris made of shudh desi ghee, a purer version of clarified butter, was set up in 1915 on a narrow bylane off the main bazaar.
“Even after 95 years, pilgrims still eat the same food. A plate of poori, sabzi and halwa at this shop costs Rs.50,” says Kuldeep Pal, head of the culinary section. The shop with soot-stained counters and a fraying wood-and-mud facade serves three kinds of curries with its “wheat dough bread”.
“We make sitaphal sabzi, rare ka aloo and sookhi aloo,” Pal said. The breads are either round and fried or are stuffed with urad dal. They are known as pitthis.”
Food and religion share close ties in Hindu mythology, says Jitendra Kritikumar Shukla, a Gujarat-based astrologer.
“This is the season when one must eat sweetmeats made of sesame seeds - known as til ka laddoo. It is associated with the Indian calendar month of Paush when Makar Sankranti is celebrated. Sesame seeds strengthen bones and warm the system. It is also used in a ritual to appease the souls of dead ancestors during Mahakumbh Mela,” Shukla told IANS.
The counters at two of Haridwar’s biggest sweetmeat shops - Brijvasi Mithai and Srikrishna Mithai - are stocked with sesame seeds, milk, gram flour laddoos.
“Pedas and laddoos comprise 50 percent of the sales. The most popular sweetmeats in Haridwar are malai samosa (milk patties), laddoo, purchand (moon shaped sweetmeats) and pedas,” Vasudev Agarwal of Brijwasi Sweets told IANS. Agarwal’s shop is 65 years old.
Another item that tops the culinary list of the holy temple town is pickles. The Bara Bazar alone boasts of at least 20 pickle shops. The oldest among them is the 150-year-old Rammoorti Vishnumoorti-Har Ki Pauri pickle shop, certified by the government of India.
“We sell 70 kinds of pickles. Red chillies, peas, bamboo shoots, jackfruits, chutneys, mangoes, green lime and mixed vegetables - we pickle almost every kind of vegetable,” said Mayank Moortiji, the fourth generation owner of the shop.
Bamboo pickles costs the most at Rs.260 per kg.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)