Bihari cuisine, unlike the politics of the state, almost never makes news. Only a dedicated foodie can name five dishes from dishes, without adding litti chokha. At The Lalit in Delhi, Patna-born chef Nandita Karan is serving up surprises from Bihar to diners. Excerpts from an interview:
Though I was born in Bihar, I moved to Udaipur very soon as my father worked there. Bihar was where I went for summer holidays. My nani and dadi made our annual visit an excuse to lavish us with all kinds of traditional dishes cooked the old way, on chulhas packed with coal. That’s how I first tasted litti chokha, dal peetha and mawa, a sweet that is meant to be eaten in winter. Strangely, it was not as a child but when I grew up and became a chef that I developed a fondness for the cuisine of my state.
At The Lalit, we promote diversity across all platforms and spaces. The idea to have a Bihari food festival was an attempt to highlight this little-known cuisine. I was already comfortable with cooking food from Bihar, thanks to the many holidays home when my mother and I, both foodies, would try out old recipes and new preparations.
I first came across Champaran Ahuna Mutton at a restaurant in Patna called Old Champaran Meat House, and loved it. The distinct flavour of the mutton dish comes from it being cooked entirely in an earthen pot. We mix the mutton with garam masala and other spices — no tomatoes — and leave it to cook slowly in its own juice in an earthen vessel on a coal-fire. This is a dish that we have presented at the festival to give people an idea of a traditional dish.
Bachka is a kind of flat fritter, made with green chana. We have tried it with green peas and laal saag and are pleased to say that it has come out very well.
I always knew that Bihari cuisine was simple and relied heavily on vegetable so I was surprised to find that there are many types of fish preparation. There is fried fish in an array of marinades as well as mustard-based fish gravies or those with tomato and onion.
The festival is on for lunch and dinner till August 12.