Holiday in Nainital – mainly about food

Nainital is in the Kumaon foothills of the Himalayas in the state of Uttarakhand 2,084 metres (6,837 ft) above sea level. The town is on the Naini Lake and is surrounded by hills. Naini Lake is important religiously for Hindus and there are a number of temples around the lake. It became popular as a hill station for the British around the 1840’s. Nainital is also connected with Jim Corbett, the famous naturalist and author. I’ve put links below for more details.

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The Naini Lake from the Boat Club

Our family used to go to Nainital when I was a child. We’d go for a couple of weeks at the end of summer, just as it started raining. It was lovely. Just slightly cold, misty, with rain every now and then and that lovely smell of mountains and pine and wood smoke. We stayed at this old colonial hotel, The Metropole and even though it was a bit shabby it still had a lovely Raj atmosphere with the old bearers and khansamas, four course dinners ending in steamed pudding and beautiful wooden furniture in the rooms. It was built at the beginning of the last century and was one of the oldest hotels in Nainital. Apparently Mohammad Jinnah and his wife stayed there for their honeymoon. Its under litigation now and is almost completely derelict. It has been stripped of everything, furniture, doors and windows, floorboards. It was really upsetting seeing the state its in.

This was the first time I was taking my 7 year old daughter to the hills and it was a family holiday with my parents and brother and his family. We took the children to the places we remembered; St John in the Wilderness, an Anglican Church built in 1846, which is pretty run down, the Durga Lal Shah Municipal Public Library on the lake, founded in 1934, which has a fabulous collection of old books and ducks who live under the library, a really good bookshop called Narain’s on the mall, the Nainital Boat Club which is one of the oldest clubs in India. At one time they were extremely particular about who was allowed to be a member (definitely not anymore). They apparently refused membership to Jim Corbett’s parents because as a postmaster he wasn’t good enough.

Naini Tal ducks 6Ducks under the library – Photograph taken by Amaya Sachdev

The other To Do things in Nainital are boating on the lake and horse riding, except they’ve moved the horses out of the town. There’s an observatory, trips out to places around, Sattal, Naukuchiatal, Bhimtal, Binsar, Ramgarh. We were only there a few days so couldn’t do as much as we would like to have done.

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Bara Bazaar, Nainital

I love the old bazaar – the Bara Bazaar. It still has lovely old Pahari buildings. The municipal market is still there – a little colonial building that sells fruit and vegetables. This is the season of peaches, apricots, nectarines and plums. We used to buy kilos of peaches and go to the municipal canning factory near the lake and take back tins of peaches to Delhi. The factory apparently doesn’t can peaches anymore and as a fruit seller said – why do you want canned peaches now when they’re in season…

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Municipal Market, Bara Bazaar, Nainital

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Peaches, Plums, Green Plums, Apricots and Bananas

And of course the landmark in the market; Mamu’s Naini Sweets for Bal Mithai. Bal Mithai is a fudgy sweet with what looks like homeopathy pills but are sugar balls stuck on to them. Delicious. We tried getting to the old bakeries but didn’t have the time. There used to be men with tin boxes on their heads selling bread, patties, fruit buns, coconut macaroons and cakes (called pastries here). They would come around to the hotels at teatime. I thought they’d disappeared but on our last day we found one near the lake and bought some yummy macaroons.

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Buying Bal Mithai from Mamu’s Naini Sweets, Bara Bazaar, Nainital

Around the lake were still the bhutta sellers (corn on the cob). Roasted on coal and then smothered with lime dipped in salt and chilli powder. Yum. There were mungphali walas (peanut sellers) – clay or metal pot with lit coal sits on a pile of peanuts and the smell is great, perfect for a cold evening. There used to be an old man who sold nan khatais, Indian biscuits made of flour, sugar and ghee. He had a little metal griddle on coals and the smell of them baking when it was cold was heavenly.

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Bhutta Wala, Bakery Wala and Mungphali Wala

Then of course this is the perfect weather for pakoras and samosas, jalebis and gulab jamuns with lots of chai. They taste even better up in the hills.

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Samosas and Chanas and Chai

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Pakoras, Gulab Jamuns and Jalebis

We didn’t manage to do any sailing but ended up having lots of lunches at the Boat Club. They do the best chicken sandwiches and tandoori chicken. Tandoori chicken the way it used to taste before the days of pumped up chickens and over spiced masala. Delicious.

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Tandoori Chicken with Naans

On our last day which was my brother’s birthday we were recommended a restaurant/dhaba for Rampuri food. Rampur is an old princely town in Uttar Pradesh. It famous for architecture, poetry, the Raza library and its food. We went down to the small restaurant and watched them beginning their cooking. It smelt amazing. We ordered a mutton qorma and a mutton stew, chicken kali mirch (black pepper) and chicken qorma and romali rotis (which I love) and really good chicken biryani. Romali rotis are literally handkerchief rotis. They’re cooked on an upturned griddle pan and are large, very thin and served folded, like a handkerchief.

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Al Kareem Restaurant, Mutton Qorma, making the Biryani and the lid of a patila

About Nainital-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nainital

About Jim Corbett

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Corbett_(hunter)

Literary references to Nainital-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_references_to_Nainital

Nainital nostalgia-

http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/1dKmm4GiY4bP5pFQWMJ0HN/Uttarakhand-Nainital–In-search-of-lost-time.html

Adresses-

Mamu’s Naini Sweets

Bara Bazaar
Mallital

+91 5942 235880

Kareem Restaurant

Gari Padaw
Mallital

+91 9897675006

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Weird and Wonderful Vegetables (and Fruit)

My neighbour gave us some fruit I’d never seen before. She called it Tadgola. The taste was unusual – watery and like eating a slightly sweet jellyfish. Well, it does look like bits of jellyfish. It actually tastes a bit like the flesh you get inside a coconut after drinking the water. It was odd, but perfect for this weather. And this is the season for the fruit.

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I looked it up.Tadgola (in Marathi) is called Ice-apple in English (lovely name), Nungu in Tamil, Tala in Oriya, Tari in Hindi, Taal in Bengali, Tale Hannu or Tateningu in Kannada, Pana Nanguin in Malayalam, Munjal in Urdu, Tadfali in Gujarati and Targula in Konkani. I haven’t put down any of the non-Indian names.

The tree is the Borassus flabellifer, the Asian Palmyra palm, Toddy palm, Sugar palm or Cambodian palm. It grows from Pakistan to Indonesia.

More about tadgola – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borassus_flabellifer

Mangoes – Not Just Bathtub Food

Everyone in India looks forward to the mango season. Mangoes are posh food. They’re expensive because they have a very limited season, they’re difficult to grow and don’t travel well but the poshness comes mainly from their rich and unusual flavour. You have mango connoisseurs who recognize the taste and smell of the different varieties, and know from where they come and when to eat them. Travelling anywhere in India in the mango season, half the luggage on conveyer belts or on coolie’s heads consists of boxes and baskets of mangoes.

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Kesar, Badami Safeda, Lal Bagh and Alphonso

I’m one of those rare Indians who knows very little about mangoes and gets very confused between the different varieties. I eat them but a whole mango season could go past without realizing I hadn’t had one. I am a recent convert. I discovered the Alphonso. This variety grows all along the west of India. Earlier, whenever I’d eaten Alphonsos in Delhi, I couldn’t understand the fuss; they tasted like petrol. Maybe they don’t travel very well. But I had a try again here in Bombay and they are GLORIOUS. Rich, intense flavour with a perfect sweet and tart balance …. basically I loved it. My plan now is to give other mangoes another shot.

Alphonso are called Apoos in Konkani and Haapus in Marathi and Gujarati. They are named after Afonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515) who was a Portuguese general. He had various titles – Governor and Captain-General of the Seas of India, Viceroy of India, First Duke of Goa, which says it all. There’s a long piece about him on Wikipedia, which covers all his colonizing and trading conquests – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afonso_de_Albuquerque

My father was part of a large family of siblings and his father would bring back 20 seers of mangoes in baskets. One seer is a little less than a kilo. A galvanized iron tub would be set up in the courtyard and a slab of ice (brought wrapped up in a jute sack) would be broken into it. There were no refrigerators then and when they couldn’t get any ice they would use well water, which was cool.

The family would sit around the tub and eat mangoes and drink kacchi lassi which is a lassi made with milk and water. The mango they loved was called chusa, which means to suck. It’s a tiny mango; you take the end off it and suck out the pulp straight into your mouth.

Mr Leakey, in J B S Haldane’s book, My Friend Mr Leakey recommends that “the only proper place to eat a mango is in your bath”                                                              So what do you do with a mango when you’re not eating it in the bath? As desserts, mangoes are great with and as ice cream, with fresh cream (my favourite), lassi and juices and as shrikhand (a Gujarati yoghurt dessert). I’m not a big fan of mango cheesecakes, soufflés, mousse and tarts, it just doesn’t work but that’s a personal opinion. Mangoes are great as a savoury; as a curry, added to dal, chutney, pickles, and sweet and sour juices like Aam ka Panna.

The first recipe is a chutney from Andhra Pradesh called Gurumba. Our last cook, Ratna taught me how to make it and it’s delicious with rice and dal, with maybe a vegetable or some fried fish – simple village food. Yummy.

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Chawli (Amaranth) Sabzi, Gurumba and Masoor Dal (Red Lentils) on Rice

Gurumba – Mango Chutney from Andhra Pradesh made with Alphonso Mangoes

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Ingredients

2 mangoes

1 small raw mango, including the seed or ½ a lime if you can’t get one

I tablespoon vegetable oil

2 dry red chillies

1 teaspoon fennel (saunf)

salt to taste

Method

Eat the mango and save the seed with some of the flesh around it. Remove the skin of the raw mango and chop very roughly. Break the chillies into small pieces.

Heat the oil in a small wok or frying pan, add the chillies and cook till they start darkening. Add the fennel. Cook till you can smell the fennel and it starts darkening as well and then add the mangoes. Add a little salt.

Cook covered for about 10 minutes. Ratna used to put a bit of water on the lid. I’m a chicken so I put some water into the gurumba to stop it from burning.

Remove the lid and cook for another 2 minutes to let any liquid dry up.

(If you can’t get raw mango then squeeze ½ a lime into the chutney after it’s finished cooking. It should have a sweet and sour taste.

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Aam Ka Panna

-will make enough for 8-10 glasses

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Clockwise – Mint, Raw Mangoes, Gur/Jaggery, Rock Salt, powdered Rock Salt and Roasted Cumin

My beautiful block of Gur/Jaggery

Ingredients

2 large raw mangoes

½ cup regular sugar +1/2 cup jaggery (gur) (or 1 cup regular sugar)

2 teaspoons black/rock salt

2 teaspoons roasted cumin powder

½ cup mint leaves

water

ice

Method

Peel the mangoes, slice them and put into a saucepan. Just cover the mangoes with water and put them to boil. Add the two types of sugar and cook till the mangoes are almost mush. Add the mint and cook for a few more minutes. Let it cool.

When cool, blend in a blender. Add the rock salt and roasted cumin.  Put about 4-5 big spoons of the mango pulp into a glass, add some ice and top up with cold water.

Aam ka Panna is drunk in the summer in North India to cool you down. It has been so hot here in Bombay and we’re off to even hotter weather in Delhi …. we need it.

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Notes-

If you can’t get rock salt then use regular salt and regular sugar to replace the gur/ jaggery

Coconut Tree Climbers and Coconut Bread

Every couple of months 2 men land up at our building and cut the ripe coconuts off the trees. They should really come around more often because we’ve got many dents on our car from falling coconuts. I watched them work the last time they were here. Its incredible how they do it. One of them shimmies up the tree, ties a rope around a bunch of coconuts and then the man standing below lowers it down. It all seems effortless, which it isn’t, it doesn’t take very long and at the end of it there are neat mounds of coconuts all around the compound.

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A great film made by a friend of mine, Sreeya Sen, about a couple of coconut tree climbers-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=O-ZM9U3wKOk

Despite my Punjabi blood I love coconuts – coconut water, the flesh, the milk and the cream. I prefer coconuts in food but I do like them as a dessert as well. I have my favourite macaroons from Defence Bakery in Delhi, packets of which I bring back with me and I absolutely LOVE Baathk, a Goan coconut and semolina cake. I wish someone would give me a good recipe for it ..… HINT !!!

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Inspired by the coconuts I tried a Jamaican recipe for Coconut Bread from Bill Granger’s Bills Sydney Food. Its half way between a bread and a cake and uses baking powder instead of yeast. It was yum.

Here it is-

Coconut Bread

Makes 8-10 thick slices

Ingredient-

2 eggs

300 ml (10 fl oz) milk

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

2 ½ cups of plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup caster sugar

150 g (5 oz) shredded coconut

75 g (2 ½ oz) unsalted butter, melted

To serve-

butter

icing sugar

Method-

Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F). Lightly whisk eggs, milk and vanilla together.

Sift flour, baking powder and cinnamon together into a bowl, add sugar and coconut, and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre and gradually stir in the egg mixture until just combined. Add melted butter and stir until the mixture is just smooth, being careful not to over mix.

Pour into a greased and floured 21 X 10 cm (8 ½” x 4”) loaf tin and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until bread is cooked when tested with a skewer. Leave in the tin to cool for 5 minutes, and remove to cool further on a wire rack. Serve in thick slices, toasted, buttered, and dusted with icing sugar.

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I had to turn my cake around half way through and cover with baking paper. I also reduced the temperature around the same time to 160° C – but that’s just my oven. It took a little less than 1 hour. I tried it with the icing sugar but it’s as nice without.

Bill Granger’s suggestion is to eat it for breakfast with lime marmalade …. Also to cut into slices and keep in the freezer.

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As a nice ending to my coconut post, my 7 year old daughter came home today with a present – a baby coconut she found on the ground.

This is for anyone who wants to climb a coconut tree…. http://www.caske2000.org/survival/coconutclimb.htm

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Berry Pulav and Baklava

Navroz Mubarak

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It was the Parsi/Irani festival of Navroz last Thursday, the 21st of March. A friend, Alka and I decided to celebrate by going on a Navroz food exploration. First stop Britannia & Co, an Irani/Parsi restaurant that started in 1923. Britannia and Co is famous for their Parsi food but most of all for their Berry Pulav.

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After driving around and getting lost in South Bombay (which always happens to me and I love it because I get to see lots of lovely buildings) we reached Britannia in Ballard Estate. You’re greeted by Mr Boman Kohinoor, the 90 year old owner, at the entrance of this wonderfully atmospheric restaurant. High ceilings, chandeliers, pictures of Zarathustra, Mahatma Gandhi and Queen Elizabeth, flags of India, Great Britain and Iran and green checked tablecloths and Bentwood chairs.

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The waiters are very polite and obviously used to dealing with hordes of wide-eyed food enthusiasts. We ordered the Mutton Berry Pulav and the Sali Boti with Rotis. Delicious! The berry in the pulav is the Barberry, tiny red jewels with this perfect citrus kick. The pulav was delicious as well with mutton that melted in the mouth. The Barberries, called Zereshk in Persian, are imported from Iran and have been ever since the owner Mr Boman Kohinoor’s wife Mrs Bachan Kohinoor introduced the pulav. The Sali Boti was great and I loved the rotis. We got extra boxes of the pulav packed to take home for our families.

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Mutton Berry Pulav

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Sali Boti and Rotis

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Menu and napkins with the rooster logo

After a little chat with Mr Boman Kohinoor about Britannia and also how to get to our next stop we were off. One of the first issues of Time Out Mumbai had an article about an Irani sweet shop on Imamwada Road in Dongri that sells baklava. I have kept that precious piece of paper safely since then. Finally, 8 years later, off we went.

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The Iranian Sweets Palace is 104 years old and only opens for 2 weeks over Navroz when they sell baklava and other traditional Iranian sweets – Louz Zaffran (saffron), Louz Badam (almonds) and Louz Pista (pistachios). It was all very exciting. The Louz part of the name (pronounced La woo z- where you don’t really pronounce the w) are the diamond shape that they are cut into. And then there were trays of Baklava ….. rich and delicious, with a taste of cardamom. The baklava is made with a dense pastry as against the flaky phyllo pastry I’ve had before but it was good. They also sell Gulab (rose) Sherbet, Gulab Jal (water), Gaz (a bit like nougat) and Zereshk (Barberries). They were out of Zereshk but I’ve put my name down for when they get some stock.

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Mr Hajati with his Navroz sweets

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Louz Zaffran and Louz Badam

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Baklava and Louz Pista

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The kitchen

The present owner and grandson of the gentleman who started the shop, Mr Hajati is a stock trader. He was enthusiastic, rightly proud of his heritage and patient with our questions and my camera. He even showed us his kitchen with the traditional cooking pots. There are articles from magazines and newspapers all around the walls of his store, cardboard boxes full of almonds and pistachios, and trays and trays of sweets. It was a perfect end to our food adventure.

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Colourful boxes

With our goodie bag full of pulav and baklava we made our way back to the suburbs agreeing completely with the motto of Britannia and Co –

“There is no love greater than the love of eating” Amen

iranian sweets palaceVisiting card for Iranian Sweets Palace

 

A lovely piece about Britannia & Co- http://travel.cnn.com/mumbai/eat/britannias-flying-food-489758

Brittania & Co-

Wakefield House, 11 Sprott Road, 16 Ballard Estate, Ballard Estate, Fort,

Mumbai 400001

022 – 2261 5264 and 022 – 3022 5265

Iranian Sweets Palace-

143, Imamwada Road, Haroon Manzil, B Block, Bhendi Bazar, Sandhurst Road

Mumbai 400010

022 – 6413 3009, 022 – 2343 3848 and (91) 9870017847

Keema Mattar

Keema Mattar is such comfort food. Eaten with a paratha, puri or a chappati, turned into a paratha roll or as a sandwich. Cooking it with chicken mince instead of mutton (goat) means it’s a struggle getting it to taste right and also keeping it moist. This is the closest I’ve got and I’m always open to suggestions.

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This is adapted from a minced lamb recipe of Madhur’s Jaffreys from a lovely book “Climbing The Mango Trees”. Anyone who grew up in Delhi up to the 1980’s will feel really nostalgic reading this book. I know older Dilli wallahs will scorn this and predate my time frame up to the 1950’s but I really feel as a child growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s I experienced the last tiny remnants of a gracious city that comes alive in this book.

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Keema Mattar (Ground Chicken with Peas)

Serves 4-6

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1 cup yoghurt

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chilli powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 tablespoon coriander powder

salt

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated to a pulp

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed to a pulp

500 grammes minced chicken

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 stick cinnamon, about 2 inches in length

2 whole cardamom pods

1 bay lea

2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

2 medium tomatoes grated, without the skin (or 1 cup passata)

1 cup peas

½ a cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

1-2 finely chopped green chillies (optional)

1 teaspoon garam masala (optional)

Method

Put the yoghurt in a bowl and whisk lightly until smooth and creamy. Add the turmeric, red chilli powder, cumin, coriander, salt, ginger and garlic. Mix until well blended.

Add the minced chicken to the yoghurt mixture and mix (its easiest to mix with your hands) till its thoroughly blended.

Pour the oil into a large wok or frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in the cinnamon, cardamom, and bay leaves. Stir once or twice (till you start smelling the spices) and then add the onion. Stir and fry about 5 minutes, or until the onion pieces are reddish brown.

Add all the meat. Stir, breaking up the chicken until there are no lumps and it stops being pink, about 5 minutes.

Add the grated tomato and stir it in. Add the peas and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn the heat to medium-low, and cook for 5-10 minutes. Uncover. Most of the liquid should have evaporated by this time.

Stir and fry the meat for the next 5 minutes, removing and discarding the cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and bay leaves. When all the water has evaporated stir for a few minutes till the oil separates (you’ll see little drops of oil between the chicken).

Add the garam masala; give it a stir and then the coriander leaves.

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Lohri

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Yesterday was Lohri. Lohri is an agricultural festival that originated in the Punjab but is also celebrated in Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Jammu. Some Sindhis also celebrate this festival and it is called Lal Loee. It marks the end of the winter solstice and the worst of the cold.

In villages children go from door to door singing folk songs and are given sweets called gajak and chikki, and popcorn and peanuts. Both in the villages and the cities families get together in the evening and light a bonfire. They throw offerings into the flames and a mixture of water and unboiled milk, called kachi lassi, is poured around it. Everyone sits around the bonfire, eating gajak, chikki, popcorn, puffed rice, peanuts and green Bengal gram (hara chana) which is roasted on the fire. They sing and dance traditional songs.

There is a Robin Hood legend associated with Lohri. Dulla Bhatti was a tribal chief in the 16th century who fought the Mughal emperor. Treasure looted by him from the Mughal army and from rich merchants was distributed amongst the poor. But besides that he also rescued girls from being sold off in the slave markets. A lot of the folk songs are sung at Lohri praising him.

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Boxes of gajak and laddu

Gajak is a type of sweet eaten in North India which is made of sesame seeds (til) and jaggery (gur). Gajak has a strong, earthy flavour and is warm, winter comfort food. Making it is very labour intensive. The dough is hammered until all the sesame seeds have broken down and released their oils. I found a youtube video of a small gajak making factory and it was fascinating seeing the skill of these craftsmen.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4c8G_r0jv4o

Chikki is a type of a toffee usually made from peanuts and jaggery, but puffed rice, Bengal gram, sesame and desiccated coconut can be used with or instead of the peanuts. One can even get almond, pistachio and rose petal chikkis now. It is very similar to peanut brittle. Chikkis are made by heating the jaggery until it melts into a syrup, adding nuts to the syrup and then cooling them into flat sheets, after which they are cut into rectangular or round slabs.

Rewri are little button shaped toffees made with jaggery and sesame seeds. Most of the rewri is produced in Rohtak in Haryana and was first made in the late Mughal period.

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1. A shop selling gajak, chikki and rewri 2. Popcorn, peanuts and flattened rice (poha)

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Fresh green Bengal gram

Image from the top – clockwise from left to right –

Gajak Roll, Kurmura (puffed rice) Chikka, Rewri, Khopra Singdana (coconut peanut) Chikki, Kala Til (black sesame) Papdi, Mungphali (peanut) Chikki, Mungphali (peanuts), Mungphali or Singdana (peanut) Ladoo, Till Ladoo, Mungphali or Singdana (peanut) Chikki