I first learnt about Kangri Dhaam a year ago. I was doing a story on the food of Uttarakhand and my editor insisted I should add a section on Himachali Cuisine. It will, felt the editor, make the story fuller. I agreed. There was only one issue: I hadn’t been to Himachal in decades and had never eaten authentic Himachali food.
To learn about the cuisine of Himachal I reached out to my Himachali acquaintances. Chefs, home chefs, mothers of friends, and even people on social media who I had never met or spoken to before were contacted. In my interaction with each of these people two things stood out: the simplicity of Himachali Cuisine and the love of Himachalis for their food. The more I learnt about it the more I longed to sample it. Getting authentic Himachali home food in Delhi was something that however I did not even imagine as a possibility.
Then last month I came across Nitika’s page, it was around the same time when I was researching for my compilation of trustworthy places to order from. She had sent some food over to Vernika’s who in turn had written about it. And so, started my chatting with her. Nitika told me she had taken a break from corporate life to spend time with her growing daughter. We spoke about love for food and love for cooking and eating. And then we talked about my never having eaten a Himachali Meal.
Last week I got a call from her saying she was going to do a Kangri Dhaam on Rakhi and wanted to send me some food. I was only too glad — in the situation where stepping out is impossible and cooking is becoming a chore every meal that comes my way is welcome. This being the much revered Dham, the fasting and feasting meal of Himachal was even more special. While I was excited, I was also unsure, I had never eaten Himachali food before and was wondering what if I do not take to it instantly? Thankfully I was wrong.
The food came in neatly packed in paper cases. There were six boxes and Nitika told me to make fresh rice to eat with it. Since it was Rakhi and I was at my parent’s I ate it the following day: the ultimate test of any food. When I finally made the rice and heated everything, we, a family of four, we needed nothing else than her food. Nitika had sent elaborate instructions to eat them and in my head they sounded much like the way we eat a Bengali meal, course by course.
“Lay down a small bed of rice and start with “Aloo chana ka Madra”. Follow that with a combination of “Tailiyeh Maah” and “Maahni” with rice. Take another serving of rice and have it with “Soye aali Chana Daal”. The last savoury dish is “Mungra ki Kadhee” with rice (again). The Kadhee is runny and usually served last to aid the digestion. The meal is concluded with “Meetha”. Have it with rice or skip the rice to enjoy the sweetness alone.” Her instructions were crisp and precise, but I was too hungry to follow them. I ate everything one by one, but not in that order — next time!
It will be an understatement to say we loved the food. But the fact that I have only two pictures should tell you that we were too busy eating. The kadhi, channa, teliyeh maah, daal, madra, were all distinctly different from each other and each one was packed with flavours. Every dish has its own texture and taste and I could tell how much love had gone into it.
Nitika later told me the food was made without onion, garlic, tomato, or ginger. Since it is offered to the gods, it is always made with great care and reverence and consumed with gratitude. “If you have leftovers, the best way to enjoy them is to have them as “Tudkaya Bhatt”. Mix all the remains, including Meetha, and the rice, heat them up in a pan and apply a little “Chhaunka”. Have this for breakfast/lunch/diner the next day! It’s a mandatory tradition to have “Tudkaya Bhatt” for breakfast the day after Dhaam.” Nitika informed,me “if it is someone else’ Dhaam, it is a given that after having Dhaam, you ask for some of it to be packed in a single container to go so that it can be had as “Tudkaya Bhatt” the following day.”
In pre-corona times, Nitika told me, she would do pop ups at her home in Noida where she made every single item from scratch fresh before every pop-up. The meals, I am told, were elaborate and hearty, and brought people from all walks of life together. Something, in my experience of Delhi is rare for a home chef’s cooking. Honestly whatever I write about this meal will not be enough because one: I have never before eaten home cooked, home chef’s food, and two: it is impossible to put such beautiful homely and subtle flavours into words. But I can assure you that I will eat with Nitika every time I get a chance, and as a person so fussy about home food, this is saying a lot.
Here is to you Nitika, and your ilk, who love to cook, feed, and keep their traditions and cuisines alive. You have a fan in me who will always be ready to eat your food.
Note: Himachali Dham is a special meal made on special occasions, but Nitika offers a large selection of meny every week which you can order from. Ger delivery is partnered with a very genteel young man who lives inside her complex and is completely safe and hygienic. You can reach her at instagram page to check her latest menu.