We, the Government
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
Mr Om Prakash, the Chief Secretary of our state, chaired
a very interesting meeting recently (GP 3 Nov 20). It sought to promote area-specific foods from our state: a subject very close to our hearts. We have often wondered why Uttarakhandi cuisine has not achieved the popularity that Punjabi, Bengali and Tamilian food have. Even the fare of our cheerful immigrants, the Tibetans, has been accorded a welcome that far exceeds that of our high-range food!
One reason could be that it has no Brand Image. We call ourselves Dev Bhoomi: the Land of the Gods. Logically, therefore, our food should be Dev Bhoj. But while we can start marketing our food under that name, we must explain what’s so special about our high-grown food?
Here are some possible reasons:-
1. All ingredients are sourced from fields at elevations above 2,000 metres in Uttarakhand’s Himalayas. This is well above the air pollution level.
2. The fields are irrigated by the same, pure, glacier-melt water that pours into Gangotri, Yamnotri and the revered source of the mysterious Saraswati, in a waterfall above Gangotri.
3. Every winter, these high Himalayan fields are made concrete-hard by frost, blanketed with snow, battered by hail and exposed to UV radiation. Nature sanitises our high fields every year.
4. The crops grown in the high fields of Dev Bhoomi have to be hardy to survive in their harsh environment. These qualities are absorbed by those who consume them.
5. Such life-sustaining qualities of Dev Bhoj have inspired many tales of people who live well beyond the average life-span of humans; even to legends of immortality.
We should not have any hesitation in suggesting a divine patronage for our traditional food. Bengal and Odisha fought to claim the right to the succulent Rasgulla. Odisha won after proving that this delicious confection was first created as prasad for Lord Jagganath in their magnificent temple at Puri.
The CS has pointed out the copious milk production of the Kumaon region. Gujarat had a similar bonanza. The tribal milk producers of Gujarat, possible descendants of our land’s great, pre-Aryan, industrial civilisation, were being exploited by big business. To their good fortune, the legendary Dr Verghese Kurien consolidated them into the very successful Anand Milk Union Limited (AMUL). Can we have a similar organisation in Uttarakhand?
AMUL sells its cheese in various forms. We need to develop a cheese culture in our state. We have the milk producing animals. We have the high meadows. We even have the same limestone caves as Switzerland and the other cheese-producing areas of Europe have in which they mature their cheeses. Cheese was developed as a milk-surplus product. So why haven’t we, too, produced a wide range of cheeses? If we can hire experts to build a disruptive ropeway, we can certainly engage with foreign cheese-makers to create a high-potential, new, milk-excess industry?
Moving on to other food products of great promise are soups. We have soup for dinner every day. Very often our tomato soup and our mushroom soup are reconstituted from foil packaged powders. Both soups are delicious. For the increasing number of atomic families in our age, with both husband and wife working, reconstituted soups are poised to become increasingly popular, particularly as the work-from-home practice increases. Unique to our state is Nettle Soup. We first tasted it when a friend invited us to lunch, decades ago. It had a fascinating flavour. We next had it when one of our staff made it for dinner. It was good. And then we tasted it at the Savoy Hotel’s Mall kiosk during the last Mussoorie Festival. It was great, with a swirl of cream. Nettle soup would be welcome and so, too, would other packaged UK soups and foods.
Today, we can enjoy reconstituted poha, wada and upma. They are all popular breakfast, or elevenses (tiffin), fare south of the Vindhyas. Our packaged cuisine too should make a dent in this growing, post-Covid, market.
We haven’t mentioned our sweets. Traditionally, southerners don’t have a pronounced sweet tooth. But many of them have acquired it and we should encourage them. Can any Uttarakhandi halwaii answer this packaged-confection challenge? Or has some confectioner already done so?
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)