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Marketing ‘The Food of the Gods’

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We, the Government

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj and we were on a webinar recently. Also on the panel were Sandeep Sahni, President of our state’s Hotel Association, and others whose acts and opinions impact on the Transportation-Travel-Tourism activities of our state. Uttarakhand depends on this Triplet Industry.

Curiously, we found that the Minister’s most significant comments were made at the virtual end of our interaction. He said that our Himalayan state’s food needs to be promoted, as we, too, have often pointed out in this column. Over the last week, however, new facts have emerged which have highlighted this matter.

Uttarakhand has produced an enormous number of chefs for kitchens all over the world, including China. Our hotel management institutes, apparently, send out 5,000 graduates every year. Because of the pandemic, however, an estimated one lakh Uttarakhandi chefs have returned to our small state! Every one of them is an asset waiting to be utilised as soon as possible.

Most importantly, these enterprising and well travelled Uttarakhandis have been exposed to culinary influences, and techniques, all across our land and the globe. They are as much specialists and technicians as computer geeks are. We must cash in on this. Food is the most flexible of traditions, and it is much more necessary than a keyboard! It also has a longer, and more historical, reach. Pasta, now associated with Italy, was adopted by that country after Marco Polo brought it in from China. The Italians added cheese and made it their own. Potatoes and tomatoes were introduced into Europe after Christopher Columbus lost his way searching for Indian spices and discovered South America. In Queen Victoria’s summer palace, Osborne House, Isle of Wight, we were served CTM by the very traditional English Heritage Society. They insisted that it was a typically English dish. It was actually Chicken Tikka Masala brought by the Indian diaspora!

We must popularise Uttarakhandi cuisine. Our state should institute a Chef’s Award to be given to the creator of the most innovative Uttarakhandi dish, every year, irrespective of the nationality of the chef. The winning entry should have at least 50% of its ingredients grown or farmed in our Himalayas. Additional points will be awarded for taste, texture, presentation and innovation. It would be appropriate to call it The Linguda Award after the Uttarakhandi fern eaten in the hills.

One of our staff did wonders with Linguda Fern; the Eco-Task Force served us some excellent sorrel pakoras; an employee made pakoras with yam leaves and gave us a delectable dish steamed over Himalayan Oak foliage. We relish Bhayudi Bugyal Herbal Tea sold by Garh Bazaar. During the last Mussoorie Festival, we found the Savoy Hotel’s street stall selling a delicious Nettle Soup with a swirl of cream. There is a cornucopia lying hidden in our mountains. Our politicians and administrators need to ensure that the culinary products and skills, developed over generations, are not lost.

It says much for the dedication and hard-work of our Tibetan refugees that their food has assumed an all-India personality whereas, very sadly, our Uttarakhandi food is languishing. We need to market our food. We must produce a lavishly-illustrated book, well researched, and dedicated to the making of the mountain foods of Uttarakhand. The book should describe the uniqueness of the ingredients, utensils, cooking methods and health benefits of each dish. Visuals should bring out the locations where the dish was prepared so that the book also publicises the get-away attractions of Uttarakhand.

It could also mention the mysterious, and extremely valuable, Keeda Jadi, the fungus that grows on a caterpillar and is said to boost oxygen intake in high altitudes. It is, now, a gravely endangered miracle medicine.

This is only one of the additional spin-off advantages of elevating Uttarakhandi food into an internationally recognised cuisine. When it raises the demand for mountain produce, it will increase the value of fields in the mountains. This, in turn, will generate a reverse migration which will turn ghost villages into living communities again. It will also strengthen the security of our border state. Dragons fear populated areas!

A title for this, We the Government, book could be Re-discovering the Food of the Gods: Dev Bhojanum.

(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.)