Dal Bati And Other Wartime Survival Foods In India
Image Credit: Litti Chokha | Image Credit: Freepik.com

It is claimed that Napoleon Bonaparte once said, "An army marches on its stomach." This holds true today just as much as it did throughout history.

India's rich history, culture, and traditions have borne witness to innumerable conflicts, and one of the most interesting, and underrated, aspects of our history is the variety of survival foods that were prepared during wartime. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Dal Bati

It's interesting to learn how Dal Bati Churma came to be. It is a simple food consisting of daal (lentils) and bati (hard wheat rolls). Dals like tur dal, chana dal, mung dal, moth dal, and urad dal are used to make daal. After soaking for a few hours in water, the pulses or lentils are cooked with other ingredients.

The famous Chittorgarh Fort in Mewar is the birthplace of this delicious Rajasthani dish. Bati, or wheat dough dipped in ghee, was a staple food for the Rajput kings of Mewar, who relied on it to get through tough times during battle. In the parched regions of Rajasthan, bati could be prepared using the limited resources at hand. Through the years, this culinary creation improved with the addition of two other items, dal and churma, and became a delicious treat.

Soldiers are said to have ripped the dough into pieces and buried it in shallow sandboxes to bake in the hot sun. They would come back to a perfectly baked roundel, dipped in ghee and ready to be eaten, and on a good day, there would be curd or buttermilk to go with it.

Sattu and LittiChokha

Powdered chana (Bengal gram) or other pulses and cereals are ground into a fine flour to create sattu, which is high in protein.

LittiChokha is an old-fashioned dish consisting of stuffed whole wheat dough balls; the dough is rolled around a mixture of roasted gram flour (sattu) and spices. Chokha is a mashed relish that is usually served with litti. It can be made with roasted eggplant, boiled or roasted potatoes, and tomatoes.

Although Veer Kunwar Singh is not as well-known as other participants in the Mutiny of 1857, he nonetheless made significant contributions and motivated many people to take up arms in rebellion against the British. In Bihar, he is affectionately referred to as "Babu Veer Kunwar Singh." He ultimately lost the battle against Major Vincent Eyre and the British forces besieging Bihar, but he was able to keep fighting for a while thanks to his use of the sattu and litti.

Sattu was a vital resource for the revolutionaries, who dubbed it their "power food" due to its deliciousness and portability. Legend has it that revolutionary fighters often went hungry for months at a time, just like soldiers and outlaws of yesteryear. That's when they'd get their strength from an intriguing sattu premix made with gram, wheat, and rice.

The Kargil War and the food called "Tsampa"

India and Pakistan fought in the Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir from May to July 1999. The Ladakh Scouts were very important in making sure that the small battalion stationed there had access to ammunition, information, and food, especially Sattu, which has become legendary along with the heroic victory.

This roasted barley instant food has been the lowly fuel for our jawans for a very long time, and it has no expiration date. Another variety of sattu, "tsampa," is also widely consumed in northern India and the Punjab region; its origins are supposedly in Tibet. It has been the main food for warriors and monks who went without regular meals while guarding the monastery or traveling dangerous paths.

Other Survival Foods in Ancient India

Curd rice: This dish was created as a way to use up leftover rice and curd, or Indian cottage cheese. The curd was an inexpensive source of nutrition, one that was pretty basic but did satisfy hunger pangs during treacherous times.

Chapati: Chapatis are made with whole wheat flour. Since ancient times, they have been one of the most common survival foods. Soldiers, workers, and other people in need of energy often ate chapatis to satisfy their hunger in extreme conditions. This was frequently the case during more modern conflicts, as fighting slowed to a crawl, with both sides digging in and firing at each other but making very little progress. Chapatis could be made from dough made with flour, water, and salt and stored in mess tins hung above a campfire.

Modern-day sustenance in wartime

These days, Indian troops stationed in remote areas or conflict zones can get their instant rations from the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL).

DFRL scientists in Mysore are commercializing food technology developed for the armed forces, which means that stress-relieving biscuits and anti-fatigue food bars will soon be available at more supermarkets. They intend for their processed foods to be superior to those found in nature.

The lab has hired a small army of food scientists to work on making the next generation of foods healthier, tastier, and with a more understandable ingredient list, including memory-enhancing chocolates and performance-enhancing foods. Superior packaging technology is another area where DFRL has made strides.