Exploring The ‘Not So Popular’ Food From Chhattisgarh

India is a land of diverse cultures, traditions, and lifestyles, many of which have retained their identity just like assorted colours on a canvas. Despite modern-day influences, some of these cultures have managed to safeguard the aspects that make them unique and curious for the young and old alike. Here, we are talking about the people of Chhattisgarh.  

 Chhattisgarh’s history is dotted with stories of people who grow in the lap of nature even today. The state was not there from the beginning but was established in the year 2000 by dividing Madhya Pradesh. Also known as ‘Dhaan ka Katora’, the state is known for its massive paddy production. And no wonder, many popular delicacies here are made using rice. Besides, leafy green veggies have also been a crucial part of the state’s cuisine. But there is much more to find.  

It is believed that Lord Ram, Sita, and Laxman used to wander in Chhattisgarh’s Dandakaranya forest during their exile, and this is the place where ‘shabri’ fed ‘bers’ to the deity.  According to food researcher Dr. Sanjeev Tiwari, some of the trees mentioned in Valmiki Ramayana are present only in the Dandakaranya forest. For example, the Sulphi tree.

Sulphi trees are found in abundance in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar. Almost every house in Bastar has this tree, on which people make holes and hang pots at twilight. The whole night, rubber juice drips, and the pot gets filled by the morning. Now, this is what the people here drink every day. This liquid is not sold but the tribals have it before heading out for outdoor activities, like farming or hunting. What’s more interesting is that the Sulphi drink has been consumed here for more than 5,000 years. You didn’t know this, did you?

Among the many communities native to the state is the ‘Halba’ community, which is directly connected with food and farming. Dr. Sanjeev said that Halba comes from the word ‘hal’, or what we call a plough. Among the delicacies that the people of this community cook, there is something called ‘Aamat’ - a special dish cooked with fresh vegetables and bamboo shoots.

While Halba people mostly prefer a vegetarian diet, the other communities here prepare a special chutney that might give you goosebumps. Known as Chapda, it is a chutney made of red ants. This chutney is a little sour and a little spicy. Believe me, if you are not told beforehand, you won’t be able to guess what’s in the chutney. There’s a logic behind it actually. This chutney has ample health benefits and is also considered a remedy for those suffering from a snake bite. So, would you dare to try this chutney? 

There is no denying the fact that Chhattisgarh’s food is directly linked to nature. Food in Bastar is not only cooked using the least number of spices but also mostly with zero oil. Leaves are used not only for cooking but for serving food too. They cook wild meat in leaves as well as bamboo shoots. Dr. Sanjeev further said that because of being made with local ingredients and natural utensils, the food here automatically becomes ‘medicated’. While the Halba tribe is known to be vegetarians, another tribe known as ‘Baiga’ have been consuming fish and mutton for a long time. Chhattisgarh and its tribes cannot be separated from each other, and this is what makes the state diverse and beautiful.

Another indispensable part of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar is ‘mahua’. Those who know Bastar, know what mahua is. From the tree’s fruits to flowers to leaves and wood, everything is used. Loaded with so many minerals and vitamins, it is used for making mahua liquor. Click here to know more about it.

Besides tribes like Halba and Baiga, there are the kingdoms of ‘Kanker’ and ‘Kawardha’ that have contributed to shaping Chhattisgarh’s cuisine. According to home chef and teacher, Neha Joshi, many fares - especially the non-vegetarian dishes that are a part of the Kawardha kingdom’s royal cooking - have been adopted from the Baiga tribe. One of these dishes is ‘Kaala Maas’.  

Earlier, ‘Kaala Maas’ was made using wild boar, but now chicken, goat, and fish are used. Neha said that this dish doesn’t completely belong to Chhattisgarh, but yes, it’s modified here and has got local flavours of the state. Ingredients like tamarind, curd, or tomato are generously used in Chhattisgarhi cuisine. And ‘Kaala Maas’ comprises the same flavours.  

Food in Chhattisgarh promises a great taste and delicious inspiration. If you are looking to experience the diversity of food culture, head to Chhattisgarh. Be it the food of tribals or delicacies prepared in the royal kitchen of Chhattisgarh’s kingdoms, the imprint of nature can be found in everything. What do you think? Do let us know.