It is often argued that some of the most breath-taking views of the Himalayas, the most rugged terrains of the country, the most pristine gazes into the night sky, and the most daring adventures of a lifetime can all be experienced in a single trip to Himachal Pradesh and its desolate yet mesmerising valleys of Lahaul and Spiti. What is often overlooked in these heaps of literary and aural praises is that these Himachal valleys also possess a local culinary masterpiece that has been a regional favourite since ancient times, and with the ever-increasing footfall of modern travellers, slowly started to gain a pan-India recognition through their travelogues and recollections – the Aktori. This buckwheat desi pancake is a perfect combination of nutrition and flavour and an ideal example of how scarcity of ingredients in a high-altitude cuisine has led to unique recipes.
To prepare these rich-brown pancakes, buckwheat flour, wheat flour, milk, water, a pinch of baking soda, and sugar are mixed vigorously in a bowl to a thick slurry paste. The batter is then ladled onto a pan smeared with oil and cooked on low flame. Once tiny bubbles start appearing on the slowly solidifying surface of the cake, it is flipped over and cooked a further few minutes till the rich brown tinge is equally coated on both sides. Though the Aktori is nowadays consumed all across Himachal Pradesh and often relished with a side of spicy chutney, the traditional way of enjoying the delicacy is with a generous topping of ghee (clarified butter) or honey. The Aktori holds a customary position in Himachali festival food and feasts and is equally commonplace in breakfast platters and as random titbits.
While the exact origin of this ancient recipe is unknown, the agricultural history of buckwheat may give us a rough idea of its popularisation. The buckwheat is the world’s highest-growing staple believed to have originated in China around 6000 BCE. Owing to China’s historically prevalent trade relationships, the staple quickly spread to Central Asia and Tibet, and then to the Middle East and Europe. The advent of buckwheat in the Himalayan terrain and consequently local preparations like the Aktori may have been a result of vibrant historical propagation.