It is said 'Jesaann, wesa mann'. You are what you eat!
Very soon, since I embarked on my journey to explore food, I realized the importance of food to be healthy and delicious at the same time. While taste helps in connection with your soul, a healthy aspect of food helps in providing required nourishment to the body. Although what exactly is healthy and what is tasty is a question I always get confused about.
Also, I have always heard from my elders about how the food they used to eat earlier was much more tastier. It made me ask a fundamental question about why were they so happy with the food back then while I, with so many options in this global world of food, am still not? Was it the recipes, traditional cooking techniques, quality of raw material, farming practices or was it something else entirely? Also, why was that food considered healthy?
Compelled to know it in a deeper sense, I decided to explore rural Rajasthan, which is also the place my ancestry came from. And thus began my planning for the journey. My friends Mohit(a long-distance cyclist) and Anurag(a filmmaker) chose to join me in the first half of my journey.
The first few days were spent on cherishing experiences of cycling. Syncing with cycling style of different riders, getting habitual about fixing the punctures of tires at least a few times in a day... Visiting beautiful places, getting inside true rural places, learning about their cultures, cooking basic things, getting habitual about being greeted by people and explaining for 100 times each day to the passer-by about our cycling journey taking bath on the roadside tube wells near Dhaba, sleeping in tents, choosing right firewood to burn and making our food over it, loading and unloading cycle with humongous amount of weight each day were other fascinating parts.
In terms of food, as my hunger for answers increased, the answers came in the most unexpected of ways, some of them I realized only after coming back from the trip.
A few takeaways of this beautiful yet challenging journey that I would like to share with my readers...
- It is about ingredients, not the recipe but requirement:
In terms of food, my first major learning came while eating Laffa Falafel a middle eastern dish in Pushkar, a place with a huge variety of Fusion food due to the presence of foreigners mainly Israelites living there. Surprisingly, ingredients used were mostly local and nothing was imported from outside the country.
Another example came as I tried different things made out of Bajra(Pearl millet). I realized it can be used to make khichdi, Roti, Dhokla, drink, and even dessert. Similarly, the preservation of food such as pickles and dried ingredients is the invention out of the necessity of not getting things to eat throughout the year. Bhujia a truly popular snack from Bikaner, was invented out of Moth, an abundantly grown pulse in the region.
- Love, companions and everything else: Once after cycling for the whole day and setting up the tent with the last rays of the day, really tired, we were cooking khichdi by burning forest wood(which even had spikes on it). Maybe because the Khichdi was cooked on the firewood or maybe because we were just hungry, eating the simplest meal with my two companions in one of the toughest of situations, I felt as if I was relishing one of the best meals of my life. It was just a simple khichdi that we ate with pickles. I learned how eating together with people with whom I have a really deep connection brings a whole different flavor to the food.
Once while we were on the way to Bikaner because one of the cycles broke down we were forced to stay at a Dhaba for two days. We slept on khaats alongside people working in that dhaba for two nights. It created an amazing bond with them. On the last night before our departure, they made us sit at a special place right next to where they were making the meal and made us eat the food there and made us eat more than what we would have eaten otherwise. For me, the love with which they had cooked had made all the difference in the world. It was a different, very satisfying experience.
- Growing our food, organic and other things is the real satisfaction: Once, while staying at a house in a village near Bikaner, Raju, our host, shared how he doesn’t like to eat meals outside and prefers the food at home before serving the meal. We just ate a simple onion and green chili vegetable dish. It was served with Bajra Roti cooked on heat created by burning dried cow dung. A simple Khichdi was also served to go with it along with fresh ghee from the milk taken from the cows that live inside the house like family members. Even vegetables and bajra were grown on their farm. I was amazed by the simplicity of the food that was served, yet it tasted as if it was the best food of my life. The definition of my ideal meal changed that day.
- Hunger is the companion of tasty food: I realized this only later on, after coming back and reflecting on the trip.
Once we were left with no cash. While we had no money left with us, there was no ATM on the way. For another 100kms. Meaning we were left without money for the next whole day. It was a stressful stretch with no one helping us as we were fighting extreme heat of the desert sun as well. I will always remember that moment while giving my last set of 20 rupees notes while purchasing a bunch of banana. While all the hopes were vanishing on the way, and hunger increasing more and more someone told us about a Gurudwara. While I had always heard about it, for the first time I was eating food at the langar.
Another instance was while camping at sambhar lake we couldn’t find woodfire at night at thus had to sleep an empty stomach. Eventually, we were able to get a meal to eat only the next day in the afternoon. Again, normal food tasted much tastier
These instances made me realize how eating food after giving proper rest to stomach and having a fit body, makes me enjoy food to its fullest.
While I went to the trip thinking to explore the recipes of Rajasthan, I explored much more. I ate at people's home and I ate at the most expensive of place, while I thoroughly enjoyed the food at home, at times I just wished that expensive food to get over. No matter the wealth, the best food that one can eat is grown by oneself in one's vicinity. The best way to go about life is by staying connected to nature. Most beautiful dishes can be made using even some basic ingredients. I realize the importance of eating local and seasonal. This food is what is supposed to provide the nutrition required to survive in that region and season. Today my perspective around taste has changed a lot as I find the answers I was looking for.
About The Author
Vinayak aka Hungryhitchhiker is a food explorer who after finishing his engineering, chose to give his passion for food a chance. Presently he loves to work with local and seasonal ingredients and keep on going to exploration trips in search of such ingredients. Ultimately he wishes to open a food space in Jaipur based on his exploration and experiences of life.
Know more about him at www.hungryhitchhiker.com, Insta handle: Hungryhitchhiker, fb.com/hungryhitchhiker