AT HUNAR HAAT FOOD COURT… LITTI-CHOKA!

Hunar Haat food court at Darya Sangam grounds of Kala Academy…. (top-left) Gautam Sah attending litti baking over coal fire, attracting many visitors! Several other stalls are offering the multi-cuisines of India. Don’t miss the huge terrcotta tea kettle which is a take on traditional Goan rooster water pot called gudgudne. The tea kettle has become Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s favourite emblem!

By Tara Narayan

COVID-19 or no Covid-19 life must go on with all systems of precaution in place hopefully! We Indians can be quite pig-headed or cow-headed though. Perhaps whoever organized the splendid Hunar Haat “confluence of craft, cuisine and culture” at the Kala Academy grounds from March 26 to April 4 (2021) should have insisted all the larger than life Big Brother posters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi propped up everywhere, should have sported masks! That way our shoppers and fun-seekers would also quickly put on their masks if they hadn’t to begin with.
Anyway these are times when everyone is more or less taking their chances with the Covid-19 virus. No point in living in fear indoors or outdoors (take maximum precautions, pray and get on with life, is what I believe in). I must say it was one of the best ever haat organized, with lots of patriotic scene-scenery tableaux. I went on both inauguration day and other days since I live close by in capital city Panaji.
From what I could see there was no shortage of brisk business to gladden the hearts of the craftspeople. They were from Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Maharashtra, Assam, Nagaland — the country – to sell their traditional craftwork and artwork of beauty, grace and sometimes not purely ornamental but also of utility value like the neem wood combs and hair pieces, grass mats, terracotta ware, leather chappal from Kolhapuri, fine silk and cotton sarees…ornate furniture, cotton furnishings and much more.
I got carried away and bought a lovely grey-white dupatta and am now looking for a matching salwar-kameez to go with it!

FOOD COURT CHARMS
I WAS more interested in the food court where a line-up of stalls offered Moghlai, Rajasthani, Hyderabadi, Maharashtrian, Goan food and fusion stuff. I’ve acquired a passion for the Bihari litti-chokha combo meal…things to buy included pure honey, Kerala halva and banana wafers, Ayurveda digestive churan, tamarind and hing goli, mint tablets, stevia leaves, dry guchhi mushrooms. (Sigh) The world is undoubtedly full of beautiful and tempting things to buy and fill up one’s life with! As a friend with me poignantly contributed, “Our ATM account must be full too nah!” We all know the economy is down in the dumps and why!
But I still did buy my usual jeera goli, some spice masala, aonla murabba and a packet of Anita Devi’s “sattu” flour. Don’t ask me why but I’ve become a little crazy about Bihar’s litti-chokha. In Jharkhand and eastern Uttar Pradesh it’s kind of staple fare and before you think rural food, yuk! Think again. Litti-choka sounds like a perfectly good combo recipe enshrined with traditional common sense. Litti refers to the wheat flour dough balls stuffed with a savory sattu mix of gram and barley flour, savory herbs/spices, slow cooked over a natural dung fired choola… when well cooked or baked the litti is doused in desi ghee and presented alongside a bowl of mildly spicy potato or brinjal mash (a hint of pure mustard oil laced in), and a refreshing green chutney.
At the Hunar Haat Goa (they’re taking place the country over) food court I couldn’t take my eyes of the litti balls baking over a crackling slow coal fire…the balls turning to an inviting smoky buff color. One of Anita Devi’s sons here crushed the hot, hot and slow-cooked litti and dunked them in ghee, put a pair on an eco-friendly leafy container, added a dollop of the chokha of mildly spiced up mashed potato, fresh cut onion…a sharp hint of pure mustard oil somewhere, green chutney. Tea going in mitti ke khulad for Rs30, in paper cups Rs20.
Hey, I went back just to relish the litti-chokha offering and admire anew the way Anita Devi was doing the honors, despite her less than agreeable makeshift kitchen in the background behind tatty chaddar curtain! I wish better arrangements for these country folk when they come to Goa to showcase their ethnic cuisine (vis-a-vis makeshift kitchen space, water, lighting, sanitation).
Still, hat’s off to Anita Devi’s family and all others who were doing their superlative best, the result was marvelous to see, especially how the “sattu” stuffed round litti balls roasted over the coal fire (don’t go too close, sparks can fly, Anita Devi tells me the litti is baked over dry cow dung patty fires in Bihari villages and it is poor people’s food of sustenance to keep them going with their daily chores of life. Only now it’s become rich people’s food! Oh well, touché! I will return on last day of the Hunar Haat (April 4) for my final treat of litti-chokha and maybe some of the delicious “thekna” which is Bihar’s crisp, crunchy, most wholesome sweet.
Note: The Bihari litti is a smaller and if I may say so a superior version of Rajasthan’s bhatti balls. These are whole wheat flour dough balls but larger balls baked similarly over natural fire embers, when baked fully, crushed and laced with ghee — served with spicy dal and sweet churma (wheat flour dumplings slow fried in ghee, pounded fine, sieved, ghee and jaggery powder mixed in…and that’s churma to relish with the dal-bhatti combo, not to forget chunks of white onion and dry red garlic chutney. Make a trip to Rajasthan to enjoy!

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