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Dham | Traditional Himachali Food

Botis cooking Dham at Varun's Wedding
Botis cooking Dham at Varun’s Wedding

How I self invited myself to a Himachali wedding, to savour the auspicious mid day feast called Dham. And, how I came back with memories of a lifetime.

My sister, who stays in Himachal Pradesh, once went to a local wedding. Since then, she has never stopped talking raving about the lavishness and deliciousness of Dham the traditional Himachali mid-day feast, served during celebrations.

I have had the good fortune of eating local Himachali delicacies at Taragarh and Pragpur. But her constant raving for Dham made me yearn for it, ever so much. However, considering I live in Delhi, I felt my chances of experiencing the feast were fairly bleak. Not until, my brother’s friend Varun, who belongs to a beautiful place called Ghumarwin near Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh, invited him for his wedding. Too excited to realise, embarrassingly enough, I self invited myself for his wedding. Varun, however, was very generous and extended his invitation to both of us.

And although, I did go there to enjoy the wedding and relish delicious local food, I learnt so much more about Himachali culture, people and their warm hospitality.

After an overnight bus journey, we reached Varun’s place. I instantly spotted Botis (a caste of Brahmin Chefs) cooking food for Dham in huge brass utensils called Baltoi. I was amazed to see them work barefoot under the harsh sun.

The food was being cooked using the wood-fire technique, over a shallow ditch dug up out in the open. They had started cooking early in the morning and I saw portions of ingredients like Pumpkins, paste of Urad Daal, White Mustard Paste and spinach, kept ready from a night before.

Even family members and relatives were part of this mise-en-place. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to see some men of the family, preparing bedmi pooris for breakfast – something that I have never seen in my own village in Punjab!

As I finished eating the Bedmi Poories with Chhole, it was time to leave for a wedding ritual. Shruti and Varun (bride and groom, respectively) were taken out for a prayer along with family members and guests. The ladies wore traditional Himachali nose rings, an essential part of their traditional attire. Draped in gorgeous saris and adorned with colourful jewelry, they all looked beautiful. Shruti, however, looked the most pretty, as her face glowed with joy.

Around 3 PM, after we came back from the prayers, Dham was served.

It was a typically vegetarian affair. It consisted of rice and different types of lentils prepared in various different ways, using a variety of local ingredients and techniques. The Botis served the food to people seated on the floor in rows, similar to Langar served in Gurudwaras. As soon as I had the first few bites, the sea of flavours delighted me.

The Moong daal cooked in ghee was rich and had a subtle hint of spices, whereas the Kali Malka was simple and home like. I was floored by the distinct tastes of Tui Daal, cooked in white mustard paste and Sau Badi (Urad and Maida paste fried in cubical shape) cooked in the onion-tomato spicy curry. However, it was Khatta (Chickpea with Pumpkin, tamarind and jaggery) that won my heart. The curry had a sweet sour taste, which was amazing! I could have never guessed that it had pumpkin, had I not seen it being prepared. The Kadi Pakode was good too and I could not stop myself from asking for more. The meal was concluded with sweet Bundi glazed with Chashni (sugar syrup).

I felt overjoyed and blessed, having savoured such a generous feast, that till some time back, I couldn’t have imagined, being a part of.

We got back to the celebrations. I danced with Varun and his friends, Rohan, Rounak, Rushi, Arnab, Riya and Bunty, to Punjabi songs. Time flew by and at around 11PM, I felt like eating something. Though, The botis had left, members from the family were wrapping up the Dham service. Varun’s uncles asked us to sit and have food with them. And believe me it tasted even better than earlier. The flavours felt much more deep and distinct.

I found the family members to be extremely gracious and warm, as they kept serving people till midnight, even after we had left. Later, I came to know that close to 1500 people had come for Dham. In fact, I had seen people getting food packed in huge tiffins, for their family members as well. I was overwhelmed to see such generosity, as I could never imagine something like this happening in a big city like Delhi.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt a sense of contentment, as I realized, I had just ticked one thing off, from my list of must haves.

I am glad I went for this wedding, otherwise, I could have never experienced the kind-heartedness, warmth and generosity of this wonderful family who looked after us, like one of their own. Besides, the Dham, I was so happy to have tasted the luscious Kali Daal and the soft Makki Ki Roti, Varun’s mother had lovingly made for dinner. Uncle gave us ghee-shakkar just before we left and Dadi Ma (Varun’s grandmother) came all the way to the bus stand, to give us some tight hugs and blessings.

In hindsight, I feel that I might get another opportunity to savour Dham delicacies, but, I am sure, I never would receive so much love, care and happiness, that I felt being at Varun and Shruti’s wedding.

I came back with new heartfelt tales and friends, with whom I had some really memorable time, something I would not trade for anything else.

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