Decoding Dham: Himachal’s Festive Flavours

Decoding Dham: Himachal’s Festive Flavours
A Dham platter at an upscale restaurant in Dharamshala Photo Credit: Prannay Pathak

With the cooking-for-social-media fad on wane, here’s stoking the fire with a look at the Himachali culinary tradition

Prannay Pathak
August 20 , 2020
13 Min Read

Early morning. A courtyard. Faces with their owners sitting cross-legged before sal pattlus. Faces glowing in anticipation. Try to make sense of the local joke passed from one ear to another. Before you’re finished, the smooth functioning of your faculties is clouded by the thick scent of matar paneer wafting in and about to be ladled on top of mounds of podgy rice.

There’s more cooking in the voluminous abdomens of the brass charotis in the rasialu. It could be chana dal climaxing before the powers of mustard. It could be saffron alchemising with milk for the meethe bhaat that the children are looking forward to. Where else could this assortment of flavours and emotions exist but at a dham

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The traditional community feast, fashioned after the lines of the Kashmiri wazwan, isn’t often the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Himalayan state. And yet, dham, known to be prepared on special occasions, has now attained a special status among the traditional culinary delights of northern India. One can savour the varied colours of Himachali cuisine both in crescent-shaped platters at high-end restaurants and in more modest thalis at roadside dhabas throughout the state. As the cooking-for-social-media fad wanes, here’s taking a dip into the eclecticism of the vibrant Himachali dham.

Read: Charming Chamba: 4 Experiences to Stay Back For

The traditional dishes
The star attraction in any dham preparation is the madrah, a curry-style preparation that often features the rajmah dal along with oodles of dahi (curd), steeped in desi ghee or mustard oil. Cooked over low fire over a long time in the charoti (a thick brass pot with a small opening at the top), it has a characteristically Himachali character, with the brilliance of each individual flavour shining through in a hearty distillation. The trinity of khoya, ghee and curd come together in a tantalising gravy whose fat factor is balanced with khatta, a sauce made from imli and gur. Khatta, prepared in iron kadhais as against the brass charotis, is another important component of the dham.

Lentils are to dham what meat is to wazwan, and variants such as safed chana, toor, and maa make regular appearances in the platter. Chickpea is used where rajmah cannot be got, but the maash mix of dals—obtained upon tossing the moong, masoor and urad troika together—is the resident favourite. The dal achieves a rustic smokiness from being cooked using a technique anybody has to see to believe: mustard oil is poured over hot coal and lowered into the dal. The technique is known as dhuni.

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Lungdu madra recipe Link in bio #lungdu #madra #himachalpradesh @prilaga #himachalifoodies #himachalifoodfest #himachalifoodie🍃 #himachalifoodie #himachalifoodbloggers #himachalifoodi #himachalifoodblogger #himachalifoodpopup #himachalifoodfestival #himachalifood #himachalifood🏞ï¸Â #prilaga #himachalifoodlove #himachalifood❤ï¸Â #himachalifoodculture #himachalifoodlovers #himachalifoodstall #himachalifood😍😍😋 #himachalifooding #himachalifoods #himachalifoodrecipe #himachalifoodrecipes

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The sides include the chewy bhaturu (a smaller bhatura, yes) and the short-grained red rice that are unique to hill cuisines throughout northern India. The kadhi served as part of this feast is also lighter than its other counterparts, its tanginess complementing the rich flavours of the meal nicely. Fragrant sweet rice, called meetha bhaat, cap off the meal. 

Read: Secrets of the Hearth

Regional Dhams
There are said to be as many variants of the dham as there are regions (divisible roughly in terms of the districts). The major ones include those from Kangra, Mandi, Chamba and Bilaspur. The various dhams differ from each other in terms of the order of flavours to be eaten first, the principal lentil used to make the madrah, or the sheer number of courses or dishes. The Kangra dham may be the most popular among food connoisseurs and tourists, but it is the Mandiyali version that is considered the most complete in terms of complying to the six rasas of Ayurveda. The other versions have their own share of surprises, too, such as a madrah version prepared using cashews and mushrooms (known locally as guchhi), with a hint of apricot. D(h)ayum!

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The Flavour of Devbhoomi Himachal Himachali Mandyali Dham I tried to recreate it as authentic as possible. Himachali Dham is use to serve like this on Pattal (special leaves knit together) , due to limited resources I’ve used banana leaf instead. These Dham is use to cook by special chef known as BOTI. It includes: 🔹 Bhhat (Chawal) 🔹 Boondi ka meetha 🔹 Rajmah Madra 🔹 Palda 🔹 Telua Maah 🔹 Chane ka khatta 🔹 Matar paneer. Are you guys enjoying our Thali series? Comment down below 👇🏼 This is a collaboration of Authentic Incredible Indian Thali with my bestie @foodieforeverandever23 . P.S. Prepared with available resources due to Covid-19. . . DM for recipe and follow @ayesha.cooks and use #ayesha_cooks âÂÂÂœÂÂŒ🏼 . . . . . . . . #himachalidham #mandyali #himachalpradesh #himachaliculture #himachalifood #delicious #yummy #yummmmmm #food #foodporn #foodphotography #foodprep #homecooked #cheflife #chef #cookingathomeisfun #enjoylittlethings #toodles #cutest #ayesha_cooks #stayhome #staysafe #staypositive #staystrong #stayhappy #staycreative #quarantinecooking #NGTIndia #lockdownrecipes #IncredibleIndia

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Glutton for Mutton
Most versions of the dham stick to the sattvic sentiment enshrined in its beginnings, but mutton in some variants provides it an altogether different dimension. For the erstwhile royal families of the state, meat is indispensable in a dham platter. Khatta meat, made using tamarind, is a regular feature, and the more coveted recipes are family heirlooms cooked using local spices and with secret techniques.

Read: Of Tea and Pottery in Himachal Pradesh

Pattals to Serve You Well

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My Dham plate 😍#traditionalfood #himachaldham

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Functionality and art come together with winning simplicity in the traditional pattals that dham is usually served in. A pattal/pattlu, with the bamboo seams still visible on the edges, is one of the most endearing sights at a traditional Himachali community feast. Big enough to accommodate the various courses of a feast all at once, these biodegradable plates are made by stitching banyan and sal leaves. The makers, who are given contracts months in advance, go foraging for the best available leaves and set about stitching together leaves of different sizes together with bamboo slivers.

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