Food is an important part of our identity and culture. We are known by what we eat. It reflects the geography to which we belong and the locally available resources used in our cuisine.
Adivasi food systems are deeply embedded in local culture and traditions, given that the way of life of these indigenous peoples is so closely linked to nature and its resources.
Jharkhand is a natural abode and home to numerous Adivasi communities constituting a little over 25% of the total population.
These communities, in addition to their rich social and cultural traditions, practice immensely diverse food practices which are based on locally available resources and techniques. Such Adivasi food systems have been instrumental in maintaining the sovereignty and self-reliance of these communities. They have taken many varieties of vegetables and tubers, wild or grown, to enrich their diet, as also to meet their requirements of calcium, iron, minerals and vitamins. Studies reveal that Adivasi food provides a high level of immunity from disease and deformities.
The realm of medicinal plants and herbal products is even vaster. According to the All India Coordinated Research Project on Ethnobiology, tribal communities are acquainted with the use of over 9,000 species of plants including food plants, while specifically for the purpose of healing they know the use of around 7,500 species of plants.
The Adivasi food of Jharkhand may be defined in terms of a few characteristic features: food is influenced by physiological needs and geographical conditions and the habit is closely associated with habitat. This means food habits are guided by locally available resources. Adivasis consume boiled food like rice, pulses, herbs or ‘saag’ and meat and, on some occasions, animal or bird meat is roasted on a fire. Because of these consistent food habits that are based on locally available resources, instances of serious diseases are considerably lower among Adivasis.
Nutrition Value: Ingredients used in Adivasi food are a great source of nutrition in addition to taste. Studies have revealed that Adivasi food provides high immunity to disease and protection from deformities. Food like tubers, shoots, berries, nuts, etc are a good source of protein and fat. The consumption of meat, fish, egg, shellfish, etc, provides good quality protein apart from important vitamins and minerals. Widely consumed wild or grown tubers enrich their dietary requirement of calcium, iron, mineral elements and vitamins.
Medicinal Value: Apart from providing critical nutritional support, Adivasi foods have curative medicinal properties. Adivasis have a huge repository of traditional knowledge when it comes to the use of different herbs and plants for curing ailments.
Jharkhand Adivasi Food Heritage
A characteristic feature of the Adivasi food of Jharkhand is its simplicity and great variety which includes numerous green leafy vegetables, most of which are uncultivated and only collected from forests. A typical Adivasi platter in Jharkhand would feature boiled rice, marh jhor or urad daal, a mashed item, chutney and any non-vegetarian items which range from big to small meat, local fishes, crabs, etc.
On festive occasions, different kinds of peethas are added to the plate. Peethas are dumplings made of rice flour and served with pulses, vegetable or meat stuffing.
Cooking Method and Equipment
As the food is simple, so are the cooking methods and equipment used in the processing of food/raw materials, helping in preserving the nutritional quality of the food. Cooking processes involve low-heat slow cooking and shallow frying involving very little oil. Boiling and steaming are common methods and lot of dishes are just produced by either mashingwith hands or grinding by stone.
Common food-processing equipment includes a wooden pounder used for breaking rice or millets, a round double stone grinder (janta) used for breaking pulses, etc, a stone slab with a mortar (most commonly used to make chutneys) and a wooden mortar (samat) to grind spices. It’s worth mentioning here that the use of this traditional equipment helps minimise loss of nutrients as they do not produce the unnecessary extra heat or pressure created by mechanised equipment.
Dhuska is undeniably the most popular ‘Jharkhandi’ all-weather, all-time snack. A deep-fried ball made from a rice-based batter, it can simply be nibbled as it is or had with a chutney or ghugni. But it tastes best with mutton or desi chicken curry.
Having originated from the Munda and Khadia communities (for whom it is Ayo Roti or Dubhni Roti), it is always served during marriage rituals, especially during the seeing off ceremony of the bride. From there, dhuska has gradually evolved into a commonly loved snack in the urban spaces of Jharkhand as well.
The ingredients do vary a little in the way the batter is made by Adivasis and non-Adivasis. Adivasis only use a combination of rice and urad dal, whereas non-Adivasis add chana dal as well.
Burra is another popular snack which has found its way from the Adivasi cuisine to mass adoption in society. Made of urad dal batter, the small balls are deep fried and taste well with any chutney.
Apart from regular snacks like dhuska and burra, there are snacks based on the seasons. Popular ones among these, which are routinely consumed in an Adivasi household, include boiled peanuts, boiled sweet potato and dry chuda or flattened rice, something that can be munched while you work, talk or do anything else.
Chilka rotis are crepes which are either made of rice or madua flour.
Peetha is a delicacy that is savoured at different points of time including festivities. They are rice/madua/gondli-based with vegetarian or non-vegetarian stuffing inside. Both steaming and roasting methods are used to cook peethas. Santhali patra or jil peetha are generally meat-based, whereas kholge or holong peetha (made by Oraons and Mundas) are normally stuffed with gur (jaggery) or dal.
Malpuas are made of rice, whereas among non-Adivasi communities, they are made of unhealthy refined wheat (maida).
Marh Jhor/Shukti Jhor is a soup made of herbs/fresh or dried green leafy vegetables (GLVs), cooked in starch (preferably red rice) along with some spices. It’s an Adivasi all-year-round dish and a tasty source of nutrition, eaten instead of dal. The leaves are also sun-dried and powdered and stored to be eaten throughout the year.
Popular GLVs used in making Marh Jhor include chakod (Cassia tora), phutkal (Ficus geneculata), kanda saag, katei or sarla saag (Vangueria spinosus).
Chutneys are regular side accompaniments on any Adivasi platter. They are made from dried leaves, fresh green leaves, small local crabs or small fish ground on a stone slab along with a few spices.
Bharta are mashed items prepared from local fish, dried leaves and fresh GLVs and regularly consumed in any Adivasi household.
The non-vegetarian food basket of Adivasis is equally diverse. These include micro food sources like ant eggs, small game as well as big meat. Also on the menu is a large variety of local fish available during different seasons, popularly prepared as curry or a mash. Within the meat category, pork is a prominent option which is locally available, affordable and which can be raised within the tribal dwelling.
Bothal Bhaat is a kind of watery rice. It is prepared with freshly cooked rice where portions of starch and water are mixed in equal proportion. It turns out best with traditionally processed red rice. It has a soothing effect on the body and provides all day energy, even for hard labour under the strong summer sun. It’s best eaten with dry saag fry, with potato or bharta, chench bhaji and phutkal chutney.
Dubki Tiyan is a typical Oraon dish where small balls made from urad dal batter are poured in a bubbling curry. Since urad dal is locally grown by Adivasis, it is the pulse of popular choice. Dried leaves cooked with urad dal e.g. munga saag made with urad dal is a complete meal. This goes best with pork.
Leto Adivasi cuisine includes a dish called Leto or mixed porridge which is a complete meal in itself. A typical Leto dish in hilly areas consists of mahua cooked with dal and various beans. In different Adivasi communities, one finds several variants of Leto.
Handia is a popular alcoholic drink among the Adivasis of Jharkhand, it is made by
either fermenting rice or madua or both along with a local herb. It is also referred to as rice beer or rice wine.
It is called Diang in the Kolhan area and, unlike in other parts of Jharkhand, here the fermented rice is completely mixed with the water, thus serving as a complete meal. It is a stimulant and coolant to help brave the summer sun. The drink is also used in different Adivasi rituals and functions.
Mahua brew is another popular local alcoholic drink, which is made at home from the
flowers of the mahua tree and is consumed as something special during ceremonial occasions, rituals and other family celebrations.
Traditionally, mahua liquor is given to women after child delivery which keeps themother warm, besides providing strength because of the iron supplement present in mahua.