Welcome to season one of the Kitchenpostcards Podcast! This season’s theme is “Locating Ourselves”. As Punjabis, both of us (Kanika and Sakshi) can trace our family’s roots to the state of Punjab, now and in undivided India pre-1947. And as with everything under the sun, through our conversation we discover that there are many different ways of cooking and eating among Punjabis!
One of us still has roots in rural Punjab while the other has had longer urban connections with places like Old Delhi. Hence, the stories we tell diverge at some points, and meet at others. In this episode, we try to trace the journeys our families have taken that have eventually led to us, the current generation, cooking the way we do. Hardly any of us, dear reader, can deny the imprint of our families and upbringing on how we eat. The images below are clues to our whereabouts. But don’t be fooled, there is much more in store in the episode. So, go ahead and press play!
Episode Notes: language, terms, recipes
We often default to using Hindi words or frame sentences in what is known as Hinglish – a cusp of Hindi and English, or use a smattering of Punjabi since we are exploring our roots here. Episode notes below clarify some terms used in the episode. You can also find names of foods and ingredients mentioned in the podcast alongside their English names, names of a few places we talk about and a list of related recipes. Our aim, always, is to help you cook wholesome, delicious food.
Some terms used in this episode:
- Paathiyan – Dried cow dung cakes used as fuel in earthen stoves and tandoors.
- Tandoor – A tall clay oven used to bake bread or grill skewered meats.
- Pedha – A dough ball in this context. Though pedha as a word refers to anything round or in a ball. One kind of milk based sweet is called pedha too.
- Karare – means both crisp as well as spicy. In this conversation it was used to signify crisp.
- Kande wala glass – Also called a Kangni wala glass, this is a tall metal tumbler often used in punjabi households. See here.
- Laep – An insulating and finishing layer of clay, mud and straw used to finish constructing clay ovens.
- Jutti Kasuri – Refers to Juttis (traditional leather slip-on shoes) made in the town of Kasur, now in Punjab, Pakistan. In a popular folk song of the same name a young bride complains about getting shoe bites from her new “Jutti Kasuri”.
- Tiffin – When coined the term meant a light meal in between the main meals of the day. But in modern usage it usually refers to a packed meal carried to work or school.
- Dhaba Food – A dhaba is a road side eatery, usually one along side a major highway. As people from Punjab spread across India, as truckers, entrepreneurs and farmers, they took the dhaba with them. Dhaba food is typically vegetarian and the menus are limited. A typical menu might include one or two dals (lentils), a couple of fresh vegetable dishes (sabzi), roti or parantha and yogurt (dahi). Beverages such as chai are continually on the boil. Read about one such recipe here.
Foods and ingredients mentioned in the episode:
- Kasuri Methi – Dried methi (fenugreek) grown in and around Kasur, Punjab, Pakistan. Now it refers to dried methi leaves used commonly to enhance the flavour of dishes like Aloo Gobhi, Chicken Curries and more.
- Vadi – Lentils like urad and moong are cooked and dried to made Vadis or nuggets that the can be used when fresh vegetables are in low supply. Amritsar is well known for its Urad Dal Vadis.
- Laung – Cloves.
- Lassan – Garlic.
- Tadka – Tempering. Read more about it here.
- Sabut Moong – Whole moong or whole green gram.
- Tamatar – Tomato.
- Pyaaz – Onion.
- Paneer Pakore – Paneer fritters. Paneer (Indian cottage cheese) is battered in a mix of seasoned chickpea flour and deep fried. Pakoras are also made with potatoes and onion. Recipe here.
- Chhole Kulche – Popular dish from Amritsar, also a common street food in Delhi. Chhole means chickpea curry and kulcha is a fluffy, fried bread.
- Matar ka Nimona – A dish from Uttar Pradesh using fresh, in season green peas.
- Lassi – A yogurt based beverage made, sweetened and topped with cream, or a lighter version made with buttermilk that can also be salty and spiced. Needless to say each has a different effect! One is slumber inducing while the other is cooling.
A note on the use of tomatoes
A common tadka, or tempering, in Indian food includes both onions and tomatoes tempered in fat (oil or ghee) with spices. In this episode we learn that a certain style of Punjabi cooking eschews the abundant use of tomatoes, instead using them conservatively for only specific preparations. This happens to coincide with an agrarian lifestyle. A function of availability and lack of tomato’s ubiquitousness? Tomatoes like potatoes arrived in India along with Portuguese colonizers and slowly made their way across the country. So, perhaps it isn’t surprising that in Northern India it wasn’t a common ingredient. Also, home made food in the Punjab countryside is rarely sour. When needed, sourness is introduced more commonly with the use of other agents such as yogurt, anardana (pomegranate seeds), lime juice or imli (tamarind) versus tomato. And, herein lies a rural – urban divide, one that we continue to exhibit in our cooking today! If you haven’t heard the episode yet, be sure to tune in to learn who does what.
Roti khaayi hai?
- Chartered buses in Delhi and around: With the ever expanding borders of Delhi over the years, a lot of population from the capital’s several satellite towns looked for ways to travel to the city’s business centres. Since DTC’s (Delhi Transport Corporation) buses did not always run at the most convenient times or routes, office colleagues often hired ‘chartered’ buses by private transport companies to ply at preferred routes and timings during the work week. Passengers were regulars and often formed connections and friendships. Chartered Buses are still popular in the Delhi and the National Capital Region even after the advent of the Delhi Metro.
- Wheat dominant food culture: Punjab is called the bread basket of India. Its plains grow two major staples – wheat and basmati rice. Before partition and innovations in agricultural practices rice was a luxury in Punjab, used sparingly for desserts like Kheer. With increased cultivation of Basmati for export and domestic consumption, the Punjabi diet has expanded to include rice. But, wheat based breads – chapatis or rotis – are still the staple with any meal. So much so that the word “Roti” = “A meal”. Hence the question, “Roti khaayi hai?” or in Punjabi simply, “Roti khadi?” Both phrases ask, have you eaten.
Punjabis wherever we may live
Can you find these places on a map? Which one of us is from where?
- Old Delhi / Purani Dilli
- Amritsar, Punjab
- Jodhpur, Rajasthan
- Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
- Moga, Punjab
- Patiala, Punjab
- Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu
- Kasur, Punjab, Pakistan
- Lyallpur, Pakistan
Recipes to try:
- Mah di Dal
- Dal Makhani
- Matar ki Sookhi Sabzi
- Bedmi Aloo
- Kheer and Malpua – A Punjab Saawan Special
- Punjabi Chhole
- Aloo Paranthe
- Gobhi ke Paranthe
We’d love to hear from you!
This podcast conversation covers a lot of ground and perhaps will stir some nostalgia and longing for home in you too. We’d love to hear how you associate food and home. Is food a source of comfort and belonging for you too? Please write to us in the comments here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is a lot more that we could have and want to talk about. We’ve only just begun! Be sure to tune in for the rest of the season.
P.S. Wondering what that phrase means?
Roti khayi hai? – Have you eaten a meal?