It is a rather wet morning in Mumbai. The typical monsoon day, pitter patter rain drops and dark grey clouds creating a dusk like a hue in the middle of the day. Almost instantly we decided it is a Khichdi day. No other food really do justice t the season. Traditionally in a Bengali household, Khichdi is undeniably the comfort food for the monsoon. Whether you have it with Tomato chutney or an omelette or pakoras, it is one of the most striking culinary delights of monsoon. But the charm of this simple combination of rice lentils and vegetables is so strong that it is also the most favoured food of the Gods. A Mahastami afternoon or a Basant Panchami lunch in a Bengali household is unimaginable without this golden yellow lightly spiced dish.
But it is not just Bengalis who are charmed by the Khichdi. In many ways, it is that one dish that unifies India. Practically from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, wherever you might go, it is not difficult to find a variation of this humble Khichdi. It is known by various names too. Like Tehri in northern India to the Bisibele bhaat in Karnataka to even the Ven Pongal in Tamil Nadu, they are all variants of Khichdi. Even the side dishes for it keep changing with the geography. For example, a Bengali would have it with ‘Beguni’ (Brinjal Fritters) and mixed vegetables called Labda but a Gujarati will swear by the Kadi to go with the Khichdi. Most of north India worship the Raita as the most competent companion for the Khichdi. In Orissa, the presiding deity Lord Jagannath is offered this divine dish with dalma and bharta and in Hyderabad, they prefer it with keema.
Not just the accompaniments but even in composition, the geography and the local produce play a crucial role. In eastern UP you would see the prominence of Tur dal in combination with rice while Bengal or Gujarat uses moong. In many places, even the masoor dal is used with rice while cooking this dish. Similarly, even in terms of vegetables, the season and geography have a striking impact. Typically your summer or monsoon khichdi is more of a rice-dal and potato combination while the winter ones are filled with the specialities of the cold weather like cauliflower, peas and even spinach.
They say the food is one of the best reflections of a culture and in that context, the Khichdi is one of the oldest surviving recipes that even find mention in our ancient scriptures. In many ways, it is also a dish that has survived the longest and in almost the original form for as long as we can trace back in history. Of course, the Mughals and the British did influence this humble dish. The Mughals added nuts and meat to it. The British gave a rather European spin and created the Kedgeree from it.
But all in all, it continues to be one of the most eaten dishes across the country. Whether it is a special puja or a dull day, whether you are sick or in high spirits, whether you want to feed an infant or the aged, this is that one dish that can charm all. It is that dish that has found mention in the accounts of the Greek ambassador of Seleucus, in Moroccan traveller, Ibn Battuta’s travel accounts and Russian adventurer Afanasiy Nikitin’s travelogues. Jahangir’s Ain-i-Akbari too sings rich praises of this dish.
In times when people across religion and races across India look at taking pride in in their individual glory, this is that one humble dish that unifies the entire country with the magic of its taste.