Mastanamma, village chef and YouTuber with over 2 million followers reminds me of my grandmother. She too used to cook in a chulha as there were no gas stoves available at that time. I clearly remember my grandma’s appearance, little stout, feeble hairline, cotton sari with seedha palla covering her head. There was a big kitchen in the house, large vessels of brass and copper, iron kadhais lying here and there. Kitchen garden on one side and aangan (verandah) on another. There were cows in the shed, my uncle used to milk them to get fresh milk daily. I still remember savoring teli or colostrums – first milk of cow rich in antibodies and growth factors. (teli has consistency of chena and eaten with some added sugar). Milk and curd were kept in meshed almirah to save them from flies and cats. We all used to sit and watch grandma sitting on floor, grinding wheat in atta chakki , that had two stones, one stone kept over another, vertical wooden handle to rotate it clockwise. Sil batta was used for any kind of wet grinding like chutni or urad dal for baraa (vada). The moment we use blade for grinding, the taste changes drastically whether its masalas, chutneys or pulses and flours. I only remember taste of rotis and dal cooked by her but the time that is etched in my memory forever is the time when she used to make Gakkad and Bharta for entire family. During some winter nights, the whole family used to come together to enjoy the feast prepared by her. We revisited the memory lanes when recently my elder brother arranged the same feast once again in our ancestral home. He is eldest of us all and he picked up all the detailing and nuance of gakkad making art from my grandma. I am happy that he is keeping the tradition alive.
Gakkad–Bharta belongs to the family of Baati–Chokha from Bihar; Dal Baati Churma from Rajasthan and Dal Baafle from Indore. A friend of mine, who is from a Marwari family, invited us for Dal Baati treat at her place and I thoroughly relished it. I savored Baati, stuffed with boiled masala aloo served with mix dal prepared by my tenant from Rajasthan. Baati and churma is star dish in rajasthani thali restaurants too. They serve churma that is a powder made of atta, sooji and jaggery. I really enjoyed Dal Baati Churma thali in Chokhi Dhani restaurant in Gomti Nagar Lucknow, where they serve sattu stuffed baati, dal and churma made with roti chunks, jaggery, lots of dry fruits and ghee.
Baati is prepared from wheat flour dough and sattu filling, Chokha is a mix of roasted or charred baingan, potatoes, onions, chilies, tomatoes and garlic with salt and mustard oil. While bharta was same as chokha but the gakkads were made from only wheat flour dough without any fillings. The Gakkad – Bharta and dal combo is still served in the dhabas on the banks of Narmada river in my home town. Unlike today’s time when baati is prepared in tandoors over gas stoves, grandma’s process was very earthy in nature.
The preparations used to start from the evening with gathering cow dung cakes or upale, coal and tasla (cement carry pan – big metal bowl with flat center and high on the edges). Dough was prepared with wheat flour, ghee, salt and water. Upale and coal were arranged in tasla and medium hot oven was created by burning them, occasionally blowing with cane fans. Vegetables were roasted and Bharta was prepared by mashing them together with some mustard oil. Then roundels of dough were placed over the fire and cooked slowly on both sides. Then Gakkads, redolent with the smell of earthy smoke and flecked with the ash were given a pat. A hole was dug using thumb right in centre of gakkad to pour the melted ghee. The reason for not using angeethi was its smaller size and rotation of fuel was not that convenient in them. As the Gakkads used to come out they were served in the order ‘chote se bade’ that means starting from the youngest to the eldest. I used to like gakkad, ghee and jaggery combo. We used to sit and watch the whole process as there were no TV or mobile breaks. And now we cook only during commercial breaks.