Gourmet Friday | Mango meal at Sasan Gir-art-and-culture news, Firstpost
Lunch was a simple affair, distinguished by the purity and authenticity of the cooking. The average agriculture-supported Indian household believes in a meal that fills the heart and sustains energy levels for an afternoon of hard work.
The end of the mango season triggers a deep nostalgia for the delicious, luscious and widely loved fruit for another year. In my experience, it’s kind of an annual ritual, for me and those who grew up remembering some of the best times of their lives among mango orchards or cherish the simple idea of eating mangoes every meals for a few weeks. This is how I wanted to share an incredible experience at the heart of a unique mango production, world renowned for its luscious bright orange variety, the ‘Kesar’ of the Wazirs and Sultans of Junagadh.
Sitting in a roughly brushed glade in an orchard on a small farm by the Hiran River in Chitrod, Narmada Kaki (“aunt” in many Indian languages) rolled rotis with quick movements of her bracelet-clad hands and patted them on the burning fire. chulha (wood fire) in front of her with skillful ease. Closer inspection revealed that they were made of bajra (sorgum), of which there is an entire field just behind us.
The visual convinced me of the impact one can have by joining the local people, to rightly introduce their customs and traditions to the modest tourist coming to Sasan Gir at the lure of the Asiatic lions. The meal Kaki cooked was our lunch for a great day spent at Chitrod Farms, which I visited while staying at Woods At Sasan, a biophilic retreat in Sasan Gir. Under the 1000 Island brand, the retreat offers an immersive stay focused on complete wellness.
An agriculture-based economy flourished in the villages surrounding Gir National Park. In 2011, Gir Kesar Mango was awarded a GI label indicating the uniqueness of the orange pulp cultivar which only grows in Junagadh and Amreli districts. About two lakh tons of this exotic mango hit the markets for a short time and are expensive to the taste of a common man. It was the Imperials of Junagadh who stylized the name after its color, three years after it was first transplanted to the foothills of Girnar.
The dry leaves untouched on the ground, surrounded by vast fields sown with chawli beans and sorghum, where a few Indian black ibises wandered in search of a midday snack among the growing crops; presented a uniquely transformative situation as I found myself in my childhood. Small town life gives us the chance to grow close to nature, and I thank my parents every day for giving me the opportunity to find joy among the dry leaves, the growing trees and the fruit that mature and a variety of inhabitants. Being there felt familiar, like the times spent looking for fallen pickaxes after a thunderstorm at my grandfather’s house.
The tune evoking the sweetest notes of ripening mangoes was so captivating that I almost didn’t notice the other arrangements.
To one side, a table had been set with a beautiful patchwork quilt for two. On the other, a small pai (four-seater bed) chariot was set up for three musicians, who had their smiles and expert hands at the ready when my eyes met theirs.
Their instruments struck a melancholy tune, representative of the Gujarat style of folk music. Armed with harmoniums, flutes, santoor and percussion, Chiman has been singing for many decades with his friends and fellow musicians Raju and Chandresh. Their rendition of ‘Humaar Gir Ne’, a folk tale from Gir about the richness of its soil and life with lions, perfectly captured the essence of the experience – raw and local. Raju’s flute had a calming effect on the high emotions the song touched. The trio perform exclusively at Woods at Sasan and share a long-standing relationship with the retreat’s strong local empowerment ethos. They even showed me a little diary snippet of them playing, proud to be an artist and a farmer, side by side. It was strangely enjoyable to experience what they accomplished for their faith that speaks in tunes.
Lunch was a simple affair, distinguished by the purity and authenticity of the cooking. The average agriculture-supported Indian household believes in a meal that fills the heart and sustains energy levels for an afternoon of hard work. Kaki’s ‘Bajra na rotla’ was therefore wrapped around ‘Bhinda nu shaak’ (Okra fried with its leaves), dipped in a light lentil curry and devoured. Athanu (Sour Mango Pickle) and Chhunda (Sweet Mango Pickle) played their vital roles in making mangoes the centerpiece of the breakfast spread. Kaki would occasionally give us a smile while tending to the next batch of rotlis (whole wheat flour chapati).
Bataka tamata (a dish of potatoes with a light tomato sauce) reminded me of days gone by when a similar dish was served by my mother with parathas, before a school lesson or for a quick breakfast. One might ask, “This meal is so simple, how special can it be?”
While indulging in a plate of Mohanthal (a jaggery-based gram flour dessert), Chiman’s voice echoed with the afternoon breeze. Despite the scorching sun, it was cool. A cold glass of chaas (buttermilk) to accompany melancholic daydreams called for deeper reflection on the true meaning of well-being. It was not the many comforts of a restaurant meal but an outdoor meal that created a sense of deep connection to the land and its people with whom I shared it.
The meals at the retreat itself were no less in terms of providing a sensory experience to the soul. Every day we ate breakfast in a simple garden, surrounded by awake birds and the uninterrupted chorus of chirping, complete with Raju’s melodious flute in the background. Course after course, the sattvic meal plan seemed to be deliciously wholesome. I honestly didn’t expect to have an organic Patra (leaf fritters) that didn’t leak oil.
No less intriguing was a delicious cooking session with Executive Chef, Haresh Patel. A man sporting a lingering smile and a twinkle in his eye, Patel was the main contributor to the retreat’s new offering, a Sattvic meal plan.
According to him, menus change with the seasons and feature locally grown vegetables, organic foods, and carefully selected meat, fish and poultry, as they rely heavily on locally grown produce and do not airlift anything that comes to your plate. Even slow eating and silent eating are some of the dining experiences curated in line with the wellness approach here.
A curious demonstration took place at the Alfresco dining room by the beautiful swimming pool where we made ‘Stir-fried Kathgobi mix’, with shredded cabbage (kohlrabi) or commonly known as ‘ganth gobi’ as the main ingredient and raw mangoes that we picked up on a morning walk inside the property. Rich in potassium and vitamin C, the vegetable brings back fond memories of a winter curry my mother used to make, with juicy potatoes and green peas in a pale yellow sauce, on a plate of steaming rice.
The idea of “sattva” (meaning purity in Sanskrit) is reflected in the culinary style through its simplicity and closeness to nature. “Ayurveda has taught us that what we eat should have its food intact, so the idea is to never overcook and retain the natural flavors by locking them into the flavors,” explains Chef Patel.
As he explained the basics of slow cooking, I stood there convinced. Sattva keeps us firmly rooted in our roots and is something I could definitely practice more often for the simple joys. At that point, traveling made me a tiny bit richer than before having a meal in a mango orchard.
Sattvic Moringa Sabzi by Chef Haresh Patel, Executive Chef, Woods At Sasan Ingredients:
Moringa leaves/Drumstick leaves – 2 cups
Oil/Ghee – 1 tsp
Mustard seeds – ¼ tsp
Cumin/Jeera seeds – ¼ tsp.
Chopped tomato – 2nos
Chopped ginger – 1 tsp
Turmeric powder – 1 pinch
Salt to taste
Wash the drumstick leaves, drain and pat dry. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour a little oil and heat well. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds and simmer over medium heat. Add chopped ginger and sauté for a few minutes until it becomes soft. Add drumstick leaves, turmeric powder and stir to combine. Add chopped tomato and salt. When the leaves shrink, it means they are cooked. Turn off the fire. Serve with Laccha Paratha accompanied by Mango Pickle/Carrot Pickle/Kathor (sautéed sprouts).