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Yawat, India: Charcoal is passť. Cow dung is in.
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Once the New Year bash is over, folks look forward to Hurda (hur as in hurray; da as in Darwin) Party. Hurda is the name given to tender Jowar - the main staple grain of rural Maharashtra, India. In early January, Jowar grain is juicy and very tender. Just the right time to be eaten roasted. That's were cow dung takes over. Cakes of dried cow dung make for excellent roasting medium - slow and long lasting.
Like every year, gracious couple Sanju & Dhanyakumar Chordia were the hosts. I was invited along with friends to Suhana Farms at Yawat about 45 kms. from Pune on the Hyderabad highway. This was going to be a fun Sunday afternoon.
Freshly squeezed sugar cane juice is a much needed welcome drink. The sugar-conscious can opt for a cup of piping hot tea; brewed with fresh milk. After exchange of pleasantries and a walk in the farm, action begins around the barbeque pit.
The pit is a hole with a diameter of about 3 feet and depth of 1 foot. Cow dung cakes are piled up in a way to allow for proper combustion. When lit, the first few minutes are all smoky. When that's gone, the pit glows red, signaling for the Hurda to be put in. From now on it's an art.
Bunches of Hurda with stems that work as a grip are pushed in the hot pit. In about five minutes the tender grains are nicely roasted. The pit keepers, let's call them Hurda makers, have mastered the art of holding the roasted Hurda, burning hot, in their bare palms. Vigorous rubbing, using both the palms, separates the roasted Hurda from the chaff.
You will now witness the spirit of sharing. Hurda is passed around the group. Every hand takes just a morsel and passes the Hurda to the neighbours so that they can take their share of a mouthful and pass the hot Hurda further up. The cycle goes on and on and on till such time everybody in the group is full up to the chin.
Hurda is enjoyed best with accompaniments. Typical is plain yoghurt, a potent combination of crushed groundnuts & red peppers & garlic, jaggery (reduced sugarcane juice) and not to forget roasted baby onions, brinjals, potatoes, sweet potatoes and corn. We had all these albeit you can stick to your favourite. The gastronomic adventure lasts for about an hour after which you are encouraged to walk and wander around. It's fascinating to see how the country air and water quickly prepares you for the dinner ahead.
Dinner is what the folks in rural Maharashtra usually have everyday, but for the city dwellers it's a treat. Since appropriate English words, fail me to describe the menu, I take the liberty of reciting the same in Marathi (Maharashtra's official language) - pithala, bhakri, mirchi cha thecha, vangyachi bhaji, kandyachi phod, aamti and bhat. For desserts we had hot and juicy jalebis.
If you are in Pune, in January and not so lucky to have friends who have farms, don't lose heart. There are quite a few farm owners who offer Hurda Parties for a small fee. You can opt for Hurda cum lunch or Hurda cum dinner. If you have the appetite, go for both. The day is all yours.
It's worth a try.
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