Today, there was a discussion on street foods with my schoolmates on WhatsApp. We were remembering our good old days and found that we are all still in love of the street foods. I am a street foodie. I love street foods.
When the discussion was over, I was remembering another street food, which is very much popular in Bihar and Jharkhand — Litti-Chokha! I first tasted litti-chokha when I was posted in Ranchi in 1997. I love it ever since. I eat it nowadays when I visit Ranchi. Litti shares a resemblance with the famous Rajasthani cuisine Baati except it’s spicy. There are many street stalls serving this dish in Bihar and Jharkhand. The one near the High Court in Doranda is famous and quite popular in Ranchi.
Litti along with chokha is a complete meal. Litti is a dough ball made up of whole wheat flour and stuffed with Sattu mixed with herbs and spices and then baked over coal or cow dung cakes or wood and sometimes it is also tossed with lots of ghee.
The street stalls also serve litti fried or soaked in ghee — clarified butter, but I prefer the dry baked ones. Litti is served with chokha — mashed potato or char-grilled eggplant done with chilies, onion, tomato, cumin powder, coriander, and turmeric powder. Sattu is a very popular flour in the Indian states of UP and Bihar. There is no English name for Sattu, but for the convenience sake, you may call it Roasted chickpeas or Gram powder. Traditionally, Chickpeas or Chana dal (Bengal gram) is roasted in hot sand and then grind to powder. The reason for using the sand is that the individual bits get roasted evenly.
The Magadh kingdom gave birth to yet another culinary wonder called ‘Litti’, known to be a Bihari specialty today. Litti was a staple in the court of Magadh and outside as well. Litti, which surprisingly had similar ingredients as Baati – it is made of wheat, ghee and water and baked in the sun – had one ace up the rustic cousin – it had a spicy filling of Sattu.
Magadh was a big empire and its capital Pataliputra used to be a very prosperous city. When the Greek ambassador Megasthenes visited in 302 BCE, he was stunned by Pataliputra, as Patna, the capital of the Indian state of Bihar, was then known. It had, Megasthenes reported, 64 gates and 570 towers, not to mention gardens, palaces, temples and stables full of war elephants. He wrote:
I have seen the great cities of the east, I have seen the Persian palaces of Susa and Ecbatana, but this is the greatest city in the world.
Of course, Litti underwent changes as new rulers came in. With the Mughal Empire, Litti was served with shorbas and payes; with Britishers, curry came in and so forth. But it was the classic combination of Litti-Chokha, which was a mash of roasted eggplant, onions and tomatoes, and chutney that survived.
Litti emerged as a ‘brave sepoy’, when the rebels virtually survived on it during the Mutiny of 1857. Tantia Tope, Rani Lakshmi Bai, and the likes chose it as their ‘food for survival’ as it can be baked without any utensils or much water in the jungles and ravines, which meant lesser chance of being caught, and Litti could stay for as long as two–three days.
Today litti chokha is not only a favourite dish for people in Bihar and Jharkhand, but it has gained an international reputation. This delicious dish has found numerous fans in foreign countries as well.