There are foods and drinks that once fed Punjab, but have lost out to quicker and fancier preparations. For instance, wadi (dry lentil cakes) with chawal, also called 'haneri' in rural areas, is a dish that has become a rarity in Punjabi households.
Not many youngsters know 'churi', comprising of paranthas mixed with shakkar and ghee was what that their parents grew up relishing. Chapatti eaten with mango was a meal in itself while 'kanji', made with black carrots, isn't as popular anymore.
Recently, the Heritage and Punjab Tourism Promotion Board and Food Craft Institute, Hoshiarpur; in association with Indian Culinary Forum, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Northern India and National Council for Hotel Management, came together to launch a first of its kind culinary contest in the state - one that intends to revive these forgotten ethnic Punjabi delicacies and possibly include them in the fine dining menus.
The contest, Star Chef Punjab, braces for its finale on March 27 and 28 in Hoshiarpur where 24 candidates from eight cities in Punjab will compete for the coveted title. The screening for the final round of the competition has already thrown up surprises.
Shares Navdeep Sharma, principal of Food Craft Institute, Hoshiarpur, and a member of Culinary Institute and Research Centre, New Delhi, "The contestants prepared unusual dishes, pleasantly surprising us. For instance, an 82-year-old lady from Gurdaspur prepared mixed vegetables in the traditional Punjabi style, without the use of ginger and garlic and vegetables cooked in their own juices without adding many spices.
Then there was a dish called 'shahi khajoor', a pure sweet delicacy using dates. A lady from Ludhiana also prepared 'phulkari pulao', which is a mix of a variety of rice. This was refreshing since traditional pulao is increasingly giving way to biryani, which is a Hyderabadi cuisine."
However, the idea behind the initiation of the contest is not limited to saving the region's ethnic cuisine from dying a silent death, but also to revive it to suit the modernised taste buds. A Chandigarh-based chef with 25 years of experience, who will act as one of the three judges in the finals, says that while the evolution of a cuisine is inevitable and should be welcomed, it can be kept alive by adding a contemporary touch.
"The history of using tomatoes in gravies is not more than 60 years old. Earlier, they used amchoor powder, dried plums and imli powder that created a burst of flavours in the gravies and a distinct taste in the mouth.
In the same vein, use of poppy seeds is out in Punjabi cuisine, once considered an essential. We don't want to lose that magic," he explains, adding, "Food has to become fashionable to be popular. We are encouraging innovations to original ethnic food."
Notably, the contest has been divided into three categories, for the general public, professionals, and culinary students. The winner from each category would be awarded a cash prize of Rs 25,000, while two runners-up will be given Rs 15,000 and Rs 10,000 each.