India is a land of food and foodies, of mind-boggling cuisines and of soul stirring dishes. When it comes to food, there is a whole different culture and diversity associated to it. The country being a confluence of many cultures, has given space to cuisines from various foreign lands that bring further richness to the food scene. From street foods like and to delicacies like and to comfort foods like and ; all have a unique place in our hearts. However, one dish that is quite underrated but has a rich history to it is the humble .
The term Khichdi comes from the Sanskrit word , meaning a dish of rice and legumes. Largely, Khichdi is made from rice and lentils, but there are some other regional variations like Bajra Khichdi and Moong Khichdi. In Hindu culture, it is one of the first solid foods that babies eat. Also, Khichdi is believed to be the inspiration behind the Anglo Indian dish , a dish consisting of cooked, flaked fish (traditionally smoked haddock), boiled rice, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, curry powder, butter or cream, and occasionally sultanas.
Earliest references to Khichdi
The earliest reference to Khichdi could be found in the Indian epic ‘Mahabharata’, the events pertaining to which are believed to have taken place between 9th and 8th centuries BCE. In the ‘Mahabharata’, Draupadi is said to have fed Khichdi to the Pandavas during their exile. Also, it was a grain of rice from it eaten by Lord Krishna that made a hungry and furious Rishi Durvasha lose his appetite when he and his disciples dropped in suddenly for lunch. Khichdi is also mentioned in Sudama’s story. Sudama, Lord Krishna’s friend went to meet him to Dwarka from Vrindavan and carried two (bundles), one containing Khichdi and the other roasted gram. The potli that contained Khichdi was snatched from a tree by a monkey. However, he was able to take a part of the other one to Dwarka where Krishna ate some of the gram and bestowed blessings on his friend.
The Greek king Seleucus, during his campaign in India between 305-303 BC, mentioned that rice with pulses is very popular among people of the Indian subcontinent. The Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta mentions as a dish in India composed of rice and Moong beans, during his stay around 1350. Battuta wrote, Khichdi is also described in the writings of Afanasiy Nikitin, a Russian adventurer who travelled to the Indian subcontinent in the 15th century.
Khichdi and the Mughals
It was under the Mughals that Khichdi rose to prominence in the subcontinent. Akbar was voraciously fond of Khichdi as he was a frugal eater. He preferred to have his meals alone. The Akbar-Birbal story, about Birbal using Khichdi to make Akbar accept a mistake in judgement is known to everyone. A little known fact pertaining to Akbar’s courtier Abul Fazl, and his relation to Khichdi is very fascinating. Fazl used to get 30 maunds of Khichdi cooked every day and anybody passing by his house could relish on it for 24 hours. Going by the quantities, a maund was 40 seers or approximately 40 kg, and 30 maunds equals to 1,200 kg of Khichdi every day!
Among the other Mughal emperors, Jahangir’s was very fond of a spicy Khichdi variation enriched with pistachios and raisins and named it (the delicious). Aurangzeb was quite fond of Khichdi ( , a spin-off featuring fish and boiled eggs) during Ramzan and Bahadur Shah Zafar enjoyed eating Moong-ki-Dal Khichdi so much that the Dal came to be known as . In the 19th century, Nawab of Awadh Nasir-ud-din Shah’s royal kitchen was famous for its royal chef who used to make an extravagant Khichdi entirely from pistachios and almonds which were cut to resemble the grains of lentils and rice respectively.
Khichdi and the British royalty
Interestingly, Khichdi went to England as well to Queen Victoria. She got a taste of Khichdi when Munshi Abdul Karim, her Urdu tutor, offered her some. But she liked and preferred Masoor-ki-Dal mixed in rice with it, whose soup was often served to her. This is how the Dal came to be known as .
Today, every region in India has its own take on the classic dish that is Khichdi. It is India’s very own version of culinary comfort. From serving it as a baby’s first meal to an easily digestible and nutritious meal for a sick person, Khichdi is a part of diverse occasions. So next time, whenever you utter the phrase, (What schemes are you making), don’t forget to cook and eat a bowlful of this soulful delight.
By: Kartikeya Shankar