Vernika Awal visits her home state of Punjab to study the impact of Partition on their cuisine. She finds a recipe for celebration whose roots lie in suffering.
Everyone talks about the rich food and culture of Punjab, but tend to forget that the state also experienced very hard times, especially during Partition.
During those dark times, celebrations were next to none. But it is in the refugee camps that this dish found its origins. Each family received only rationed groceries like bread, potatoes, onions and salt, and had to make the most of it during auspicious occasions like Gurpurab, Diwali and New Year. Not a community to be bogged down by suffering, the families in the refugee camps of erstwhile Punjab (from both sides of the newly divided border) learnt to make the most of these ingredients. Many were sure that partition was a temporary thing, and as a result, only carried a few utensils and ghee, to cook with. It is using that ghee, rationed bread, milk and sugar, the bread halwa was born.
This dish serves as a reminder of tougher times, and how we as a community, learnt to spread happiness and celebrate, even when there seemed very little hope for the future. To me, and a huge section of the Punjabi community, this dish stands for strength, willpower, and a deep love for food.
With time, as we move ahead, we are quick to let go of the past and the stories of our history. But such recipes and their stories remind one where we came from, and how to look ahead in life when the going gets tough.
Bread Halwa Recipe
1 cup ghee
½ pack of bread (brown or white)
1 cup coarse sugar
½ cup milk - to mash the bread
1 tsp cardamom powder
Almonds, to garnish
Mash the bread with milk, and make a crumble out of it.
In a hot kadhai, add ghee. When it is sizzling hot, add the crumbled bread mix.
To this, add the coarse sugar and cardamom powder.
Cook on low flame till it all comes together, and the ghee begins to separate
Garnish with almonds
Vernika Awal is a journalist and storyteller. You can follow her here.
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