In defence of khichdi: Why the humble rice gruel deserves our love and respect

Perhaps, it's time khichdi is given its due and not catergorised as food for the sick

Khichdi is national food, kyunki desh bimaar hai (because country is ill) – such tweets, dripped with sarcasm, has been flooding our timelines ever since some reports claimed that the humble rice gruel had been accorded the status of national food. These reports were also used by detractors to get back at the government on pretty much everything – on India’s economic state of affairs, on communal tension, food policing, exclusionary politics, hyper-nationalism and regional chauvinism.

Sample these tweets:

Sasidharan Pazhoo‏
Cows, Yoga, Khichdi, Mandir & Vegetarianism. If you still want more proof that Brahmanism rules us, you are either a sanghi or plain stupid.

I don’t like our to be National Food. Will it be anti-national to say I hate Khichdi.  soon they’ll force you to eat Khichdi  Why Khichdi!

Soon we’ll witness a thread about how eating Khichdi helped someone deliver Swadeshi triplets  and how Ram used to eat Khichdi everyday. 

Salil Tripathi
The penny drops. Khichdi is what our mothers give us to recover from illness. After DeMo and GST the economy is so sick, it needs khichdi.

Twinkle Khanna‏
Can’t stop laughing!New national dish-Khichdi & in its honour a Khichdi version of Vande Mataram by this melodious gentleman:) #DalNahinGali

Reading these tweets, one finds it difficult to figure out – who is at the receiving end of this deluge of wit and sarcasm– khichdi or the government?

Responding to these not-very-favourable opinions on khichdi as national food, Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur sent out this buzzkill.

Enough Khichdi cooked up on a fictitious ‘National Dish’. It has only been put for a record entry in #WorldFoodIndia.

Here are the facts that need to be taken into account, now that khichdi as national food has become the most important and the most debatable issue of national importance –

1. No, khichdi has not been declared as the national food.

2. On November 4, in a bid to enter the Guinness book of world records, 800 kg of khichdi will be prepared at the ongoing World Food India event.

3. According to Kaur, khichdi was chosen as the face of the event because “it is the wonder staple food of India and is considered the healthiest prepared food in India and it is being eaten across length and breadth of India by rich and poor.”

One could say the government was a little partial in choosing khichdi over a wide range of other food items that could have represented our rich culinary culture at the ongoing event. To be fair, though, khichdi is as pan-India as it gets. It’s difficult to find so many variants of any other dish, suited to each region’s taste buds. Perhaps, Biryani could be another popular choice. But again it would have been an exclusionary choice in its own way — vegetarians and those living in poverty, struggling to put food on their plate would feel left out.

Read More: Putting the spotlight on the other ‘Khichdi’: Why the sitcom will always be our favourite

Talking about how inclusive a dish Khichdi is food historian Pritha Sen in an interview to InUth says, “The mind-boggling variety that we have is representative of the spicing, the resources, the produce and the cooking styles each region has. It ranges from being comfort food and sick bed food to seasonal food and ritual food to the rich and lavish food of aristocracy. The variety lends itself equally to vegetarian (sans onion and garlic) and carnivore versions.”

To outrightly reject khichdi as the food for the ill and its promotion as rooted in some nefarious government project would be doing a great disservice to this food item and its syncretism.

Sen has an explanation for why people are outraged over khichdi being accorded such honour at a global platform. “There are many such (quirky) versions (of khichdi) and most are unaware. Which is why the outrage at Khichdi being accorded a pan-Indian status,” she says.

Going into how khichdi can also be a non-vegetarian’s delight, she says: “There are recipes for khichdi from Akbar’s kitchen and Jahangir’s favourite food was a very rich Gujarati khichdi called Lazizan, heavy with spices and nuts. One of the first cookbooks out of Bengal in the19th-centuryy lists at least 17 varieties of khichdi recipes collected from across India, incorporating versions from settlers in India as well. So we see recipes from various regions including very meaty ones like Mughlai, Kabuli, Jehangiri, Zarda, Daudkhani and Makeswar — clearing showing the influence of Muslim rule and other influences including Gujarati, Armenian, Yehudi (Jewish), Afghani and English.

Perhaps, its time that khichdi is given its due and not catergorised as sick food.

37-year old Kolkata-based Saket Kandoi has been fighting a lone battle of “gourmetfying” the humble khichdi. Last year, he helped his mother Madhu Kandoi start an all women’s kitchen Khichdi-khichri but has found it very difficult to attract investors. He is all praise for the government’s attempt to give khichdi an image-makeover. “It’s so easy to sell something as unhealthy as a plate of momo. But to sell khichdi seems like winning a mindset battle. But once someone orders khichdi from our kitchen, they always come back. There is enough demand for it.” There are 24 varieties of the rice gruel that Khichdi Khichri’s kitchen sell and there is a khichdi salad too. So, yes, even the dining industry is looking at reinventing this food item.

Back to khichdi and politics, it’s unfair to give a bad name to this much misunderstood food item just to mock the government. Let’s liberate the adaptable, non judgemental, affordable and the affable khichdi from this mesh of toxic online conversations.


The origin of khichdi

The origin of the name ‘khichdi’, also known as kushari, lies in the Sanskrit ‘khiccha’, meaning a rice-and-pulse-based dish. The formal Bengali name of the dish is a rather curious ‘khechranno’, with ‘anno’ meaning rice. Further digging has revealed that ‘khechar’ in Sanskrit means birds. So khechranno literally is bird-feed! I suppose the practice of scattering mixed grains for birds is at the root of the nomenclature. The Charak Samhita, an ancient ayurvedic medical text, extols the virtues of the khichuri. The dish also finds mention in the ancient writings of Seleucas Nicator, the emissary of Alexander the Great, and in the medieval travelogues of Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, Ibn Batutah and Abdur Razzak. It is believed that the love for khichuri spread across India through pilgrimages, as it was the easiest to cook – Pritha Sen

A little khichdi trivia

According to Russian traveller Akanasy Nikitin who came in 1470, khichdi was even fed to the horses! – Pritha Sen