Despite the art of pickling fading in modern times, food enthusiasts still take pride in dishing out authentic and unique pickles as the Parsi's 'Lagan nu Achar' or 'Bamboo pickle' of Meghalaya tribals.
"Pickling is a reflection of who you are. It requires right ingredients, right attitude and patience," says celebrity chef and restaurateur Kunal Kapur. Although he admits that pickling is losing sheen, he feels that those who have still preserved the art are immensely proud of their techniques and uniqueness associated with the delectable culinary style.
When it comes to pickles, we only think about the traditional lime, mango and chilli pickles, but "pickling is a higher form of art-meets-science... I Feel proud to pickle," shared Chef Kunal Kapur. The 36-year-old Delhi-based Chef has been intrigued and surprised to see the unique techniques and ingredients used to make pickle. He feels pickles are still a very essential part of Indian food.
He also got an insight into the pickle makers' vivid reasons and stories behind how and why they prepare them.
The Parsi Style
"For instance, with the Parsis in Ahmedabad, it is mandatory to make 'Lagan nu Achar' and give it to the elders and relatives in the family before they finalize the marriage of a couple," he said.
Bamboo Pickle of Meghalaya
"In another fascinating instance, the Karbi tribe from Meghalaya has evolved a special dance that enacts the recipe of the Bamboo pickle.
"The ancestors believed that if the bamboo was not pickled in the right season then it might lead to hunger in the winters, and so the recipe for this crucial pickle was made into a dance form and till date the couples enact this dance to reveal the recipe," said Chef Kapur, who recently launched his fine-dining at Souk al Bahar in Downtown Dubai.
The Ker Sangri Achaar of Rajasthan
Detailing the fascinating art of pickling, he said that in Jodhpur, the 'ker sangrika achar' is the legacy of love for nature of the Bishnoi tribe. The Ker shrub and the Sangri tree are the few that grow in this otherwise difficult region. The fruit of the 'khejri tree' is sangri and it is a very critical tree to the ecology of the place. Many have sacrificed their lives to protect this tree. "The 'ker sangri' pickle made from this tree is one of the reasons for survival of the Bishnoi tribe," said Kunal.
The Mahali pickle made by the Tamil Brahmins
"Mahali is a root that smells of intense vanilla, bitter almond and cinnamon, and it is pickled in yogurt. It is not short of a miracle that no vinegar or oil is used yet the pickle survives for over two years in curd," Chef Kunal said.
The Hyderabadi Mango Pickle
"A Hyderabadi style of mango pickle breaks the long held notion that a drop of water can destroy a pickle, as this mango pickle is made in water. Limestone or 'chuna' is added to preserve the pickle."
"As I have discovered, pickles are an integral part of how people define their food culture, and each region is intensely passionate about their pickles," opined Chef Kapur.
"I see a decline in the pickle making that traditionally used to happen. Traditional pickle making is an art and complete fun, but with our fast-paced lives we live a life of convenience," he said. "Bottled pickles have taken over for most young couples. Also, smaller houses with improper sunlight and unpredictable weather are some more reasons adding to go for a bottled pickle over pickling," he added. Also, the fast-paced lifestyle has pushed the art of pickling onto the back-burner.
"Food and life of convenience has taken over the traditional ways of doing things. Pickling is not spared as well. Some of the worst tasting pickles are unfortunately the most selling now. No matter which vegetable the bottle has, all of them have a standard taste," he added.
"Traditionally there was a thought behind a particular pickle made in a particular way... It was once a part of a balanced diet," noted Chef Kunal.
On people's preferences towards pickles, he said, "People nowadays want less oil and less salt in their pickles, this is one part they are very clear about. Chilli and mango pickles still are a hot favourite."
People tend to avoid pickles for various health reasons these days. "Yes, that is becoming a common practice. I wish people could eat what they wanted and burn it as well with exercise routine. Also, there is less awareness on water based or no oil pickles," exclaimed Kunal Kapur, who has also written, 'A Chef in Every Home'.
When asked about the demand for chutneys, the chef added, "Surprisingly, chutney is something that everyone relates to. In fact, chutney is an English word now. Chutneys have been more experimental and hence, can be made to suit any taste profile."
Finally, Chef Kunal also shared a few tips for pickle enthusiasts. "Pickle things when in season. Consult your elder in family for the recipes. Care for it like you would care and nurture a child. Keep it simple and clean... Feel proud to pickle," he said.