Needless to say after humans figured out that fire cooked food and made it tastier. They possibly looked for a medium to cook in to extend their knowledge of pit and spit cooking, according to my friend and an eminent food writer Rahul Verma, the first cooking utensils were tree barks, essentially to hold some liquid and provide a layer of separation to avoid food chaaring. It was soon replaced by clay (around 15,000 years ago!) and clay pot cooking has stayed on ever since.
Let’s bring this humble clay and pair it with the humble cuisine of our country and what we get is an understated yet sure winner. The long slow cooking that is inherent to our cuisine allows little to go wrong when cooking in claypots. Also the spices that we add to our food tend to mature over a period of time and taste better thanks to the porous nature of unglazed clay….
Whether it is the sarson ka saag and urad dal that is cooked in the “Taudis” of Punjab , the fish Curries cooked in the “Kundlems” of the local dhabas (Khanawats) of Goa (some of them still remain in Bicholim Taluka) or the Malwan fish curry and the dish that I hold a special bias towards – the Syrian Christian fish curry which tastes the most superb the next day, left in the chatti that its cooked in. (Have to mention the kullarh waali chai, the raarha doodh and Mishti doi).
I have always believed that our relationship to food is an extension of our relationship to life and aspects around us. Earth and clay have been our bond to nature; philosophically from time immemorial earth has always stood for life and rebirth.
As a chef seeing a claypot is a comforting sign because it shows we’re going back to our roots yet again. All that this humble chef asks is to look inwards at our cuisine as well when appreciating “foren claypot cuisine”, as “mitti” has always been the essence of Indian food and philosophy.