One fine afternoon, crossing a bridge on river Gomati in Lucknow I noticed a very old lady selling vegetables on the pathway. She was sitting besides a heap of red and green pile of seasons’s special, water chestnut called locally as singhara. My taste buds clubbed with the pleasure of buying freshest from the source itself, forced me to stop. I focused on green and red singhara and after some minor bargain to satiate my Indian bargaining instinct, settled to buy two kg of them. While the lady was packing them in a polythene bag, I noticed there was a small heap of yellowish buds and flowers too. I asked her what was that?. She looked back at me with a hint of disappointment at my lack of knowledge and said in a feeble voice that those were the Sanai ke phool. I took hold of Singharas and stressed my memory cells to recall if inside me there were any memories of that . I had heard this word from my mother sometimes perhaps and it was probably used as a vegetable in the kitchen. But even at my age, I had never eaten them. I paused for few moments and though was not sure about it, decided to give it a try. I bought half a kg of it as the buds and flowers even at this weight were a polythene bag full.
I came back to my house and handed over the singharas and the bag of Sanai ke phool to my mother. She had a look on both of them but her eyes got stuck at sanai ke phool. She looked back at me and said, “Where have you got them from?”. I was little bemused by his query and told her the sequence of my purchase on the bridge. She smiled first and then her eyes got little moistened. She said in an emotional voice that sanai ke phool were prized recipe in her younger days and she had not cooked them for decades. I was little amazed by my found now. Not cooked by her for decades! But what she told me next was even bigger shock. She told those were actually jute plant buds called as sanai ke phool in northern India. She told that in villages in her times people used to grow jute for their native uses like rope making and fuel wood and its buds were used for the seasonal recipe. So was I going to eat jute?. Is it possible to eat jute , from which ropes and other products are made?. Yes, she said. I was fully bowled out by now and understood the disappointment of old lady vegetable vendor. My mother now asked me to wait for the evening to taste what she had not cooked for three decades. My taste buds were salivating already at the prospect of a never eaten recipe of my life.
Waiting for the evening to unfold , I decided to enrich my knowledge by googling. Jute is broadly classified into white jute or corchorus capsularis and tossa jute or chorchorous olitorious. It is grown widely in India and Bangladesh and after cotton is most widely used natural fiber. Its buds and flowers are used for culinary and medicinal purposes. It is rich in beta carotene, calcium and iron. Being rich in Fibre, medicinally it is said to be useful in curing constipation and in treating other stomach ailments. Dried up stems of jute are used as fuel wood too. Globally, India is the leading producer of jute, followed closely by Bangladesh. Recently, The Center for Science and Environment, an NGO run by indomitable Sunita Narain has published a book titled First Food: A Taste of India’s Biodiversity. It enlists the various traditional but now forgotten recipes including the pictured below Jute Pakora prepared from Jute Leaves.
Fed and appetised by so much of knowledge about sanai, by evening I was raring to have a go at the recipe. My mother sensed my eagerness and prepared dinner earlier than other days. The table was set. I decided to taste it first by taking a small spoonful and put in my mouth. I closed my eyes and tried to imbibe the taste and fragrance of the recipe. It was simply mouth watering and amazing. The taste of it was like no other recipe I have ever had. Mother was looking at my face and offered me now a bowl full of it. I polished it off in no time, with few hot chapatis. The taste of it was of course enhanced by the love of my mother. I was really having for the first time, one great recipe of my culinary life. She watched me with the satisfaction of a mother nursing his child. I can’t forget those moments ever. I was also wondering how come earlier, I had not tasted this recipe in my life!. Other members of the family got a leaner portion of the recipe but everybody was happy to see me smiling and my mother thanked me for letting her travel down memory lane after decades. What a day it was for me!. I thanked that old lady who was selling this rather forgotten culinary jewel of India.
Do you feel hungry? Trust me. Throw all caution to winds and just go for it!