29/12/2015 12:24 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

'Pickling Is A Higher Form Of Art', Says Indian Chef Kunal Kapur" data-caption="Some of the bounty from this autumn's sweet pickle making adventures. Recipe, etc:" data-credit="Grathio/Flickr">

MUMBAI -- Despite the art of pickling fading in modern times, there are food enthusiasts who still take pride in dishing out authentic and unique pickles as the Parsi's 'Lagan nu Achar' or 'Bamboo pickle' of Meghalaya tribals, who enact its recipe in a dance.

"A pickle 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 pickle, we only think about the traditional lime, mango and chilli pickles, but "pickling is a higher form of art-meets-science...feel proud to pickle," Kapur told PTI in an interview.

The 36-year-old Delhi-based Chef Consultant with the Leela Group, as a part of his countrywide tour while hosting TV show 'Pickle Nation', has been intrigued and surprised to see the unique techniques and ingredients used to make pickle, which he feels is 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.

"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 formalise the marriage of a couple," he said.

"In another fascinating instance, the Karbi tribe from Meghalaya has evolved a special dance that enacts the recipe of the Bamboo pickle.

"The ancestors knew 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 Kapur, who recently launched his fine-dining at Souk al Bahar in Downtown Dubai.

Detailing the fascinating art of pickling, he said that in Jodhpur, the 'ker sangri ka 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 the 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.

Another example is the Mahali pickle made by 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," Kunal said.

In another insight, he said, "A Hyderabadi style of mango pickle breaks the long held notion by me 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," said Kapur.

But, he feels the health conscious modern generation is drifting apart from the traditional food culture.

"I sure 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," says the chef.

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 that the bottle has, all of them have a standard taste," he rued.

"Traditionally there was a thought after reason to eat a particular pickle made in a particular way...was a part of balanced diet," says Kunal, who has played host in many TV shows like "Masterchef India" and "Junior Masterchef India".

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," feels Kapur, who has authored the cookbook 'A Chef in Every Home'.

Amid talk of pickles, when asked about the demand for chutneys, the chef said, "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.

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