Mahendra Singh Dhoni served it to his Chennai Super Kings teammates. Aamir Khan raved about it on a trip to Patna. There are numerous Bhojpuri songs dedicated to it. For me however, litti chokha evokes childhood memories of chilly winter nights and earthy aromas wafting through the family garden.
Littis are baked, wholewheat dough balls usually stuffed with spicy sattu (roasted Bengal gram flour). The fragrant filling includes spices like ajwain (carom), mangraila (nigella seed), garlic flakes, green chillies, ginger, amchoor (dried mango powder), and mustard oil. There are plain versions too, which are eaten with thickened milk or kheer. Chokha, the litti’s soul mate, is made with mashed, chargrilled potatoes, brinjals, and tomatoes. Accompaniments have now expanded from the traditional chokha to coriander chutney, shredded green salad, stuffed red chilli pickle, and even chicken and mutton curries.
For the people of Bihar, the simple snack has a solid association with the land they come from. In the 19th century, when the British took indentured labour from Bhojpur to countries around the world, litti travelled with them to Mauritius, Fiji, Suriname, South Africa, and the Caribbean: It continues to exist among the diaspora. My own fondest recollections of litti chokha are from the rare occasions when an obliging guest from Bihar would go the whole hog and slow cook it for us the traditional way, infusing the dough balls with a smoky flavour. Scrubbed clean with a napkin, they would be cracked open, drenched in piping hot ghee and served with the piquant chokha. We would devour them instantly.
Although I associate littis with frosty weather, it is an all-season, staple street-eat and popular fast food. From roadside vendors to residences and restaurants, virtually every town in Bihar, Jharkhand, and eastern Uttar Pradesh roasts (and boasts about) littis. It is low-cost, nutritious, portable, long-lasting, and filling: reasons why it is equally appealing to farmers, who carry this power-packed meal to their fields, and other locals, who routinely snack on it.
Appeared in the February 2015 issue as “Little Spheres, Hefty Cheers”.
In Patna there is no dearth of street-side stalls selling litti chokha hot off an iron grill, heated over an earthen chulha. For an authentic sampling visit the 50-year-old Kotha Par Dukan near the railway station; for a delicious litti-mutton combo, head to the Bandar Bagicha Crossing. Patna’s citizens also recommend tucking in at the Mauryalok Shopping Complex.