Corbett Country was immortalised by Jim Corbett in his book The Maneaters Of Kumaon, but little is known about the cuisine of this little jewel of India. The geographical area of Kumaon lies in the north eastern section of the state of Uttar Pradesh. Bordering Nepal and Tibet on one side, and Uttar Pradesh on the other, the aborigines of the area were the Khasaa tribals till about the 10th Century. Over the years countless immigrations took place, from Nepal, Tibet, even as far West from the coastal region of Maharashtra. So there is a layering of various ethnic groups which today form the collective Kumaoni community. As in most Indian states four strong class groups are dominant, the Brahmins, Thakurs or Rajputs, agriculturalists and the Scheduled Tribes. Nainital, Almora, Haldwani, Pittoragarh, Bindsar, Kausani (which Gandhiji called the Switzerland of India) and Ranikhet (the home of tweed manufacture and a large army cantonment) are the most well known urban centres of Kumaon. Yet the food of the area generally remains common to all. What is interesting is that among the Brahmins, there are the meat eating Brahmins, who are basically shaakt or devi worshippers and the non-meat eating Vaishnavite brahmins. In fact in many traditional Vaishnav brahmin households the use of onion or garlic in their eating patterns was prohibited.

In spite of being hill country, with temperatures which swing on either side of the extremes, the land is fertile and the forests are green. The forests are abundant with oak, and pine, and fruits like apples, peaches, pears, plums, pomegranates, apricots grow in abundance. Wheat and rice yielded a good crop. What was not lavishly available was milk. For the hill cows do not really yield a great amount of milk, and thus milk was not very much part of the cooking practice.

It is simple cuisine, extremely nutritious, basically vegetarian, except for the use of mutton, and now chicken. Through the year in Kumaoni households, rice is an essential part of every meal. Traditionally the eating pattern of the region consisted of mainly two meals. A kind of a brunch which was eaten any time between nine and eleven in the morning before the men of the household left for work, and then dinner which was always eaten early, by eight. Tea was consumed through the day. A pahari as the Kumaonis are known because they live in the hills or pahar will never say no to a cup of tea at any time of the day.

Food was cooked usually in iron vessels, over a charcoal or wood fire, the lentil based preparations over slow heat, so that a creamy texture was the leit motif of taste. Bhatt, a variety of soya bean is black in colour, and lends itself to a variety of combinations and preparations. The other is a rust brown lentil called gahatwhich is known as kulath in Himachal Pradesh, is yet another traditional typical ingredient of Kumaon. Imbued with medicinal properties, it is recommended for those with kidney problems. Badis or large dried balls with the urad dal base is mixed with either the large cucumbers typical of the region or with petha which is also grown in the region. Mangodi is the smaller version of the badi and is made of moong dal. Both the mangodis and the badis are made during the hotter summer months and stored for the winter, when fresh greens are not available in the market and provide the substitute for vegetables alongwith the dals when the cold sets in. Eaten as accompaniments to gahat and bhatt preparations, the badis and mangodis provide the main component of a winter meal.

Buckwheat known as muduva is used in the interior parts of the region. It is a coarse grain which again has medicinal qualities and provides fibre, so that the stomach can withstand the hardness of local water. Gethi, belonging to the potato family is yet another traditional item which is slowly disappearing from everyday cuisine. It is supposed to keep the body temperature warm in the cold dry months. Normally it is eaten baked, the dying charcoal fire providing the requisite heat to bake it. Linguda, grown on the borders of Nepal and Tibet is yet another delicacy which has beneficial qualities to keep the stomach in order.

Since milk is scarce, it is used mainly for the unlimited glasses of tea which are drunk through the day, or to make a rice pudding or kheer for special festive occasions. The variety of desserts and sweets in the region is limited. The semolina based halwa, she pooas, singhals, are the traditional sweets made on auspicious and festive occasions. A dark brown chocolate fudge coated with white sugar balls called baal mithai is typical to Kumaon. Without the white sugar balls, and cut in little squares it is known as chocolate, (when this English word came to be used for a traditional sweet is not known) and a milk based sweet singodi is served wrapped in fresh green leaves of the local oak tree. These three delicacies are generally not made at home but are bought.

The morning meal is the more lavish one, in the sense, a greater variety of food is cooked. Dal, a vegetable, rice, chapatti, raita, and a salad formed a meal. At night, rice is not cooked, only chappati and vegetables, often a dal. Though of course the cooking and eating patterns are changing, there are a couple of dishes which are so typical to the area.

A traditional meal consists of aloo ka gutka which are potato cubes tempered with a Tibetan herb called jumboo, red chillies, cummin seeds and hing. Boiled rice,chappatis, a chutney either of apricots or green chillies and coriander or of small pomegranates known as daadim, a dal, badi, or a dupka either of gehat orchudkani or a baant complete the menu in a traditional Kumaoni household. Red chillies, cummin, full dried coriander seeds, and hing are the basic ingredients used. The flavour of the vegetable predominates, and the texture of the curry is from the lentil itself. Sometimes roasted wheatflour or gramflour is used as a thickener. Tomato is sparingly used, lemon is used to provide the zest to the taste. An interesting spice used in vegetables and yogurt is bhanga or hash seeds. Roasted, and sieved, it provides a typical flavour to a green vegetable called lye or a kind of Chinese mustard leaves, with potatoes and in yogurt which is typical to Kumaoni cuisine.

Simple, subtle, and nutritious, Kumaoni cuisine uses very little spices, is labour intensive, no long hours of marinade, no prolonged peeling of onion and garlic, no deep frying of masalas, but quick temperings before for vegetables and after in the case of lentil preparations. Food is normally cooked in mustard oil or pure ghee, the latter used for tempering the dals.

A variety of flavours dominate with the lavish use of the more exotic herbs which come from Tibet.