Translated from Tamil by Nisha Felicita
The Paliyar tribals in Tamil Nadu have always lived in or nearby forests and consumed fresh produce and natural resources from the forest. However, there were sometimes periods of food scarcity due to the increasing Paliyar population, and the seasonal fruits and vegetables were not available all year long. During such situations, the tribals found a way out to provide food for themselves- agriculture.
The Paliyars chose a place with good water availability for cultivation and land for sustainable farming. After the land was cleaned up, they cultivated the food items they needed, such as rye, millets like Ragi, maize and a variety of other foods. Ragi became one of the staple foods of the Paliyar tribals and Ragi flour was used to cook many dishes.
Ragi is said to be a ‘wonder grain‘ and is a staple in many parts of south India. It is loaded with calcium and is gluten-free and is a good source of iron, too.
After Ragi is harvested, it is threshed against a big rock. The separated Ragi is sun-dried and then put in the milling stone grinder and turned into powder. The powder is put through a sieve and then used as flour. A variety of dishes can be made from this Ragi flour- porridge, ragi mudde, ragi roti, ragi flour dosa, among others.
To make Ragi porridge, water is first boiled and a batter is made with Ragi flour which is then poured into the boiling water and is kneaded with a wooden spoon so that it doesn’t stick together at the bottom of the pan and burn. Salt is added according to taste and the porridge is ready! This is a very tasty dish and Paliyar tribals consume it quite often.
Ragi mudde is basically the flour mixed with water to create a dough. This dough is turned into balls and eaten on a banana leaf. The ragi flour tastes even better when eaten on a banana leaf and everyone loves this tasty dish.
To prepare this dish, the dough is created with boiling water and salt is added to the mixture. A pot is then put on the stove, water is poured and the pot is sealed with a cloth. The dough is placed on the cloth and is then covered with a vessel. The heat is turned up and the water is boiled. The steamed dough is then set to cool and is eaten. This dish was eaten by my ancestors a lot to satisfy their hunger in periods of food scarcity. Sometimes, fresh mountain honey was also added for taste.
Ragi is slowly gaining popularity as a healthy flour and people have begun to include it in their diets. Before rice took over, Ragi was eaten in a lot of regions in India. We should go back to our roots and include the foods which our ancestors ate in our diet to stay healthy and fit.
Do you eat Ragi in your community? What dishes do you make from it?