OPN 190711 DAL-1562843264654
Of all the varieties of pulses, 'arhar' is the most common variety that is consumed in all the countries of South Asia. Image Credit:

Quite often we meet strange people with strange fads. Sanjay, a close relation, is one of them. He has a very strong obsession with ‘arhar daal’, also known as ‘toor daal’ (pigeon pea). In my opinion, it is as good as any other daal. There is nothing special about it. But for Sanjay, it has no match. He would go to any length to have it.

As a matter of fact, of all the varieties of pulses, arhar is the most common variety that is consumed in all the countries of South Asia. But it is not a must-have status in the meals. However, for Sanjay, his meal is incomplete without his favourite arhar daal, duly treated with ‘tadka’ (tempered with clarified butter, red chilli powder and asafoetida).

This craze has often caused amusing situations. On getting an invitation for lunch or dinner at some prestigious restaurant, the first thing he would do is to inquire from his host whether or not he is going to get his favourite dish. If the host is unable to confirm it, this arhar daal-holic would himself call up the restaurant and ensure that at least he was served.

Can’t afford to miss

I remember that at least on three occasions when I was at a luncheon or dinner party, the restaurant had made a special arrangement for Sanjay’s ‘tadka-laden’ arhar daal. It has been seen that for most meat-lovers, vegetarian dishes always make the second choice. Sanjay is a great connoisseur of non-vegetarian food but come what may, he cannot afford to miss his bowl of arhar daal. Such is the typical craze.

Some time ago, the gentleman, who is a well-known socialite in Lucknow, looked uncomfortable at a dinner meeting. There was an array of some 16 meat, poultry and fish delicacies but his favourite daal was missing. The situation was saved when the restaurant managed to cook the special requirement in a short span.

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Once Sanjay and his wife were prevailed upon by their daughter and son-in-law, who live in London, to come on a vacation to London and stay with them. He appeared reluctant as he felt he might not get the pulse of his choice in that foreign land. Aware of their Papaji’s weakness (or is it strength?), the twosome gave him a positive assurance and then went scampering to locate eateries which could satiate their father’s taste buds. The UK is home to a large population of Asians and they easily found Indian restaurants which served his favourite daal.

Universal acceptability

It is not this particular daal but all other varieties of Indian lentils like urad, moong, masoor and chana that are being consumed as a staple food in all regions of the country from ancient times. But one or more lentils became more popular in a particular area. However, toor daal got universal acceptability.

It would be of interest to know that archaeologists have traced its presence in the Indus Valley Civilisation. It is said that daal was served as a special dish at Chandragupta Maurya’s wedding in 303BC. In the later years, chana (horse gram) daal became so popular in the royal households that serving any other daal to the Emperor could cost the cooks dearly.

The scenario changed with the advent of ‘panchmel’ daal, a mix of five lentils — moong, chana, toor, masoor and urad — which became popular in Mewar region in Rajasthan. This mixture was also said to be a favourite of Jodha Bai, the queen of Mughal Emperor Akbar. On marrying him, she introduced the coveted panchmel daal and some other vegetarian recipes in the predominantly non-vegetarian Mughal kitchen. The love, and in some cases obsession, for the pulses continues.

— Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.