Walking by the local markets of Jharkhand during the monsoon where the native people populate the streets as vendors bringing fresh vegetables from their farms and kitchen gardens, you can spot these small, round, white balls, about the size of grapes with mushroom-like appearance, but no stick or stalk attached to the ball. These balls are called Rugda. Packed with goodness, the once humble rugda — a variety of button mushrooms — is now much sought after by homemakers and chefs alike as a healthy alternative to animal protein. Locals prepare a curry of Rugda and enjoy its meat-like flavor very similar to the chicken liver with a crunchy prawn-like shell. In fact, Rugda grows in the early monsoon season when most of the locals observe vegetarianism, and it serves as a great alternative to meat.
Where is it grown?
Rugda is a mushroom indigenous to Jharkhand. It is not a crop yet. It is not even cultivated in the region where it is consumed. The rare mushroom grows by itself. The edible fungus is found extensively in the forests of Bundu, Tamar, Pithoria, Chaibasa (Bandgaon), and Lohardaga, under the soil at the base of Sal and Teak trees that dot the humid forests of Jharkhand as the temperature is suitable for its growth. This region receives heavy rainfall (about 350 cm in the month of July) with good sunlight and a temperature of around 30 degrees, which is the ideal condition for the growth of Rugda. The locals hunt for it in the forests digging the soil for about a few inches and collecting it after the thunderstorms. The white balls have a rubber-like tough exterior that holds a yolk-like white or black matter inside which gives Rugda its taste.
Rich in nutritional value, Rugda has much higher protein content than mushroom and has no carbohydrates. They are rich in vitamins and minerals. It is very beneficial for heart patients, blood pressure, and diabetes patients. Rugda is also very beneficial for patients suffering from anemia (anemia).
It is popular and people are willing to pay the price. A kilo of the product is selling for Rs 400 to Rs 500 in the cities. It is admired for its meat-like taste and is also highly nutritious.
Nowadays, Rugda has access to five-star hotels in Jharkhand. Ramachandra Oraon, the executive chef of Hotel Radisson Blu, says that when the Jharkhandi festival is organized in the restaurant, Rugda is definitely included in this. Rugda is available at Rs 350 to 400 per plate. The restaurant Yellow Sapphire at Capitol Hill and Jungli Moondance in Ranchi also offer Rugda on their platter, but you will need to check with the restaurant before visiting. But the irony is, it has reached the five-star hotels but still it is penurious.
A lot about Jharkhand’s history is unrecorded. And when it comes to the culinary history of the state, we just cannot trace anything. There’s barely any dish of Jharkhand that is popular nationwide. When it comes to a native delicacy like Rugda which is barely known outside the state, it is pretty easy to forget the preparation, as the generations change. The climatic patterns are rapidly changing in Jharkhand. Rainfall is slowly decreasing and the temperature is rising. In the recent times, it is found less in the street markets. And as such, it might also happen that the delicacy becomes extinct.
An edible like Rugda is a gift of the indigenous people’s interaction with nature, and once that is lost, it cannot be revived.