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What it was like to roast maize outdoors

July 25, 2013, 7:56 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 2465

By riazhussain

Traditionally, outdoor cooking is associated with nomadic cultures. However, in modern times, people like to cook outdoors for the sake of fun and taste when they are having picnics or trips to the wilderness. Cooking and eating food outdoor has its own charm and flavor for them. This is why people like to go camping and cooking things over campfires. Roasting, boiling, grilling, frying and steaming are some of the methods they use to cook outdoors. The most traditional way of doing so is by means of direct heat or open fire. Among the food items that are cooked outdoors, fire-roasted corn has its own unique taste. In this story we are hearing about a few friends who went for roasting ears of maize (or corn) outdoors.

Nizam Khan is a Pathan. He lives in the breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful mountains of Lower Dir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. His native village 'Kityari' is surrounded with mountains and combines all the colours that make landscape beautiful. 

The source of income of his family is agriculture. They have their own rich fields of corn. These fields are located at the foot of the nearby mountains. 

It is these mountains and rich fields that witnessed Khan grow into a charming and amiable youth loved and liked by his family members and friends. He has special liking for eating roasted ears of corn. One day, when he had come home on vacation from his campus located hundreds of miles from his native village of 'Kityari', he thought of giving his friends a vacation treat. He wanted to surprise them now that he had come back. He went to the fields, looked for ripe corn with brown silks. He put the selected ears of corn in a bag walked towards the woods. With the corn bag hanging by his shoulder, he was walking among tall trees. The gentle breeze in the woods inspired him and he began to sing a sweet song of friendship and love in his native Pashtu language. 

Nizam reached the nearby mountain. He selected a place for the vacation treat and invited his friends there . The latter were glad that he had come back, and so they rushed to the spot. 

Ears of maize, usually, are cooked two ways. They are steamed or they are roasted over a campfire. Our interviewee loves the smoky flavor of roasted ears of maize. Therefore, he wanted to cook them on open flames.

You can remove the silks and husk from the ears before or after roasting them. Khan says that it becomes easier to remove the husk after roasting it or getting the husk charred. He says there are different ways of roasting ears of maize. In their Pashtun language, they call the ears of corn ‘wagay’ and they have their own simple way of roasting them, which in their culture is called ‘dada’.

In ‘Dada’, you put ears of maize in roaring flames without removing silks and husk. When these get charred, you put out the flames, take off the husk and the silks and then let the kernels of ears get roasted over exposed bed of hot coals.  

So Nizam and his friends collected pieces of wood from nearby trees and stones and made fire. Then, in the roaring hot flames, they put the ears of corn along with the husk and the silks.

When the silks and the husk got charred, it became easier for them to take off the husk and the silks.

So, they took out the ears from the flames, pulled and picked away the silks, took off the husk and extinguished the flames by pulling apart the burning pieces of wood. Over hot bed of exposed coals or cooler fire, they placed the ears without washing or soaking them in the bucket.

Roasting the ears without soaking them in the bucket brings a better charred effect. They turned and exposed various sides of the ears. They allowed the bare ears to roast over the coals for 20 minutes, while  constantly paying attention. When the kernels had become brown and tender, they scraped back the coals and took out the ears.

They sprinkled the ears with fresh lime juice and used salt and peppers to make the kernels spicy. 


‘Dada’ is a simple method of roasting ears of maize. It takes 30 to 40 minutes to do so in this way.  You don’t use any fancy utensils or aluminum foil or butter or extra-virgin olive oil as they are used in other ways of roasting corn or maize in other cultures of the world. 

'Dada' , then, is one of the ways of roasting corn. There are several other traditional ways of cooking corn and other food items in the outdoors. These established methods of doing things have their own importance when we think of preserving the rich cultural heritage of the world. Traditional knowledge varies from place to place and this diversity shows the richness and plurality of human knowledge. It also shows that mankind has an innate ability to learn and devise newer ways of doing things.   

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