Chhena Poda: How Roasted Cottage Cheese Became India's Very Own Desi Cheesecake

Chhena Poda: How Roasted Cottage Cheese Became India's Very Own Desi Cheesecake
Illustration by Shreya Takodara

Originating in the Odia town of Nayagarh in the first half of the 20th century, Chhena Poda is today considered one of the quintessential delicacies of Odia cuisine. Chhena Poda literally means ‘roasted cheese’ in Odia, and is made of well-kneaded, home-made fresh cottage cheese and sugar which is baked for several hours before it turns brown and caramelizes. Word goes that this one time, the owner of a confectionary, Sudarshana Sahoo, decided to add sugar and seasonings to leftover cottage cheese and left it in a coal oven that was still warm from the earlier use. The next day, what he found was a kind of scrumptious dessert that had never been made before.

Thus was born the Chhena Poda which went on to become a staple at traditional festivals in Odisha such as Durga Puja. It is also served in small traditional roadside stalls and confectionaries throughout the state along with other delicacies such as the Rosogolla. More recently, it has also found its way to restaurant menus across Odisha. If you have visited Puri, you would know that it is Lord Jagannath’s favourite sweet, and is offered to him at the temple.

However, making a Chhena Poda is not as easy as it looks. Traditionally, it used to be wrapped in the leaves of the sal tree and cooked in a coal oven, since baking ovens had not yet come into use back then. Hence, the entire process ended up being highly time-consuming, almost taking 4 hours to be cooked. Its slow cooking process lends a creamy soft interior to the Chhena Poda with the exterior providing just enough nuttiness and bitterness to cut through its sweetness. According to Chef Heena Punwani from The Bombay Canteen, it’s a cross between a baked rosogulla and a cheesecake, making it the go-to dessert for people looking to try out fusion cuisine. With brands such as The Bombay Sweet Shop, Arq, and Khoya reinventing Indian desserts, maybe it is time that the Chenna Poda is also popularised all over India. That way, we can make sure that our rich history of food and the culture associated with it lives on and continuously reinvents itself in the years to come.

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