Abhijit Mishra from Sambalpur, Odisha, a student of WGSHA (Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration) Manipal, recently launched his own page, Gharme Gourmet to document the significance and relevance of Western Odisha’s delicacies in the day-to-day lives of the community. He attempts to draw a connection between Odia culture and the food habits of the community, which is largely a reflection of the climate and demography of the region. He also aims to bring back the focus to regional cuisines in India by eliminating our cultural obsession with occidental cuisines.
Initially, he started this page to experiment with food photography and food writing, but with every passing day, he anticipates that there is a lot more that he can do with it.
The entire eastern belt of India was one big chunk of land, far before the state of Odisha came into existence. Back then, it was just the political border that separated the state of Bengal from that of Odisha. Hence the food, lifestyles, customs, and even the pilgrimages undertaken by the people of the two states are very similar. For example, the paanch phoran, which is a whole spice blend from eastern South Asia, is used daily in both the Bengali and the Odia household.
However, the people living closer to coasts have a different palate than those living away from it.
Interestingly, dahi bagana, which is extensively eaten in the entire eastern belt, is also a delicacy in North India; but the way it is made is entirely different in the two regions. The ingredients used are also very different; hence, the versions of the dahi bagana vary from one region to the next, thereby giving rise to different kinds of palates.
Some of the many dishes documented by Abhijit include the jharra, and mandiya. Jharra is made from an ingredient called paluo. It’s basically tarrow root blended, mixed, made into porridge, and then shaped into noodles while it is still piping hot Once it gets its shape, a little sugar syrup is poured into it. In earlier days, some people used jaggery in this mixture, while others used curd and black pepper. It’s basically a sweet soup and is used to cool down the stomach in dry and tropical regions.
Mandiya is a porridge made from ragi (finger millet) with jaggery and water. Once the porridge takes a semi-solid form, it is cut into rectangular shapes. It is rich in calcium and helps in cooling you down.
Abhijit also talks about the raw mango chutney mixed with jaggery, that is a specialty of Odia cuisine. While the tanginess comes from the raw mango, it is balanced with the sweetness of jaggery.
“It is a comforting food and works perfectly well with pokhalo, which is very bland per se,” he says.
“While Bengal lit up like Maa Durga during Dussehra, laughter echoed around our household too. As a kid growing up in Sambalpur, Odisha, I saw all my paternal aunts, uncles, and cousins (including the ones I could barely tolerate), crowd our house once a year during the festivities. While the ladies would flock around the kitchen, men would indulge in boring conversations as usual. The aroma of root vegetables tossed in earthen spices, puris deep-fried in oil and steam from the fresh handi of cooked rice somehow complimented the chaos in our house. Once the hot singadas (a special kind of Odia/Bengali samosa) left the breakfast table, Maa would work on the evening dessert of chenna (cottage cheese), while the Head Chef—my Grannie— would start chopping vegetables meticulously for the many different curries that we would have for lunch. My aunts— the supporting brigade— would shuttle from one person to another, gossiping like bees in a hive. The extravagance on the grapevine seemed to work as fuel for the ladies with ladle. Every new turn in the scandalous story added flavour to the ghanto tarkari (Odisha-style curry). Folks moved from breakfast to lunch, afternoon snacks to dinner so swiftly that it would puzzle someone unfamiliar with our culture. There would hardly be any gap between meals—there was chai, pan, and numerous helpings of desserts that found their mysterious spaces in the bellies.
Today, while I soak in the unfortunate reality of this pandemic, I reminisce on those memories because that’s the only bit left to do. I may not have participated in gossip, but I very well enjoyed the bursts of laughter that followed. Moreover, I miss seeing grown men calculate how much they could possibly eat before the desserts hit the table.”
The Odia dish— Arsa pitha— is a fried pancake made of rice and jaggery. Making it can be a challenging culinary escapade.
So here’s a simple, step-by-step breakdown of the recipe by our homegrown gourmet, Abhijit Mishra, for our readers...
*white rice- 1kg
*white sesame seeds- 50 gm
*edible camphor- a pinch
*oil- for frying( about a litre)
*plastic lined with oil
Method of preparation:
# 1kg soaked and drained white rice. It should be freshly-pound and fine
Use a sieve to further up your game
#500 gm jaggery cooked to one-string consistency
# The moment the jaggery reaches a sticky or one-string consistency, get the container off the stove and add the pounded rice little by little to it. Next, add the camphor and mix well
#This process takes a little muscle, so ensure you got some already, or you might develop some by the end of this.
# Check consistency to ensure it is not watery
# While the dough is still lukewarm, use the insides of an oil packet to make a ball from this mix, flatten with your hands and sprinkle some sesame seeds on top
#Deep fry the pitha until it turns dark -brown in colour
#Strain off the excess oil and let it cool
# Tastes best when served with a smile (try it to believe me!)
* Rice should be pound/ ground finely
* Jaggery solution must reach one-string consistency
* Vigorously mix the rice and jaggery dough to achieve homogeneity
* Be careful not to over-fry the pitha. This can turn the Arisa pitha darker; so you got to take it off the heat before that happens.
Abhijit Mishra is a chef who believes that there’s nothing like “too much ghee”, and aims to one day nail the perfect honeycomb texture in a croissant. Also, his face turns into an “!?” on listening to people call it “krosontt”, “croison” and the like. When he is not day-dreaming about adding value to this world community, he shoots pictures of food he wants to eat, reads about food that he might eat and you know.. eat!
Check out his Instagram page here.
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