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The past few days my Facebook timeline has been filled with friends and relatives in Odisha relishing a glass of Lassi. Now Lassi is such a colloquial term to be writing about when it’s readily available in every street corner in the country. But this kind of the Lassi is a special one that sure has to be told about.

Back during my childhood, I’d cycle back from school and with the pocket money given to me. With the small amount jingling in my pocket I had to choose between either spending on the vendors standing outside my school or cycle back to my favorite Lassi point. I’ve always been a picky person with a knack for discovering right from the time I was a kid. Not boasting of it, but it was just that my friendship revolved around people who’d come to for recommendations.

The burning 46C temperature didn’t matter as I wizzed past in the traffic for my glass of Lassi. Let’s also face it that having got the preparation of chenna right hundreds of years ago, Odisha was going to be come up with something creative it’s Lassi. While Punjab and Varanasi variants are talked about across whole of India, you haven’t had a Lassi until you’ve tasted the one at Lingaraj Lassi. But Lingaraj Lassi had never been my favorite but rather the ones in Cuttack.

Odisha Lassi - 1

The other day I was reading a humorous take of one of my fellow Odia blogger who felt who’d been swindled by having a lassi in Delhi. Yes, I do too feel the same everytime I want to have one during the summers. Rest of the seasons in India, you’d not find me complaining, but the summers are kind of special time for this. In fact the Lassi in Odisha is so thick that you’d ever find any blended dahi (yogurt) in them.

Let me take you over the entire process of how one is made in a typical stall. First comes crushed ice, syrup, curd and essence in each of the tall glass. As the person makes upto 50 glasses at a time, each of the glasses are hand-mixed at high levels. This is then topped off with a thick layer of rabdi (condensed milk), nuts, raisins and cherries. A glass of the Lassi and you’re set until your next meal. They are super heavy.

So the next time I order a glass of Lassi while sitting in a restaurant all I’ll feel is a dampness in my soul of missing a part of summer I liked. The summers in Odisha have been cruel but this was a respite. Best Rs 10/- spent once upon a time has now been hit by price rice. The last I remember they’d sky rocketed to about 40 bucks. Others might think that it still isn’t much. But for us Odias when eating in our state, anything costing beyond or nearing 50 bucks is considered pricey.

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It’s been a while that I’ve wanted to write an article on a dish which is very close to my heart. I grew up in a hostel in South India with the only two months of vacation that was during the summers. Hailing from Cuttack, the summers were extremely harsh and humid. No amount of lowering the temperature of the AC would work. But there was one dish which did the job which an AC couldn’t. Cue to the humble Pakhala.

There is no right way of eating a Pakhala. Growing up in the South, I was used to eat Aurua or the normal rice you get around in the market. But the fact is that most of people in Odisha eat Usuna Bhaata (Par boiled rice) in their meals. We had our own fields just outside of Bhubaneswar which supplied the grains.

Like most other South East Asian regions, Odisha is primarily a rice eating state. Pakhala, as suggested by some linguistic scholars, has been derived from Sanskrit word ‘prakhyalana’ which means to wash down with water. But let’s get into the absolute details of the dish. Our family preferred rice both for lunches and dinners. So the best way of storing the leftover rice was to soak it in water. This was soaked overnight in water in a cool corner thus fermenting into Pakhala.

 

With the next morning being super-hot with temperatures reaching around the 42-46C, it was time that the Pakhala made a grand entry. While my grandmother needed nothing with her Pakhala and had it just with Fish Fry on the side. But being the spoiled brat that I am and also being back from Hostel just for 2 months in the year, I could order for anything I wanted. So I waited around for my dad to return from the shop in the afternoon and create something unique called a Paga. Now Paga is a term you’d seldom find used outside of Cuttack. We Cuttakias are too spoiled for our good. Shutting shops for an afternoon siesta only to go back in the evenings. You’d seldom find a person on the street in the afternoon if he was a local shop owner.

Paga is a term which can be loosely translated to creating a unique personal take on an already existing dish. Countless hours have been spent on creating the right paga for a dish. From crushing a lanka (green chili) to grinding a specific cut of ginger, add a squeeze of lime or not. Paga is all about individuality. Every person in an Odia household has his own style of Paga.

The next hour in the house would be spent in cutting the necessary ingredients for making the paga for the Pakhala. The one made in our house had lemon leaves, crushed mango ginger, curd, salt, pepper, coriander and that’s it. We always preferred to use Mango Ginger instead of the regular to give it much freshness. If not using curd in the Pakhala, then you can add a squeeze of lime into the kansa.

But Pakhala as a dish is incomplete without the sides. My family was so specific about them that nearly 10 different bhajas (fries) were made as accompaniments. There were the different types of saag (leafy vegetables) which my grandfather got back each time from his morning walk. He’d proudly fight with my dad for even getting a bunch for 1 Re lesser. That’s how most of our table conversations went with each trying to Alpha the other over who bought the vegetables at a cheaper price. If it was either Wednesday, Friday or Sunday we’d be lucky to get a fish fry. Rest all of the days were vegetarian days in our home. But the bhajas and chutneys make for a whole another story.

Time would be spent in roasting many vegetables on the coil-heater while the bhajas were made beforehand. Now the same Paga concept applies to making of each of the chutneys too. As I got my kansa (bowl) of Pakhala, arranged alongside were the Aloo Chutney (Potato), Baigana Chutney (Brinjal), Bhendi Chutney (Okra), Sev Mixture Chutney, Badi Chura Chutney. The Bhajas had basically any vegetable that I mother could pull out the refrigerator for that day. Post finishing the rice, don’t feel left out in lifting the bowl to your mouth and cleaning away every last drops of torani.

But the best part of Pakhala is still yet to come. Soon after finishing a bowl of the Pakhala, what follows is the best sleep you can get ever in your lifetime.

Photo Credits :

Cover Photo : eodisha.org
Picture 1: http://www.therecipebucket.com/
Picture 2: thebrokenscooter.com
Picture 3: https://medium.com/lost-recipes-of-odisha

 

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Rasgulla, Rasogulla or the Rôshogolla. You might call it anyway you like, but the unofficial national sweet of India has been in a center of fight between the Bengalis and Odias. I’m not going to get into the history as written already on Wikipedia. It’s recounted to have originated from the temples of Lord Jaganath in Puri. Every time someone posts about rasgulla on a public forum, the Bengalis and Odias have been ready to get on with the tussle, to claim it as theirs.

A Typical Shop At Pahala
Being from Cuttack, I have been bordered by the two phenomenal cities on either sides, from where rasgullas are said to be the best. Pahala on one and Salepur on the other. Everytime I drove down to Bhubaneswar, along the NH-5 a stop at Pahala was guaranteed, for having some of the piping hot rasgullas. Unlike the ones from Bengal, these aren’t spongy, but more melt in the mouth. They are mostly preferred had piping hot.

The Pahala Shops
The modern version of the Rasgullas, considering it’s been around for more than thousands of years is a very recent phenomenon. Having added, semolina to it and making the syrup thicker, Nobin Chandra Das went on to give this delicious sweet a better shelf life. And his son went a step further on canning them, so that people all over could relish it without having to think much of having to gobble down as soon as cooked.

Rasgullas 2
This time wanting to get into the history with the locals on a visit to Odisha, I drove down to Pahala again for primarily two reasons. One to have a plate of the piping hot rasgullas and two to actually hear out their version of the story. Some say that Pahala has been a recent phenomenon. But the shops say otherwise. Some of the shops making the rasgullas, have been doing it for more than a 100 years.

Rasgullas Being Made
You’ll find the shops at Pahala named quite funnily after relatives. While one simply translating will be “Aunt’s Son” while the other will be “Grandma’s Grandson’s shop”. All of them though have been very consistent with their sweet-making.

Chenna Used In Making Rasgullas

The use of chenna (a form of cottage cheese) is abundant in most of Odisha’s sweets and is used quite extensively in the Rasgulla too. Ranging from really small to much larger, they come in different price ranges. The bigger ones have a hidden cashew, elaichi or raisin fitted in them. The Rasagullas made at Pahala have a thinner syrup to it. They are best had hot once out and tend to spoil in a good 10-12 hours. Once refrigerated, their taste decreases over time and subsequently spoilt. They are mostly off-white to cream color and very different from the ones made at Salepur.

Hidden Inside Is A Surprise
Salepur can literally be called the place where you get the most delicious of sweets ever. Period. Like almost the best in all of India. A few 10-15 kms from Cuttack, Salepur was made famous and put on the sweet map of India by the Kar Brothers. As I rode over to Salepur one fine day, I couldn’t help but notice that rasgullas were part of almost every meal of theirs. They love having it with rotis, puris and just like that too. The Rasgullas at Salepur are thick, with a denser syrup and completely brown-ish. They are a bit sweeter than their Pahala counterparts.

Salepur Rasgullas
If not for Bikalnanda Kar, the rasgullas would have remained restricted to the temples of Puri. He is said to have been the one who perfected the art outside of temple premises in the town of Salepur. This is one reason why the Salepur version of the rasgullas have a longer shelf life than their other counterparts found in Orissa. The Bikalnanda shops have now expanded out of Salepur and have opened up many outlets in the capital city of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.

Rasgullas 4
Rasgullas have always been a part of the Odia meal from ages ago. From marriage parties, to birth ceremonies, to just plain binging on them, Rasgullas hold a special place. Everyone has their own version of the rasgullas that they are attached to. The Bengalis love theirs, while the Odias love their version. But for India, this is one of the best sweets that a person can’t get enough of having only one.

Below is a video of Rasgulla being prepared in Pahala.

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For a city where every resident, from all walks of life thrive on one dish and can have it for all breakfast, lunch and dinner, it is difficult to argue as to where do you get the best Dahibara Aloodum. Every resident has his/her own personal favorite. It might be the one in his street, the street where his/her crush lives, right outside the school/college they’re studying at or maybe 15 kms away so that he can make the ride simply to enjoy a dish of awesomeness.

Dahibara

Cuttack is one hell of a labyrinth for the people who aren’t accustomed to it’s lanes. If you are a newbie around and have pushed your car into one of those narrow lanes, chances are you would have already caused a roadblock with every one trying to cut through or giving you the hand signal to help you drive through the narrow roads. But the bonding of every Cuttackian has happened over a plate of Dahibara Aloodum. The love for it encompasses any other food item they would have ever had and they might just be born with the gene to already love it by default.

Spicy Aloodum

So what is it about this simple dish that has a 1000-year old city crazy about it and licking their fingers? The bara’s are soaked and left in Dahi so that all the marinating seeps into the bara’s making it a lot softer and flavorful. And add to it the Aloo Dum and Guguni piping hot with the garnishing of sev, pudina and coriander and you have got one hell of a dish licking your fingers.

Kanika Chaaka Dahibara

The numerous Dahibarawalas can be found in plenty of spots in the 52 streets, 53 lanes city. Driving to houses in cycles, setting up stalls under trees and parking their lot outside of popular places, it’d be hard not finding one every 100 metres away.

The most famous ones:

  1. Raghu Dahibara – In Bidanasi, this guy has been around for so long that people even travel from other cities all the way to have his yet. He doesn’t believe in the concept of spoons, so better be licking the spiciness off your fingers and then asking for a sweet peda to douse that spiciness off your tongue
  2. Kanika Chaaka Petrol Pump: Has since shifted base to a shop adjacent instead of opposite and you can follow the crowd to his stall
  3. Deula Sahi: One of the few places where the mitha Dahibara is as good as the savory one. Personal favorite and swear by the guguni
  4. Ishuwar and Other ones outside Barabati Stadium: Used to be good and still attract the crowds though have lost some of the sheen in my opinion

The Various Stalls Outside Barabati Stadium

So after having some of the lip-smacking Dahibara Aloodum in the city, don’t forget to ask to fill up on some of the dahi to drink up, that’s your mocktail alongside and a handful of sev to go about then after.

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