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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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There has always been this question of Buffet Vs À la carte popped a little too many times to us when asking for recommendations to eating out. We as Indians love a good spread. After all who doesn’t want to have that extra Gulab Jamun or an extra helping of that delicious chicken curry? Thus the major conundrum in taking the decision of sticking to a buffet or À la carte.

Sea Food Platter At Olive Bistro

When thinking as a group, Buffet does make for a better option. The safest bet to take when you don’t know everyone’s palettes or tastes. It’s each man for himself, stretch, stand and shove onto plates, the food items you love. But every time after a buffet I end up with a full stomach and not so satisfied meal, I know I should have stuck to the À la carte.

Buffet 1

When going for À la carte and ordering for myself at the table I know exactly what I want and which dishes I’d want to try and moreover how to want it. Sometimes it’s a good feeling knowing that the chef in the kitchen is going to pay that extra bit of attention to making and plating my order than the food in a buffet spread, left to dry and die. I don’t have to be getting up a number of times, to pick food for my plate. Just relax back and wait for the hot piping food from the kitchen to arrive directly onto my table and be served by the waiters.

Carte 2

Economically viewing, buffets stand out quite ahead. Enjoying an unlimited array of food, laid out as you can refill anything and everything any number of times does make for a practical choice. But how many times have we at the end of the buffet realized that we never could try most of the dishes on offer? That almost everything to anything was passable at best.

Buffet 2

À la carte on the other hand, you might end up with a gratifying meal, but the bill at the end of the gastronomic journey is going to cost you. For people who dislike buffets and still have to go with a group, the next best thing is the Set Menu. You get to choose the dishes that you want to be served to the group from the menu for a set pricing and needn’t worry anymore as to having your food cold from the spread table. The waiters serve your orders at your table directly too. But this too can’t be as satisfying as an À la carte order considering that the chefs in the kitchen will have to be cooking for a gathering than a particular table.

Carte 4

In all conclusion, it is a never ending decision to be made every time a party, a get together or a dining out has to be planned. Buffets are the way to go when eating out with a large gathering. But when sticking to small company or individual, the À la carte is the pragmatic choice. It all really depends on the dining experience, the food you want to eat and what you want to tuck into that small pocket you call a stomach.

Carte 3

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