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Pakhala

With Chefs nowadays willing to experiment a lot more than earlier, the many other regional cuisines of India are now getting their due. I’ve always been an exponent of the richness of Odia cuisine and extolled of it’s many nuances. But sadly the Odia food was always relegated within the borders.

Odia Food Festival 1

You’d find Odia chefs all over India in literally every kitchen, yet they’d be cooking everything else other than their own food. For a cuisine which has been always compared and termed similar to Bengali, it’s great to see chefs finally it’s due.

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And I must say Chef Amit Dash has done one fabulous job. It isn’t just the regular dishes which were already known like the Pakhala and Chenna Poda which made it to the buffet but also the ones from Western and Southern Odisha too. He has done his research by bringing in such richness of food heritage to a food festival.

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I was very happy to see the Pakhala Live Counter. I was pleasantly surprised when there was a comment that it’s a poor man’s food. The Pakhala is a meal in itself, a one bowl meal of sorts. Much like the Ramens, Thukpas and the likes, the Pakhala packs itself in a single bowl. The accompaniments do a great job to enhance the taste but aren’t specifically necessary. That’s the beauty of the fermented rice dish.

The other dish which completely stunned me at the buffet was Mudi Mangsho, a typical wedding/tribal dish from Balasore. In originality the puffed rice is tossed over with fresh produce and mutton kassa of sorts to make a beautiful and enticing dish. It’s like Jhalmudi (Bhelpuri) had a non-vegetarian cousin.

The main course paid homage to the rich non-vegetarian heritage of the state while also showcasing it’s temple food. Many of Odia food have their origins from the numerous temples which dot the state. The Jaganath Temple, Puri has been instrumental in changing the desserts in India. The Dalma was there and so was the Kanika. But my happiness was unmatched when it comes to the Chilika Crabs.

My grandmom was born in and around Chilika, so whenever we had relatives visiting. There would be a huge basket of fresh crabs which came alongside them. Chilika Crabs for me literally define the term ‘Foodgasm’. And Chef Amit Dash cooked it perfectly. Happy was I breaking away at the claws and mixing along the runny gravy with plain white rice.

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Does the Odia Food Festival at Feast, Sheraton do a great job at showcasing the food of Odisha? It’ll be a resounding Yes from my end. With Chef Amit Dash at the helm it couldn’t have been any better. And also did I mention the dessert section is just huge.

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The Odia Food Festival is part of the buffet at Feast, Sheraton Hyderabad.

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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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