There was a time when Odia cooks ruled the hearts. They would weave magic with their ladle and earn rave reviews from public and connoisseurs alike. Those were the days before cooks had not become chefs, before restaurants with their psychedelic lights and designer food items made inroads into small-town India.
As days passed and people’s fascination with the world grew, so did the craze for niche food, allowing Odia cooks to slip into the oblivion, their simple recipes no longer tingling the taste buds.
These days people outside Odisha know the state for its majestic temples, graceful and stunning Odissi dance, pristine beaches and wonderful weaves. Somewhere down the line, its rich food legacy got lost in the maze of multi-cuisines and fusion food.
Somewhere down the line, its rich food legacy got lost in the maze of multi-cuisines and fusion food.
But the recipes still remain, and at times, during family gatherings, they would make their presence felt – lip smacking and finger licking delicacies that would remind people of the days gone by.
Authentic and Wholesome
Starting from a spread of authentic seafood and non-vegetarian cuisines to a wide variety of extraordinary desserts, authentic vegetable curries to traditional pithas or pan-cakes, Odia food offers a wide range. And the USP lies in its simplicity, cooked with less spice and less oil, and yet sublime as it hits the mouth. But lack of patronage and marketing has eaten up on its popularity.
“No state in India can match the variety and flavor of Odia food. But not many people know about it due to lack of patronage and promotion. The culinary skills of Odia cooks and their spell of magic has been mentioned and complemented upon by many great personalities in several books,” said Usharani Tripathy, food historian and writer.
No state in India can match the variety and flavor of Odia food.
One of the major ingredients associated with Odia food is its connection with gods, temples, rituals and festivals. The Jagannath temple in Puri attracts lakhs of devotees from across the globe not only to see the Lord but also for the delicious ‘Mahaprasad’ served there. The oldest organised kitchen in the world has the capacity to cook for one lakh people and 172 types of dishes in a single day, each with its own characteristic and taste.
The Jagannath temple in Puri has the capacity to cook for one lakh people and 172 types of dishes in a single day, each with its own characteristic and taste.
Interestingly, food also plays a significant role in religious events which are organised throughout the year when certain special dishes and cakes are made.
The festival of Raja is held for making Poda pitha, Chitau amabsya for chitau pitha, Gaintha pith during mangala osha, ghanta tarakari (mixed veg curry) on Dwitibahan Osha, Muan on Dhanu Sankranti and several others. In a nutshell Odisha celebrates at least one festival associated with a food item every month.
“We Odias are very fond of food and the culture and geography of the state complement it brilliantly. There is an abundance of vegetables, sea food, fish, mutton and chicken, and the diverse culture in different parts of the state led to a huge variety and diverse taste and cuisines,” said Ritu Mohanty, a food blogger. His Facebook page has over 6000 members who post recipes on different food items every month
Within the state different regions have different food habits. While people in coastal region prefer fish, crab, prawn, dalma (lentils cooked with vegetables), pakhal (water rice) and pithas, those in the north are fond of mutton curry with mudhi (puffed rice) while people in western Odisha enjoy bamboo shoots, special soups (letha) and lots of chattneys with rice.
Pancha phutan (Combination of five different spices including black cumin, coriander, fenugreek, fennel and mustard seeds) is primarily used in Odia delicacies, and are healthy as well as easily digestible.
Mostly Odia cooks avoid using rich and hot spices and use simple techniques, but the end product is always lip-smacking.
“No tricks are required to cook Odia food as we use very little spices. We cook mutton curry in a simple way and it’s still tasty. Even simple vegetables can be cooked in different ways,” said chef and Odia food specialist Susanta Kumar Dash.
He is the new breed of chefs who are making an effort to bring the lost flavours back to the table and more and more people are lapping it up. As interest keeps growing, a number of hotels and restaurants have started promoting Odia food and organising food festivals, giving those staying in Odisha and away a taste of the past.
“During the recent Ganesh Chaturthi I was invited to cook in Mumbai where people literally hugged me and kissed my hand after eating Odia food. Even in marriage parties people are opting to have simple Odia cuisines instead of rich north Indian dishes,” Dash added.
Courtesy: The Times of India