Category Archives: Food

Tracing the history of India with Biriyani

BiriyaniA good way of tracing the history of a nation is to study the pattern of cuisines that emanated in the region from time to time. A relic of the past is always imprinted in the changing food patterns of a country. It is well-known that the fertile Indo-Gangetic plain housed vegetarians in the Aryan, as well as subsequent, eras. Once people started migrating, and there was an intermixing of cultures, the food habits also underwent a change.

Now to the point. Biriyani. It is widely believed that Biriyani has a Persian origin (the word itself is derived from the Persian word Birian meaning roasted or fried rice). With the advent of the Mughal era in India, this particular cuisine gained prominence.

There is another school of thought – Vir Sanghvi wrote about it in a column for Hindustan Times – that Biriyani has a South Indian origin and is derived from the Kannada word bidi anna. This theory however needs validation.

The Awadhi Biriyani (popular in North India, specially Lucknow) is the remnant of the Mughal style. The rice and meat are partially cooked separately, then layered and cooked together in the dum pukht fashion.

As the Nawabs of Lucknow were overthrown by the British, they migrated to Eastern India. It was under the aegis of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah that the Calcutta Biriyani was born. Left with little wealth to afford meat, the Calcutta Biriyani comprised potatoes. In fact, potatoes are such an integral part of the Bengali cuisine that disappearance of this essential item from Biriyani at a time of potato-scarcity in 2013, made headlines in the media.

The Nizams appointed by the Nawab of Lucknow to govern South Indian provinces helped in the spread of Biriyani all over the country. Mixing local flavours with the original Mughal recipe led to the birth of a new genre. Take Hyderabadi Biriyani for example. It resembles the Awadhi Biriyani, except that it is too spicy, like Andhra cuisine. Even the Vaniyambadi biryani introduced by the Nawab of Arcot mixed local Tamil flavours with the original Mughali style.

In the end, what was originally a luxury of the Nawabs, has now become a regular meal for the masses. Specially here in Kolkata, any occasion would call for Biriyani from Arsalan or Shiraz. And if you liked this post, do not forget to share as you dig into your plate of Biriyani. Nom nom.

Eid Mubarak.

Poush Parbon

Pithe Utsab

Poush Sankranti, the last day of the Bengali month Poush, is also known as Makar Sankranti and marks the day for harvest festival in Bengal. According to the Hindu philosophy, this day is the beginning of the sun’s northward journey from Tropic of Capricorn to Tropic of Cancer (also called Uttarayan; it must be opportune to submit here that Science says the journey commences on 22 December, Winter Solstice). Earth and its revolutions apart, Poush Parbon (or the Festival of Poush) holds immense importance, specially in rural Bengal, where the first grains of the year are stocked up and Nabanna (Naba means new + anna is rice) is worshipped. Notun guud (jaggery) and rice form an important part of this festival, as the prime ingredients of the delicious sweets, Pitha (or Pithe as ghotis call it).

Having grown up in a small town in North Bengal, my childhood was spent witnessing many beautiful rituals which are only archived in pages of history now. Still remember the early morning hustle-bustle at home, the sudden pain in the stomach which would excuse me from attending school for the day, and thus ensued a day-long festivity. The beginning would be the customary offering of patisapta to Raghunath, the “kuul debota” of our family. As long as the puja continued, someone would clean the courtyard of our house, with water and gobar and make “alpona” with rice paste. [I must mention here, most Bengali homes of the yesteryear’s had two sections – andarmahal and bahirmahal, or inner section and outer section. The courtyard i mention is the inner section]. Much to the chagrin of us, the little ones, a cow (or were they buffaloes?) was brought in, worshiped, fed some pithe and released.

What followed was day-long merry-making, as delicious smell of freshly prepared patisapta would fill the air. Maa, Kakimas and Jethimas would all toil in the preparation of various forms of pithe – patisapta, chitoi pithe, puli, and several others. In fact, lunch that day would comprise only pithe. And for us kids, a holiday would only mean taking our daily games to the next level. Yes, i used to play rannabati with my sisters, and i have no qualms in admitting that i thoroughly enjoyed playing those.  One of the inseparable parts of Poush Parbon used to be this special show on DD7 about a Bengali Hindu family who discriminated against a Muslim vegetable seller but eventually in the end communal harmony would prevail.

Times change. The joint family is no more, most family members (like yours truly) are scattered all over the country. The last Poush Parbon at home was celebrated in 2004, thanks to the dwindling number of “helping hands”. The situation is same across households in Bengal (and dare i say, on the other side of the border too). The current generation, and the previous one, are starkly oblivious to the rituals of the day. People would much rather buy pithe from sweet shops than spend an entire day in the kitchen; who has the time for it? Like other festivals, Pithe Parbon has now shifted to the “Bengali restaurants” or the sets of TV shows, heavily commercialised. But in one corner of our hearts, we all yearn for those days of childhood, wishing that someone weave a magic wand and shoo away the vast void of loneliness in this global village, where everything is just a click away.

Poush parbonOn a happier note, here’s how you can make a patisapta at home

  1. In a bowl, take some suji and add maida, milk and sugar (to taste) to it. Mix well.

  2. For the filling – you can make a filling of kheer or grated coconut. For the latter, you need to mix grated coconut and molten guud (jaggery) into semi-solid cylindrical shapes. I am sure, all of you know how to prepare kheer (just heat milk in a saucer till it attains a dough form).

  3. Now in a non-stick pan, add the batter you made with maida and suji. Spread it with a small, round bowl. When the batter starts hardening, put the filling in the centre and roll the batter (which by now has become crispy).

Patisapta is ready to be eaten.

Recipe of Doodh Puli

poush parbon1. Let’s make the stuffing first – in a bowl mix grated coconut, sugar and molten jaggery. Make small balls of the mixture, in any shape you like.

  1. Take some suji and maida in another bowl and add water to it and knead well to make a dough. Make balls from the dough.

  2. Press the dough balls to make a flat circle. Put the stuffing in the centre and fold the dough in the form of semi-circle (just like momos).

  3. In a pan boil some milk, add sugar and let the milk keep boiling. Now add pulis and cook by stirring the milk for about 10-15 minutes. Doodh Puli is ready to be devoured.

[You can even make small lechis, or cylinders, from the maida dough and add them to boiling milk to make Chandrapulir Payesh].

P.S. – If you are fond of Bengali sweets, take a peak Inside Durga’s Kitchen to find some more offings for your sweet tooth.

Wish you all a happy Poush Parbon.

Poush Toder Daak Dieche, Aay Re Chole Aay Aay Aay

DISCLAIMER – All images used in this blogpost have their own copyrights.

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