A Cuisine trail in the Kingdom of Kalinga – Odisha

They say time flies, but I was really waiting impatiently for my planned Solo trip to Odisha after I booked my flight tickets. My plan was to fly to Bhubaneswar and cover the golden triangle on a rented motorcycle. A little bit of internet and suggestions/recommendations from my friends gave me a little understanding on what to expect on the streets of Bhubaneswar and in the congested temple by-lanes of Puri. As soon as I hit the road, my mind was on one thing and that was food.
A little venturing into the Cuttack road from the Kalpana Square in Bhubaneswar gave me clear sightings of the splendorous street food in the city. I observed that the city was not so crowded while I followed the aroma of the freshly made Singadas on a street cart. The cart was loaded with humongous sized Singadas, Dahibara, Veg Chops, Aloo chops, plain bara and last but not the least Chenna Poda. I first had DahiBara with Aloo Dum. The Dahi Bara could also be given with a sweetened buttermilk. The Dahibara was so soft and it had a plethora of flavours inside, in which the mango-ginger was dominating. The aloo dum was a bliss to be eaten with the spongy bara and the mix of dahi with aloo dum was a whole different kind of dance on taste buds. The Singada was a slightly larger samosa but overloaded with veggies unlike usual samosa; along with potato, there were carrots, onions. But the ghughuni ( Peas gravy) was what took the Singada to a next level. It’s like the samosa ragda we usually eat but halfway done. I really loved the singadas but my eyes were goggling at the Chenna Poda. The first bite of ChennaPoda into the mouth and I can’t articulate the ecstasy I experienced. It was very unique, spongy, juicy and the cardamom flavours hitting the back of the mouth. Bidding bye to the cart-people, I walked towards my hotel.
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The next day, I had to wake up to the rising Sun and the peeving horns of the locomotives in the Master Canteen neighbourhood. I went down for a decent but not great buffet breakfast and checked out as soon as I was done with the supreme job – Packing! I went to bike rental agency that I booked my bike with and got done with the formalities and took the keys. The guy on the other side of the table was curious why I came alone and I answered him that I am more of an explorer than a leisure traveller and I asked for suggestions for a typical Odia lunch where locals usually go. The commendable and altruistic man took me to his favourite place called ‘SriyaRam’ hotel opposite to KIIT in Patia. He explained the concept of Dahi Pakhala to me and even paid for the meal. He said he liked the way I wanted to learn and explore.
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Now, Dahi Pakhala is all about fermented rice. The rice is mixed with the rice-water and is kept over night before adding curd to it. Along with the general tempered spices, lemon leaves and mango-ginger is also added for the addition of flavours. So basically it has double the amount of water to rice. While eating, you take rice in your fist and strain the water and eat it with the accompaniments. The Saga bhaja (Sauteed drumstick leaves), aloo Chakkata (Mashed and spiced potato), Aloo-potala bhaja (Fried potato and pointed gourd), the boiled chickpeas are some archetypal accompaniments. Owing to the soaring temperatures in this part, Dahi Pakhala was made to cool down the body temperatures. The dahi (Curd) and Torani (RIce-water) fermenting the rice makes it an ideal lunch for bringing down the temperatures in the body.
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The next thing was to hit the road to Puri and a small ride in Puri before I checked in gave me enough credence to believe that the food there was going to be magnolious. One thing that I observed in the Grand road/Temple road was the numerous DahiBara-Aloo Dum vendors on bicycles. The Chats here are done in a little different way because who uses chilli sauce in chats? The masala sugar cane juice and the gol-gappa served as a meal the other day for me. If you take an Odia styled Jhal-Mudi, be prepared for the strong aroma and strong-sharp taste of the mustard oil that is used in the process. While the shiny Khajas were being protected from the flies that were attracted by the sugary goodness, the Rabdi sharbat on the other side of the road attracted me.
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I was having a solid plan for the breakfast next day. I heard of this un-named breakfast place near Puri Railway station that serves excellent Poori-Dalma. Not able to figure it out in the first attempt, I managed to spot it after a round. Each plate has 6 small pooris with dalma and a dessert (Malpua/ChennaPoda). The pooris are flaky on the crust and soft in the middle. The ajwain gives the addition to the flavours. The Dalma is not any regular dal and is a speciality of Odisha. It has lots of vegetables from aloo to raw banana to green papaya. It’s more spicy compared to dal tadka. I opted for ChennaPoda and it was a bliss. It was so soft and juicy with burst of cardamom flavours.
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The Egg Kassa is a spicy egg curry with lots of onions and tomatoes. The boiled eggs are fried enough to get that crispy layer on the outside. And it was a desserts time for me in the evening. Now I don’t know where to go, so the first thing I did was to get on the main road and ask 3-4 persons about the desserts place. I got recommendations for a small, yet again nameless shop. Oh my god! It’s just a small shack with lots of freshly made milk and chenna sweets on the show. The Kheera Sagar, literally translating to the ocean of milk is a bowl of thick sweetened milk with chenna balls floating. The Rasabali, the chennagaja, the chennaJhili are some other sweets that were made out of Chenna here. The Rasabali is similar to Kheera sagar, except that the chenna balls are deep fried first.
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Why Chenna is used extensively here?
Chenna is a type of cheese and similar to the Cottage cheese in the preparation. It is said that with the blessings of the Sri Jagannath, the cows used to give milk in abundance beyond usage and the lack of storage facilities resulted in spoilage. So, the people manoeuvred the direction of excess milk to prepare Chenna.
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Going to Sri Jagannath Mandir and not having the MahaPrasad in the Chappan Bhog is something no one should do. Not just because of the religious sentiments but the food is too tasty to miss. The legends say that Krishna missed out food for 7 days while lifting Govardhan hill for protecting people and so to compensate it, the diety here is offered with Chappan Bhog (7*8=56) everyday. The kitchen here is claimed as the largest temple kitchen in the world. The Anand Bhajar is where Sarvam Jagannatham is followed and everyone irrespective of caste, creed and wealth can participate in the partaking of Maha Prasad. The various types of rice and dalma prepared in earthen pots on one side and the Sukh-Bhog (dry offerings) on the other. Items like Malpua, mathri, Anand Laddoo, MohanBhog etc are in Sukhbhog. The rabri here is amazing.
The Tanka-Torani that is served outside the Mandir is not just butter milk but is a mixture of buttermilk and the rice-water from the rice prepared for the Lord.
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After a day of a soul-ful ride to Konark and Satpada for seeing some birds and Dolphins in the Chilika lake, I needed to sit in a serene ambience and have dinner at leisure. Then came the ‘Wild Grass’ into my mind and reached there to a grab a sight at the wonderful ambience it possesses. The thatched roofs, the tree house setups were a delight to see but I chose to sit inside and ordered a Dhai Bengan and Badi Chura. This restaurant has Odia and an exclusive Puri cuisine menu which was really amazing and they also cooking classes where you will be taken on a heritage walk and to the market in the morning to procure the ingredients handpicked by yourself. The Dhai Bengan is a dish with fried eggplant chunks tossed in yogurt gravy tempered with mustard and it is usually bit sweet. The Badi chura on the other hand was unbelievably dry and the texture somehow didn’t allow my tastebuds to enjoy it.
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After my ride back to Bhubaneswar, I was adamant that I don’t miss the Lingaraj lassi in the Shaheed nagar. The Lingaraj lassi is very famous in the city and the people were flocked in spite of the fact that it was a weekday. So the lassi here basically is layered with malai, rabri and lassi and topped with coconut gratings and Chenna. It was an absolute and profound love affair with my taste-buds. It was not as heavy as a glass of Patiala Lassi but it was quite good.
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And to take somethings back, I visited ChappanBhog for ChennaPoda but to be honest the road side vendors have delectable ChennaPoda than that.
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