Odisha is home to a cuisine whose hallmark is its simplicity. The food prepared in the region, called ‘Odiya food,’ is non-fussy and delectable, with a lot of focus on locally available ingredients. The food of Odisha bears a striking resemblance to the food prepared in its neighbouring states like Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. History has it that most wealthy men in erstwhile Bengal employed Odiya men as cooks and that many famous “Bengali” dishes actually have an Odiya origin. If you are visiting Odisha and are wondering what specialties to try, here is a peek into the cuisine of Odisha.
The food in Odisha is generally cooked in mustard oil. A spice mixture called Panch-phutana is the main seasoning ingredient in most dishes. It comprises of mustard, fenugreek, fennel, cumin and nigella seeds toasted in sizzling mustard oil that add a subtle but not overpowering taste to the food prepared in Odisha. While there is a sizeable percentage of the population that is vegetarian, fish is also cooked and devoured with great aplomb, given that it is available aplenty in this coastal state.
A typical Odiya breakfast is rich in carbohydrates. Wheat preparations like chapathi and parathas are generally eaten for breakfast. Flattened rice called Chuda is another breakfast favourite – eaten either as a savoury with seasonings or served with yogurt.
It is also sometimes eaten with fruit and sugar.
Seasoned puffed rice called Mudhi is also sometimes served as a quick breakfast. It also makes for a delicious tea time snack.
While wheat is a staple during breakfast, lunch and dinner is generally rice and lentils with a serving of vegetables or meat. A traditional Odiya lunch is not served course by course – all the food is served in one go on a bell metal plate or on a banana leaf.
If it is a vegetarian meal, then rice is the main item that is eaten with tempered lentils or the dal, a vegetable curry, a stir fry made of greens, a tangy accompaniment made with tamarind, a chutney, salad, yogurt and pickle. Most popular dishes include Bhendi bhaja – spiced okra sautéed with onions, Alu Palak Saag – fried potatoes with spinach and Dahi Baingan – Roasted eggplants in a yogurt based gravy.
On a regular day, you would find all the assorted accompaniments replaced by a single fulfilling and flavourful accompaniment called the Dalma – a lentil based dish made by simmering pigeon peas with chopped vegetables and tempered with the Panch Phutana.
Odisha is blessed with a diverse selection of seafood like fishes, crabs and lobsters. Little surprise that there are plenty of seafood varieties cooked here. Odiya cuisine has a distinct way in which seafood is cooked – steeped in coconut milk or yogurt with a splash of delectable spices. Ground mustard seeds are added to the dishes for an extra zing, giving them a unique taste that you would not have come across in any other part of the country. When in Odisha, you must try the Maacha Jhola or fish curry, Kankara Jhola, made of crab and potatoes and Soriso Maacha – fish that is pan fried to crisp perfection.
No Odiya meal is complete without a portion of dessert. Most of the ‘Bengali’ sweets that are famous all over the world actually have an Odiya origin. The roots of the delicious and humble rice pudding or Kheer are also attributed to Odisha. Chenna which is a kind of soft cheese is used extensively in the desserts in Odisha. It is used to make Rasagulla – cheese balls soaked in sugar syrup, Rasmalai – cheese slices immersed in sweetened milk and Chenna Poda – baked cheese sweetened with sugar syrup.
While traversing through Odisha, you will come across numerous stalls selling small earthen pots or matkis full of sweetened yogurt called Meetha Dahi. We recommend that you try it at least once, especially during the day for a cooling effect. Its luscious texture and subtle taste will most certainly leave you asking for more.
Last but not least, the one thing that you should not miss when in Odisha is the Mahaprasad – the sacred offering made to the God at the Jagannath temple.
Food is cooked on a wood fire in earthen pots that are stacked one above the other. The mahaprasad is also called the ‘Chappan Bhog’ which translates to ’fifty six variety offering’ since the spread consists of fifty six different kinds of offerings ranging from rice, dal, accompaniments to dessert. The temple has over four hundred cooks who prepare food with great devotion to feed over ten thousand devotees every day. Eating the mahaprasad is an experience in itself since nobody can replicate the love and devotion that goes into making the food at the temple which lends it a taste that is unparalleled.
The cuisine of Odisha is a cauldron of unique tastes and flavours that will make a culinary journey to the state worth your while. When you are in Odisha, make sure to eat like the locals so that you get to sample the local cuisine as much as you can since Odiya food is hard to come by outside the state.
Image credit: Wikimedia, Destination Odisha, Zee Khana Khazana, Yumm Raj