Pithé Power: The pursuit of sweetness at Big Bongg Theory

Sugar Rush: Rosh bora

An elderly family friend used to quip: “Drinking without smoking is like juvenile without delinquency.” Me, I like to extend that conceit to Makar Sankranti without pithé — the one is unthinkable without the other. 

Last January I scarcely knew when this annual rite of passage of Bengalis came to pass. I was still a bit of a newbie in Delhi, still finding my feet in the city. I was not up to making pithé to celebrate the occasion. So a much-loved festival that is redolent of my childhood and my mother and grandmother became one more day that came and went.

But not so this year. Happily, I was invited to a pithé-making lec-dem at Big Bongg Theory, Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar’s restaurant in Shahpur Jat that serves some seriously authentic Bengali cuisine. Sanhita Dasgupta Sensarma, a lawyer by training and a passionate food lover, was the other organiser of the event. I hoped to pick up some nifty pithé-making tips, and needless to say, tuck into lots of varieties of this esoteric Bengali delicacy.

And I wasn’t disappointed. The pithés were gorgeous — perfectly turned and divine to taste. The bonus was that it was a delightful evening with like-minded people. It was tinged with nostalgia, of course, with all of us probashi Bongs reminiscing about how a patishapta or a doodh puli or a chitoi pithé was made by our respective moms, grandmoms or aunts. 

Nice rice: Atap, gobindo bhog, sheddho et al. The last one is the
filling for the puli

Chitoi pithé and (below) Mooger puli
On to the pithés then. First up was chitoi pithé, one of the most popular pithés of East Bengal (now Bangaldesh). Anumitra took equal quantities of gobindo bhog rice  and cooked (sheddho) rice, added a bit of salt and blended them with water to make a thinnish batter. This pithé needs a round shallow mould to cook in, but if you don’t find the right receptacle, it’s a good idea to use a ring mould on a non-stick pan. Smear the hot pan with a bit of oil, place the ring mould on it and drop a ladleful of batter into the mould. Then cover the pan and let the pithé cook — about three to five minutes.



Chitoi pithé is cooked on only one side and it’s done when it shows tiny perforations on top and is firm and springy to the touch. You can make several of these and they can be served either with a chutney or in the classic way — dropped in reduced milk sweetened with pataali gur, that jaggery non pareil, which is in season at this time of the year.


The other pithé Anumitra talked about was the more complicated mooger puli. She makes the filling by mixing a bit of ginger, salt and ghee with cooked moog dal. (The filling itself was so delicious that I could have had several spoonfuls of it!) For the shell you’re supposed to put powdered basmati rice into boiling water and keep stirring until it coheres into a lump. This should be taken out and while hot, quickly kneaded into a dough. The dough has to be rolled into thin rounds, a bit of filling spooned into each of them, turned over, and sealed. They can be steamed and had dry as a savoury (think dim sum with dal) or as doodh puli — gently simmered for a while in reduced milk with pataali gurEither way, they’re to die for!


Sanhita demonstrated making patishapta with a kheer-coconut-jaggery filling. The patishapta crepe is traditionally made with rice flour batter. Indeed, my grandmom would have died a thousand deaths if any other sort of batter were suggested. Even my mother would turn out soft and diaphanous patishapta crepes that were lacy around the edges, so you could taste the burst of flavour from the filling (kheer, or kheer, gur and narkol) enhanced with the just right amount of bite from the crepes. (If your patishapta crepe turns out thick and lumpy, do everyone a favour and throw it away!)


However, getting the crepe to do its job with rice flour batter requires humongous amounts of skill. An easier option, without making ugly compromises on taste, is to use a batter with semolina and flour. (Here’s my own recipe for that.) Sanhita had added some rice flour into the mixture as well and her pithé came off clean from the pan. 

And, yes, it was delicious too.

As if all this weren’t enough, we also had rosh bora — another popular staple of Makar Sankranti. The fried dumplings of ground moog dal, flavoured with fennel and soaked in sugar syrup is one of my most favourite Bong sweets and it was wonderful to go back in time and savour these once more.

Anumitra says she will have some of these pithés on her menu at Big Bongg Theory for a month to celebrate the season.

I, for one, will surely be back for more.   



   



Comments

  1. Reading this right after lunch had its benefits. On a full stomach my mouth just stopped short of dripping... The crunchy juicy roshboras and 'diaphanous' patishaptas from my mother's Kolkata kitchen seem to have been magically transported to Shahpur Jat. Thanks for giving me a taste of what I was missing this winter! - Mohua Mitra

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