We, Bengalis, just need any excuse to begin a joyous celebration in full enthusiasm and start serving appetising dainties on the table to please the tummies of all concerned! Thus the introduction of so many various types of festivals or utshob, many concerning the display of various traditional food items. And if you expect this festival fervour to be numbed by the advent of a chilly winter, then you would be mistaken. As the chilly air blows around, stoves are lit all over and soon the atmosphere is sated with the aroma of the season's delicacies which are none other than the delicious tender pithas, or to translate accurately, rice-cakes. Yes, this is the season when pithas of different varieties are prepared in the homes of almost every food-loving Bengali in the country.
In our country, pithas have always had an innate relationship with the winter season. Even a few years back, the pitha culture was limited only to the villages and rural areas of the country. Now this olden-day tradition has found its way out of the villages and the pitha culture has been revived in the urban areas. Nowadays pithas can be found all over, from mum's electric stove to supermarket shelves.
Another pitha haven we cannot overlook is the road-side pitha stall that crops up suddenly during these cold nights when the demand for something warm to thaw out one's chilly insides is quite high. If you look around, then you will find these pitha sellers parked at almost every bend or corner of the streets of the city. Fully equipped with the necessary equipments, they never fail to draw a huge crowd of pitha-lovers. The most common item that can be found in these places is the all-time favourite bhapa pitha. However, if you are lucky then you may even get some great chitoi pithas, accompanied with sweet guur or various spicy chutneys, whichever is preferable.
Probably each Bengali household has its own special pitha recipe, thus accounting for the numerous kinds of pithas that exist. Also the same type of pitha may have different names from district to district owing to slight variations in the recipes. A major constituent of most pithas is powdered rice grains. Another ingredient used in many of the pithas is shredded coconut. Though rich, this item gives a special touch to this Bengali delicacy. And the sweet story would definitely remain incomplete without the sticky, syrupy, finger-licking guur or molasses. The most common pitha is probably the bhapa pitha or steamed pitha. Another type of steamed pitha is the chitoi pitha, which is one of the most different ones since it is more or less tasteless and has to be taken either with sweet guur or spicy chutney. Another exclusive dessert is the patishapta, which contains sweet kheer as filling. Other common pithas with fillings include puli pitha and kuli pitha. The filling is usually shredded coconut mixed with guur or sugar. Among the other innumerable varieties, nokshi pitha, malpoa, pakwan pitha, rosh puli are just a few to name.
Although most of you have already tasted the first bites of home-made pithas at your own houses, being able to relish hot scrumptious pithas, while shivering in the early morning chilly mist of the rural areas, is a completely different experience. Those of you, who have visited your village during this holiday and have managed to crawl out of the blanket to savour the mouth-watering flavour of the succulent rosher pithas steeped in fresh khejurer rosh must agree with me.
If you are planning a grand party or a small get-together this winter, don't forget to include pithas in your menu. Either as hors d'oeuvre or dessert, these Bengali delicacies will never fail to make an impression on your guests. Just hire one of these road-side pitha sellers and have them make hot pithas for you right then and there!
This winter, don't miss out on the chance to celebrate your tradition and heritage. And what would be a better way than making yourself a part of the huge undeclared Pitha Utshob being celebrated across the whole country?
By Nusrat Khandker