|Home | Issues | The Daily Star Home |Volume 6, Issue 01, Tuesday, January 04, 2011|
Love for deshi delights
On a chilled winter morning, a mother prepares delectable pithas in the kitchen for the family. All the ingredients -- ground rice, grated coconut, molasses and milk -- surround the lady of the house. Her children are eagerly waiting for the steaming, hot cakes. Warm napkins cover each of these traditional rice cakes as the entire household cherishes the seasonal treat.
This is a nostalgic, loving picture for anyone born and brought up in the Bangladeshi culture. As Bangladeshis we cannot imagine the of passing of a winter without tasting pitha -- the traditional rice cakes.
Children to senior members of the household ask for pithas and mothers or grandmothers make them, with the joy of serving edible delights for the family.
Pithas were widely enjoyed not only in winter, but also on many other occasions as well as while receiving the bridegroom or bride, entertaining guests, and during special get-togethers of relatives or friends. Even in the near past, neighbouring families often used to make pithas together and used the occasion to socialise and have lunch or dinner together. But this tradition is fast disappearing.
Most pithas are sweet; others are salty, while some are prepared with chillies. Although they can be made throughout the year, the best season for them is winter (or late autumn), right after the harvest of rice, when the unboiled variant first hits the market.
The most common and best-known pithas are chitoi, bhapa, patishapta, pakan, nakshi, phuljhuri and bibikhana pitha; although the entire range of pithas found throughout Bangladesh is seemingly endless. Among all these pithas, bhapa is the most widely consumed.
When a family receives a new bridegroom, it prepares some special pithas in his honour. Such pithas have intricate designs, and are made with colouring. Bibikhana, also known as Bibiana, for instance refers to the “bride's culinary skill.” Another rice cake of this group is the 'jamai bhulana', a pitha that supposedly entices the mind of the bridegroom.
Meat and vegetables are also used in preparing some pithas such as the pooli pitha, shabji (vegetable) pitha, hot patishapta and meat patishapta. Fruits (mostly, jackfruit, coconut and banana) are equally used across the country.
Nomenclature of pithas is mostly based on the ingredients used. Fruity delights are more popularly referred to by the fruit used, while other names are derived from the method pata pitha, prepared using leaves as covers while being steamed; hari pitha, named such for their size.
The culture of making pithas in the household of this metropolis is fast disappearing. Although some still venture to try their hand in preparing the ubiquitous chitoi or bhapa, most prefer to buy them from street vendors. Al Amin, one such street seller-- sits in an alley of Farmgate from 3-11 pm and sells around 150 bhapa pithas at Tk5 each. “People who want to take pitha for their family members are more in number than those who want to eat them standing on the street,” said Al Amin. Maintaining good hygiene, some stores selling traditional rice cakes are faring well; Pithaghar at Bailey Road for instance which sells a wide range of pithas.
To revive the rich tradition that lies behind pithas, various socio-cultural organisations in the capital city regularly chalk-out programmes on presenting the wide diversity of the pitha to the new generation. Such programmes include contests, exhibitions and fares focusing on pithas.
Although the pitha tradition is waning rapidly, it still continues to attract people in all corners of the country. Although cakes, pastry and other baked products sold commercially in the cities have become very popular, pithas will forever have a place in our hearts.
By Mahtabi Zaman
The latest addition to the family
When he first climbed up the wooden stairs of my house, I thought he had come to steal food. I ran after him followed by my domestic help and he scooted away to the verandah, climbed up the railing and was out of site before we knew it.
I saw him a few days later eating the rice I had left for the birds. He seemed very hungry. My husband gave him rice mixed with leftover curry and bones that we had discarded from lunch. He wolfed it all down and quietly walked away. Since then he has become a permanent member of the family.
I called up my elder grandaughter Sarah and told her about him and asked her to suggest a name for him. “Mao” she said before I could bat an eyelid and Mao he became. Mao, the latest addition to my family, is a full-grown tomcat. He is white with bits of grey here and there. He has a sharp aquiline -- no, actually aqui-feline features with a pink nose. The nose is not beaked though. His grey tail is always in motion. If I am to believe “The Tale About Tails” that I read in Radiant Reading - Sunbeams, one of the earliest English textbooks of my time, I must say he is in a perpetual angry state of mind.
He sleeps in the verandah on a soft mat covered with an old curtain. He leaves early in the morning for work! Well, what else do I call his actions? He returns around 1 o'clock, just like an office-goer, and lies sprawled in the sunny verandah meowing away. Every time one of us calls him 'Mao', 'Mao' he replies back. It seems as if he's taunting us with his maos for not giving him his lunch. I tell him that he has to wait for the juicy bones and the fish heads.
Ever since he has come I don't chew my bones and I don't grind the fish heads into a pulp. I leave enough juicy bits for him to savour but he's never satisfied. He meows till one of us mixes his rice, curry and the bones together. He will keep meowing till we put the food on his plastic plate on the balcony. Particularly when I give him his food, he walks with me to the plate and returns with me meowing continuously as if to ask why I'd taken so long. He'll spit and bar his teeth and even try to scratch me till I tell him that his food is on the plate. Then look at it and go off to eat.
He walks along with my husband in the evenings, playing and rolling on the floor. He loves to touch us but he hates it if we try to pat him. If we try, he will show off his tomcattish canine (or feline?) teeth and spit, waving his tail at the same time.
Somebody once said that dogs are man's best friends and cats never become one's own. I found this to be absolutely true. My husband talks to Mao in the same tone he uses for his grandaughters. I, too, love him in my own way. But Mao is Mao...he's never anybody's pet. He's his own cat!
Dhaba in new avatar
When it comes to Indian food in Dhaka, Dhaba at Banani-11has been the one-stop destination for food lovers for quite some time now. It has been eight years since the restaurant started business, and over that time it has delighted patrons with authentic Indian street cuisine including such favourites as dahi phucka, brain masala, beef punjabi; all devoured with one of a wide selection of naan or paratha. Frequenters to the popular eatery might have gotten an unpleasant shock when, during the month of Ramadan, they found an empty building where there once used to be a bustling of customers and waiters. Worry not all Indian food-lovers, Dhaba is still in our midst; only now it is in a new location, and has added more strings to its bow.
Ishrat Alamgir, one of the partners, said of the move, “Our lease had ended at the original location. We would not have made this current one so big if we did not have the space,” she said, referring to the new three-storey building in Banani Road 12. The increased space has created an opportunity for the restaurant to expand, and Alamgir and her partners have set about doing just that.
First off, Dhaba can now hold a maximum of 250 patrons, a huge increase from its previous capacity. Most importantly, though, the range of cuisine has expanded from being exclusively Indian to include Thai and Chinese cuisine.
“The ground floor is the original cafe, serving Indian food,” explained Alamgir. “The first floor is for fine dining, and here we serve Chinese and Thai cuisine.”
And fine dining it is, with an extensive menu covering both cuisines. The menu contains a full complement of appetisers from both cuisines. The Thai soup, chicken corn soup, the wonton soup and the Dhaba special seafood soup are all highlights. There is also a comprehensive selection of chicken, beef, prawn, fish, and even the exotic crab. The Dhaba special grilled/fried crab with lime sauce is one of the best dishes of the house.
“There are also provisions for a buffet on request,” added Alamgir. “It's not on a large scale, but at least fifteen to twenty patrons are required for the buffet table to be set up.“
With the second floor, the partners have embarked on another departure from their old avatar. “The second floor is a family rendezvous space for parties as well as conferences. We are hoping that in this season of weddings and celebrations, people will use it as a venue for get-togethers,” said Alamgir.
“Except one gentleman, all partners are women, and we make sure the quality is there,” said Alamgir, and it is hard to disagree, as any food you sample from the new menu or old one will leave you asking for more.
Dhaba, from a one-dimensional restaurant, has grown into a multi-dimensional eatery, and it is now a one-stop destination for diners of most tastes, with the exclusion of Italian cuisine. Those disheartened by its sudden closure on Banani Road 11 can now rest assured that a better, bigger venture lies just around the corner.
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