Senior BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya said last week that he was able to identify construction workers at his home as Bangladeshi because “strangely”, they were “eating only poha”. Dishes of flattened rice — poha — are, however, ubiquitous in states across India.
The pohas of India
In Vijayvargiya’s own Indore, poha is the signature breakfast dish and a popular item of street food. The recipe uses chopped onion and chillies, mustard seeds, pomegranate, coriander, and jeeravan masala — the mix of spices that is said to give the Indori poha its distinctive taste. There is cumin, bay leaf, nutmeg, mace, asafoetida, black salt, ginger powder, mango powder, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom — all dry roasted — in the spice mix. The Indori poha has a characteristic sweet-sour taste, and is often enjoyed with jalebi.
Elsewhere, different flavours and spice mixes go into the poha.
In Maharashtra, the onions are lightly sautéed; and the kanda batata poha of both Maharashtra and Gujarat derives it texture, taste, and name from potato. In Madhya Pradesh, the onions are chopped and sprinkled on top. There is a crunch of peanuts and coconut shavings, along with curry leaves and a garnish of coriander leaves.
The poha in Odisha is made from the shortgrained, fragrant Acharmati rice — the autumn crop with which Odias also make khichdi, pulao, and kheer. The Odia poha or chuda santula is distinctive for its use of vegetables like carrots, and of ginger.
In the aval upma of South India, the aroma of curry leaves and the heat of green chillis mix with mustard tempering and the crunch of roasted peanuts to make for a breakfast dish that is also tempting as a snack at any time.
For Bengalis, the poha is chire’r pulao, to which is added, apart from a variety of vegetables, often raisins. Goans make doodanche fov: poha cooked with milk, sugary, with a hint of cardamom — this is the Goan Diwali sweet dish. A variant of this pudding is the nalla rosanche fov, or poha cooked in coconut milk.
The main ingredient
In The Illustrated Foods of India, K T Achaya, the doyen of Indian food history, wrote that one of the names in Sanskrit for beaten and parched rice is chipita or chidva, also pronounced chivda, chevda. Rice is par boiled, rolled, and flattened to produce flakes. These bland flakes can absorb moisture and imbibe a variety of flavours. They can be toasted or fried. They can be thick, medium, thin, “nylon”, or extra thin.
Across India, chivda as poha is a breakfast staple. In Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and West Bengal, the flattened rice is washed and mixed with yogurt. Doi chira/chire is a breakfast dish in West Bengal and Assam. With palm jaggery added to it, flattened rice rings in the harvesting season all over eastern and northeastern India. In Bihar, dahi chura is a Makar Sankranti special.
And of course, with roasted peanuts, coconut shavings, raisins, and sev, the chivda, roasted or fried, makes for a crunchy savoury.
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