When Luna Bezbaroa was a little girl, most of January was spent in the aakhol ghar in her family home near the tea gardens of Tinsukia. An aakhol ghor is a two-part traditional Assamese kitchen: the dining area and a space to make tea constitutes the smaller section; the bigger and more functional room is the proper kitchen with at least two earthen fireplaces. Bezbaroa, 47, who organises Assamese cooking classes in Kolkata, would spent hours watching her mother expertly flipping til pitha on a hot griddle.
The traditional Assamese pancake made of rice flour and sesame seed is a Bihu speciality. Like laddoo is served during Diwali in almost all north Indian households, a plate of til pitha is ubiquitous on dining tables in Assam during Bihu. “Til pitha is not very easy to make. Unlike its Bengali counterpart, pathishapta, it is not made with rice batter, but rice which has been ground in a mortal-pestle and has a certain amount of moisture in it. The balance of wetness and dryness is integral,” says Bezbaroa.
The rice used to make it, bora saul, is also typical to Assam. It is traditionally prepared over an open wood fire. “The smokiness adds to the flavour. The pitha has a crisp outer layer and a filling of sesame and coconut,” says Bezbaroa. These days, you can get packed til pitha in most towns of Assam, but they don’t ever taste the same. “They are best had off the griddle,” says Bezbaroa.
– Premankur Biswas