Bhubaneswar: It can be eaten stale or fresh, is savoured by the poor and rich, and is lapped up at homes and hotels alike. The humble pakhala rice dish is what people in Orissa swear by as summer descends.
Made of cooked rice fermented in water, it helps cool the body and is eaten with curd, green chillies, onions and curry leaves.
"We have been eating pakhala both at lunch and dinner for the past two weeks," Sujata Mohanty, a middle-aged housewife in Bhubaneswar, told reporters.
Although it is unknown when pakhala was first included in the daily diet of Oriyas, its existence as a holy offering at the 12th century Jagannath temple in Puri, about 56 km from Bhubaneswar, proves that it is ancient.
P. Sitaram, a doctor, said: "Pakhala cools the body and relieves dehydration because it contains water, salt and curd."
Pakhala is simple and easy to make. While poor people take it with green chillies, raw onion and fried curry leaves, hotels and eateries sell the blend of rice and curd cooked with green chillies, curry leaves, mustard seeds, ginger and finely chopped vegetables.
Santi Reddy, a housemaid in the Niladri Vihar area of the city, said: "It is our breakfast, lunch and dinner."
Two varieties are available -- basi pakhala, literally meaning stale pakhala, and saja pakhala or fresh pakhala. Basi pakhala is made by fermenting rice overnight in water and one can eat it in the morning or the next evening. Saja pakhala is cooked rice soaked in water and seasoned.
Both the varieties are also served with roasted potato, brinjal, ladyfinger and fish. People also eat fried badi, a dried and preserved food item, as a crunchy side-dish.
Many are opting for it these days as several parts of the state have been reeling under a severe heat wave for over a fortnight, with the mercury rising to the season`s highest of 44.2 degrees Celsius in Sambalpur town last week.
Driven by the heat, many in Orissa are ordering it at hotels. For instance, the Swosti Group - the largest hotel chain of the state - features the pakhala in its menu.
"Many have been ordering this traditional dish at our hotel as the temperature is going up. One can place an order for pakhala in advance in any of our hotels. The price starts from Rs.100," Bamdev Pani, a room service captain at Hotel Swosti, said.
Kanika restaurant at the city`s luxurious Mayfair Lagoon is also offering it.
"The vegetarian pakhala item costs Rs.300 per thali and the non-vegetarian thali is for Rs.400," the hotel`s executive chef Suryanarayan Nayak said, adding the restaurant was getting a sizeable number of customers already.
The dish is also available in state-owned Panthanivas guesthouses.
"The cost starts at Rs.50 and can go up to Rs.200," said S.S. Samantray, the divisional manager of accommodation and catering of the Orissa Tourism Development Limited.