Tales of Pithe-Puli

Fast Disappearing Exotic and Traditional Home-made Bengali Sweetmeat

A pan filled with oil simmered over a low flame as Ma peered onto it maneuvering a shining steel spatula with her spectacles daintily perched at the edge of her nose. Driven by curiosity, I take a closer look to discover the diamond-shaped flattened cubes seething in the hot foaming oil. Tossing and turning the cubes, she patiently waits for them to turn a reddish brown.

It was a Sunday afternoon and ‘Chana Daal Pithe’ was underway at my Bangalore home. Yes, it was that time of the year when my parents were visiting me.

Anybody who understands Pithe, knows the amount of labour that goes into its making. And Ma managed all of that single-handedly and more so after she had prepared breakfast, cooked lunch, even got me a bowl of fruits sometime in between, and doing a dozen other chores around the house. As I watched her with awe yet again, the same old thought crept into my mind – “Why don’t I have half the energy she has and how does she manage time to get so much done!” All mothers have superpowers, I swear!

Chana Daal Pithe is an irresistible mouth-watering authentic Bengali sweetmeat. It is made by mixing boiled and mashed bengal gram, sweetened coconut shreds, khoya (milk thickened and solidified by heating in an open pan), and refined flour. The diamond-shaped flattened cubes are crafted out of the mixture and deep fried in vegetable oil. They are then dipped in sugar syrup, which is spiced up with cardamom. It’s often served by garnishing with a layer of kheer over it. (Kheer is milk with sugar, thickened to a certain consistency by boiling over low flame). Chana Daal Pithe is one of those special dishes that comes from Ma’s kitchen and like many other things is on the brink of extinction. I don’t know how many of us have the time and energy to prepare pithes even though we love to eat them……..I for one wouldn’t have the patience, I know that for sure! Grate the coconut, boil the gram, mix with flour, sugar and kheer in perfect proportions, and the right proportion happens to be really important, fry them over low flame while you prepare the sugar syrup separately…………PHEW!

At the same time it upsets me to think that the future generations may never know what pithes are and how they taste. After all, you don’t get to buy pithes off the shelf. Though, I did see a few during Poush Sankranti in a sweet shop in Kolkata a few years back but definitely those wouldn’t taste like the home-made ones. A business opportunity hidden there? Hmm…..

Pithes are indigenous home-made Bengali sweets that are traditionally prepared during Poush Sankranti (Makar Sankranti) in the month of January. Pithes can be of various types. There are those that are common across all sections of Bengalis, then there are those that are indigenous to certain regions of Bengal. Again, some pithes are made from refined flour, while others require rice flour; some should be sweetened with jaggery while sugar suffices in others; in some potatoes are a must while some cannot be imagined without bananas, again others require jackfruit or dates; there are those that are deep fried and those that are steamed or boiled – the combinations are endless.

Pithes are not any random dish and are not a part of our usual menu. It’s definitely not what fish is to us. Pithes are distinctive and special. It has to be a Poush Sankranti or a special occasion for pithes to make their appearance.

Besides Bengal, pithes are also popular in the states of Orissa and Assam. However, each state has their own set of unique and distinctive pithes. 

Pithes have also been associated with a special kind of love, affection, and indulgence. Many of us associate our grandparents with pithes. I remember demanding pithes from my Thamma (paternal grandmother), who would not only be delighted but would do anything under the sun to fulfill our wishes. And Thamma’s pithes belonged to a different genre altogether, the range of pithes was way broader and the taste couldn’t be reproduced by anyone in the family.

Today, pithe is ritualistic each time we visit home or parents come over. A visit to my Pishi (aunt – dad’s sister) in Guwahati is also ritualistic each time I go home, and she will invariably have some pithes in store for me. Some of which would be prepared in a special manner for a longer shelf-life so that I can bring them back to Bangalore to savor at leisure.

Back in Bangalore, it was Chana Daal Pithe that Sunday afternoon and it didn’t stop at that. Puli Pithe, Lobongo Lotika, and Sureshkhowa happened on the following days. All of that prompted me to write about pithes, as I know for sure that pithes will soon become a thing of the past. Even now, the world swears by roshogollas as Bengali sweets, not many know about our exotic pithes.

I’ve already described Chana Daal Pithe, here are few more pithes that are popular at my home:

Patisapta: White elongated rolled pancakes made with milk, refined flour, and semolina, stuffed with coconut or khoya or both; often served by dipping in kheer.

Lobongo lotika: Dipped in sugar syrup, stuffed with khoya or sweetened coconut shreds, the square-shaped parcels are created by neatly folding flaps of kneaded and rolled out flour, the ends of which are secured with a clove; and the clove in turn brings in a sudden pungent and spicy burst of flavor that sharply contrasts the sweet taste.

Puli Pithe: Semilunar flour parcels, folded with a definitive pattern at the edges, stuffed with kheer or sweetened coconut or both; optionally dipped in sugar syrup.

Malpoa: Round flat, fried pancake dipped in sugar syrup, Fluffy inside with crisp edges made from khoya, flour, fennel seeds; often served by dipping in kheer.

Aloo Pithe: Perfectly rounded reddish brown balls can be easily mistaken for gulab jamun; made by mixing boiled potatoes, kheer, refined flour and immersed in sugar syrup.

Dudh Puli: Rice flour dumplings with a stuffing of coconut and date palm jaggery boiled in thick milk, which is again flavored with date palm jaggery

SureshSureshkhowa: Small oval balls made by mixing flour, semolina, coconut, with an optional sugar syrup coating; this can be stored for a longer duration

 

 

 

Author: neelstoria

Traveling, Gardening, Trekking, Hiking, Storytelling, Writing, Nature, Outdoors, Yoga, DIY

13 thoughts on “Tales of Pithe-Puli”

  1. Of the ones described, I’ve only had puli pithe, patishapta and lobongo lotika. And I’ve never had chana daler pithe. The three are available at shops, at least in Kolkata, and malpua too. Pithe used to be made in my home too, but now very infrequently. In fact you are right in saying that very few make any type of pithe in their homes now. Maybe the availability in shops is responsible partly for that. But then that creates another problem – the loss in variety; only the commercially successful ones are kept in sweet shops.

    Your mother must be really good cook, and a very patient one too, to be able to make all those for you whenever she visits your place.

    Of course, your beautifully succinct description stirs up memories for me too. You’ve written beautifully (only that the yellow portion is less legible – a different colour would be better, I think). I’m definitely feeling pithe- hungry now. Good night anyway! 😊😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had once tried patishapta from a shop in Kolkata….didn’t like it, it was kind of hard and not like the ones made at home which is expected though. Chana Daal Pithe (or boot er daal pithe) is a specialty of East Bengal and Sylhetis I believe. Its supposed to be the king of pithes according to my Ma, Kakima. Pithe is indeed a dying art and its rarity makes it even more desirable. Will take note of the yellow text in the next post, thanks for pointing out :)…..This post prompted me to write about how we used to celebrate Posh Sankranti as kids, which no longer happens. Will post that soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good if you write about Poush Sankranti.

    Yes, pithe-making is a dying art, and I agree about the quality in shops. There are very few ones which make good ones. Many places mix atta with a little kheer, in patishapta, for example, which is the same for many lobongo lotikas and other stuffings too.

    Since you’ve written about them together, does lobongo lotika also fall in the category of pithe? Also, does aloo pithe contain potato or sweet potato? Asking since you’ve compared it to gulab jamun, and I remember there’s a similar type of sweet – fried sweet potato balls.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes Lobongo is a pithe…aloo pithe can be made from both normal potatoes as well sweet potatoes. The taste differs slightly. In our home, it’s made with normal potatoes. We are not very fond of the sweet potato pithe 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi, your blog brought back memories of childhood. I grew up in Assam and my mom would prepare various pitha during the poush sankranti, Chanar dal er pithe, aloor pithe, sheddho pithe, sabudanar pithe, patisapta, dudh puli, bokful or bhaja puli, lobongolotika, kalojaam, tile we pithe, narkol er singara, fulkopir singara and many others. Unfortunately, while I loved eating them, never really thought it was important to learn the ratios and try it myself, until I lost my mom all of a sudden. Is it possible to publish the measurements for these pithes please. While patisapta, malpua, aloor pithe, bhaja puli etc I could replicate by trial and error, Chanar pithe is one that has eluded me and several attempts went in vain. Would be obliged really if you could share the recipe, and also if chhana (home made paneer) can be added instead of grated coconut to the Chanar dal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for visiting my blog. I am so glad it made you nostalgic about pithes. I am in the same boat as you in the sense of not having any knowledge about making pithes. At least you have tried a few. I think I should document the recipes from my mother. I will ask my mom and get the chana dal recipe for you. Do you mind sending me an email and I will respond with the recipe.

      Like

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