Sunday, November 19, 2017

Diwali & Pohe - My article published in Diwali Pangat

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Diwali has great religious and cultural significance not only in Maharashtra but across India. The festive season of Diwali reminds me of the pleasant winters, aromatic utna, bursting of crackers, Rangoli and last but not the least, the aroma of Diwali delicacies (faral). In my college days, on the first day of Diwali, I used to wake up early, visit Ganpati Temple and as per our group’s yearly ritual, we used to visit each other’s houses. After greeting and chatting, we used to relish the Diwali Faral that was served to us.
Diwali & Pohe
In our friend circle, I found that each community has its own way of celebrating Diwali. This meant that there was greater variety of food items that we got to try. At one of the Saraswat friend’s home, along with the regular delicacies like Chivda, Laddus, Chaklis etc, we were also offered five variants of Poha. This was a pleasant surprise for me, and also an introduction to a new tradition where Poha was part of the Faral. I remember that the Poha was so delicious that I even preferred it over Chaklis and Laddus. And since then I was obsessed with Poha and it became an integral part of our regular menu.
In this write up, I will be sharing with you details about Maharashtrian Poha (flattened rice / flaked rice). Do you know that in the coastal region of Maharashtra, Poha is treated at par with our regular Diwali faral. In Konkan region, especially in GSB / Saraswats community, on the day of Narak Chaturdashi, there is a tradition of cooking different types of Poha at home. On this day, it is a custom to invite friends and relatives, and to serve them a variety of Poha. This includes Phodniche Pohe, Batate Pohe, God Pohe, Gul Pohe, Dudh Pohe, Dahi Pohe, etc. which are served on Banana leaf. The preparation of each type of Poha is quite similar and does not require too much time.
Phodniche Pohe
The Phodniche Pohe are made by adding washed Poha to our regular Tadka of Oil, Mustard Seeds, Asafoetida and Turmeric Powder. To this, just add Potatoes to make ‘Batate Pohe’, Aubergines to make ‘Vangi Pohe’, Green Peas to make ‘Vatane Pohe’, and so on. In Konkan, I have also heard of people making Padwalache Pohe (Snakegourd Poha) or Bhopla Pohe (Pumpkin Poha). Generally, onions are avoided during the festivities.  
God Pohe
Now coming to other types of Pohe, the God Pohe are made by mixing thin Poha (Patal Poha, thinner than usual Poha), scrapped fresh Coconut, Jaggery and flavouring it with ground Cardamom. In some homes, the God Pohe are made with soaked thick Poha instead of thin Poha. Another interesting method of making God Pohe is where washed Poha is cooked with scrapped Coconut, Sugar/Jaggery and Cashews and seasoned with Cardamom Powder. Such God Pohe are called ‘Birinj’ because the recipe is similar to an Afgan dish – Sheer Birinj.
Gul Pohe / Dudh Gul Pohe
The ‘Gul Pohe’ also known as ‘Paakatle Pohe’ are made by adding Jaggery Syrup to the thin flattened rice. The ‘Dudh Gul Pohe’ also known as ‘Dudh Pohe’ are also very simple to make. Simply mix washed Pohe with full fat Milk, Jaggery and Cardamom powder, and the dish is ready. This can be made in a dry form as well as with thin consistency by increasing the proportion of milk. Dudh Pohe are also made on the eve of ‘Kojagiri Pornima’.
Anarsi Pohe
In some communities, Anarasi Pohe are offered on the day of Lakshmi Puja. The Poha is deep fried in Ghee and powdered Sugar and Cardamom powder is sprinkled on it. This simple recipe tastes extremely delicious.  
All these variants of Poha are served with the main Diwali Faral. The main reason of this tradition of serving Poha during Diwali could be the availability of fresh flattened rice that is made from the fresh paddy available during this season.
In some places, Poha is accompanied with Black Watana Curry (Kalya Watanyachi usal) or even with Matkichi Usal. In Nagpur, it is topped with Tari (Spicy gravy) made from Chana, & chopped Onions known as Tari Pohe. In Mumbai where there is presence of Gujarati community, Poha is garnished with fried Sev.
Other references of Poha
Krishna-Sudama & Pohe
The ‘Dahi Pohe’ hold their significance on the day of Krishna Janmashtami. Simply mix washed thick Poha, Yoghurt, little bit of milk, flavor it with crushed green chilly, and Dahi Pohe are ready. When these Pohe are made on a regular day, it can be made by simply adding Chilly Pickle or fried Sandgi Mirchi to Dahi Pohe mixture instead of crushed green Chillies. This also reminds me that Poha has its roots coming from Bhagavata Purana where there is a story of Lord Krishna and Sudama. Sudama was Lord Krishna’s classmate and a very close friend. Lord Krishna was a King and Sudama was an impoverished poor Brahmin. When Sudama went to Dwarka to meet Lord Krishna, he carried Poha as a humble gift for his friend. Despite being poor he gave everything he had i.e. the poha and in return Krishna gave him everything he needed. Since then, Poha has become immortal with this story of true friendship. This story reminded me ‘Gopalkala’ which is a popular offering to Lord Krishna on the same day. Gopalkala is made by Poha, cucumbers, green chilies, coconut and tempering it with Ghee and Jeera. To my knowledge, ‘Dahi Pohe’ and ‘Gopalkala’ were same. But recently I came to know that when we add cucumber, roasted Chana dal etc. to Dahi Pohe, it becomes Gopal Kala. Generally, Dahi Pohe are not tempered. Apart from Krishna Janmashtami, ‘Dahi Pohe Shidori’ is also given to Lord Ganesha during Visarjan. It is believed that during his journey back to his mother, the Dahi Pohe and Modak will serve as a snack for the elephant lord.
Dadape Pohe
Apart from these, there are many other variants of Poha that are popular and unique to Maharashtra. One of them is ‘Dadape Pohe’. All you need to make this Poha is – chopped Onion, scrapped Coconut and raw thin Poha that are flavoured with crushed Green Chilly. Mix all these ingredients and cover it by placing a heavy batan stone and una (Pata-Warwanta in Marathi) to press the Poha. This technique is known as ‘Dadapne’ This is the basic method of making Dadape Pohe in Konkan region. In some parts of Maharashtra, Dadape Pohe are made by roasting thin Poha and mixing it chopped Onions, fried Peanuts and flavoured with Green / Red Chillies, and adding a tempering. My grandmother used to add fried ‘Poha Papad’ or “Mirgunda’ brought from ‘Pen’ which was a cherry on the top. And you also have Dadape Pohe with chopped cucumber, chopped Tomatoes, addition of Metkut, with tempering / without tempering, with Cilantro / without Cilantro and so on.  There is also a sweet version of Dadape Pohe where washed thick Poha is mixed with scrapped Coconut, Sugar / Jaggery and a pinch of Salt. The mixture is then placed under heavy stone for resting before serving.
Pohe across regions
As we move across regions, the method and the ingredients used for making Poha differ, however Poha remains in the lead. In Belgaum, Poha is made with a prominent flavor of ginger. They are called ‘Ale-Paak’ Pohe. The Poha is mixed with Salt, Sugar, Lime juice, Cilantro and Peanuts and spiced with a chutney made from powdered Phutane Daal, Ginger, Green chilies, Salt and Asafoetida. And to give a bit of extra kick, a spicy Ladoo of this chutney is placed on top of the Ale Paak Pohe. It is served with Sugarcane Juice.
Similarly, we also have ‘Lavlele Pohe’ (also known as ‘Tel Tikhat Meeth Pohe’) from the Marathwada region. Lavlele Pohe are also simple to make. Simply take thin Pohe and spice it with a dressing of Oil, Goda Masala (Black Masala), Red Chilli Powder and Salt. And then you may add Onions, tomatoes, Cilantro and so on as per your choice. There is another method of making Lavlele Pohe where Poha is coated with Raw Oil and Metkut and / or Pud Chutney. In the same family, we have ‘Kalavlele Pohe’ where thin Poha is mixed with special Bedgi Chilly Powder, Dhana Jeera Powder, scrapped Coconut and Jaggery.
A well known Marathi author, teacher, social activist and freedom fighter from Maharashtra – Sane Guruji in his book has mentioned about ‘Haatche Pohe’ whose recipe is similar to ‘Lavlele Pohe’. These Pohe are prepared by mixing Vegetable Oil, scrapped Coconut, Green chilli / Red Chilli Powder and chopped Cilantro to Poha and flavouring it with Goda Masala.

Amongst the other methods of making Poha, one that is not so popular is the ‘Kolache Pohe’ or ‘Kuwalache Pohe’. It is again a recipe from Konkan region. There are two ways of making this Poha. In the first method, soaked Poha is mixed with Coconut Milk & Tamarind-Jaggery pulp and in another method, Aubergine Bharta made with Tamarind & Jaggery Pulp is added to the soaked Poha. While serving, the soaked Poha is taken in a bowl and mixture of Coconut milk & Tamarind-Jaggery pulp is poured over it. Similarly, in another method, the crushed Aubergine Bharta is mixed with the Poha as a last step just before serving.  
Siteche Pohe
The renowned Marathi writer – Durga Bhagwat in her book ‘Khamang’ has mentioned about a story related to Pohe known as ‘Siteche Pohe’, which I had never heard before. This story is all about ‘Kavda’ – a pigeon like bird in Konkan. Once the Kavda was flying when he heard a group of women singing songs and making Poha. He tasted Poha that was discarded and then had a desire to eat Pohe. He went home and expressed his desire to eat Poha. His wife was very lazy and since the Poha-making process is very cumbersome, she completely ignored his wish. However, his sister Sita spent whole day in making Pohe for her brother. Kavda’s wife did not appreciate this. Rather she thought that her husband would eat Poha made by his sister Sita and appreciate her. So she added some small stones in Poha. When Kavda returned home and started eating Poha, he got annoyed when he bit the stones. He enquired about who made the Poha, and his wife quickly relied – “Your sister has made it.” The annoyed Kavda kicked his sister Sita and she died immediately. However, before her death she said ‘Dada, I was the one who made the Poha, but it was your wife who mixed stones in it.” He repented for his behavior later. There is another version of this story of Kavda where his wife served him huge quantity of un sieved Poha which he ate but did not like. Later, his sister Sita gathered information about making Poha and since the process was cumbersome, the quantity was limited to a fistful Poha. Looking at the quantity, Kavda threw away the Poha and beat his sister to death. However, after tasting the Pohe, he repented his actions. Since that day Kavda strays in the jungle. Whenever he looks at the small seedlings / flowers of Poha grown during rainy season, he eats it in the memory of his sister. These small Poha shaped flowers are known as ‘Siteche Pohe’.
Aaple Kande Pohe
And how can anyone ignore ‘Kande Pohe’ while talking about Maharashtrian Pohe. It is again a popular Maharashtrian breakfast made from thick Poha tempered with fried onions, peanuts, green chilies, curry leaves and topped with a dash of lemon juice. The wholesome snack though simple to cook has all the elements of a perfect meal – it’s light and healthy, soft and crunchy, and just has the right dose of every taste. Now coming back to the Maharashtrian tradition, the term ‘Kande Pohe’ is popularly associated with the arranged marriages. In olden days, when the boy used to come to the girl’s house with marriage proposal, it was expected of her to impress him and his family members. So during the chat, the mother would call her daughter to serve snacks to the guests, and the daughter dressed in a Saree would come out with a tray with dishes of ‘Kande Pohe’. And then the typical conversion used to begin where the mother mentions, “My daughter has made this, she is a very good cook, she does this, she does that and so on…” Now in modern times, usually the boy and girl meet outside in a restaurant, but the meeting is still jokingly called as ‘kande Pohe’.
Some Unknown, some Innovative & some Modern Pohe
The variants of Poha also includes some seasonal fruit-based recipes like Phansache Pohe, Tarbujache Pohe, Aamras Pohe etc. These type of Pohe are generally made in Saraswat community. The method remains the same where Poha is mixed with scrapped coconut, Sugar / Jaggery to a fruit base of Musk-melon cubes, Mango Pulp or Pulp of Barka Jackfruit. In these fruit-based variants, there is a savory variant made from Kokum fruit known as ‘Kadhitle Pohe’. They are made by mixing soaked Poha with Coconut Milk and Kokum fruit extract. These are seasoned with Ginger-chilly paste, salt and Ghee-Jeera Tadka. The ‘Kairiche Pohe’ (Raw Mango Poha) is also a variant which is made on the lines of Phodniche Pohe, only difference being grated raw mango is added to give it a unique tangy flavor.
Kamlabai Ogale’s popular book, Ruchira, is a cooking bible for me. In this book, I found two variants that I was not earlier aware of. They are Kakdi Pohe and Ravan Pohe. The method of making Kakdi Pohe is similar to layered Biryani. The layers of Cucumber, Poha, scrapped Coconut are rested for two hours like Dadape Pohe and then seasoned with Green Chilly, Cilantro, Lime Juice, Salt & Sugar. Lastly, it is tempered with Tadka. Similarly, another new and interesting variant that I found in Ruchira is Raavan Pohe. I know about Ravan Bhaat which could have possibly been named after the Raavan due to its high spice content, however, looking at the Recipe of Raavan Pohe, it seems to be a non-spicy variant. Ravan Pohe are made by mixing Poha with steamed Chana Dal, Onions, Cilantro, scrapped Coconut and seasoned with lime juice, sugar and salt.
In today’s fast world, we eat preservative-laid corn flakes and wheat flakes. However, in many health conscious homes, the day starts with a healthy Poha breakfast in its new forms and styles which include Mix Vegetable Poha, Corn Poha, Sambar Poha, Chutney Poha, Sprouts Poha, Poha mixed with Milk, dates, almonds and fruits for kids and many more. We also have non-veg Pohe variants like Poha Bhujing – a variant where marinated smoked chicken and roasted potatoes are tossed with Poha. Sodyache Pohe, Prawns Pohe, Kombdi Kaleji Pohe and so on are also some non-veg variants.
 Nowadays, we also get re-invented version of Poha like Saffron flavoured Poha, Khus flavoured Poha, Tutti Frutti Poha which is a mixed bag of colourful Poha. Then, there is also Rose flavoured Poha and even the popular Masala Chai flavoured Poha, which can be eaten as breakfast by adding milk to it. As you can see, there are unlimited variants of Poha and sky is the limit for imagination and creativity to make newer versions.  
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