With the wedding bells ringing, different kinds of delicacies find their way on our buffets. All decked up in the best of our attires, with gifts ready, and the sole intention of going and gorging on the buffet food, we head out even amid our busy schedule.However, the glimmer and shine today Is not how our ‘Bhoji’ has always been. Traditional Odia bhoji was about the entire village coming together for a feast, which was usually vegetarian, simpler, and healthy.

We spoke to three of our members, Dhiraj Beuria, Taranisen Pattnaik, and Prashant Panda who shared with us some of the major nostalgia factors Odisha’s traditional ‘Bahaghara Bhojis’! Here’s what we miss about it!

Odia Khali Patra/Sala Patra– Traditionally, there were no plastic, foam, or ceramic plates that are usually seen today. There was a Sala Patra sewn together with Khadiga, and a small bowl ‘thunga’ made of the same that was used for eating. Dhiraj says it was one of the best experiences because the flavour of ‘garma-garam bhata dalma’, on Sal leaves is unmatchable!Picture Courtesy: Baijayenti Sahoo

Sitting in line, on the ground- Some experiences cannot be recreated, this being one of them, says Prashant. “We had a huge family, so our own family would be about a 100 people! Sitting on the floor, as we waited for the food hungrily, was one of the most memorable experiences. Those who could afford, also put up a small tent house and a couple of tables and chairs,” he said. Taranisen recalls a rather hilarious instance when he sat down to eat at Bhoji, during dusk, and cows came in a herd towards their homes (known locally as Godhuli). The fear of having his plate covered in dust, he got up immediately!

The platter- The three gentlemen recall how they would first be served the traditional and typical ‘Lembu, Luna, Lanka’ (Lemon, salt, and green chilly). This is the quintessential salad Then followed a series of mouth-watering hot delicious food including Arua rice, Moong Dal with Baigana, Ghanta Tarkari with Badhi, Mango Khatta or Khajuri Khatta or Ambula Rae, Ambila with Boeti Kakharu, Kandhamula, Saru, Desi Aloo and other items as per season. Some affluent families also served Chencheda with Chingudi (shrimp) or Mudhi Ghanta (Fish head).

Picture Courtesy: Kallolini Patnaik

Taranisen adds, “During a village marriage Bhoji, all family members present in respective families of a village are invited and they do attend it. If someone (Nua Bohu or aged parents) can’t come to the feast, he/she is supplied with packing facility in Khali Patra packed in Gamucha and watery items in Dhaala or Belaa.” Likewise, Prashant recalls his love for ‘Rohi’ fish fry that would be freshly fetched from local pond and fried in their backyard kitchen!

Kheeri- This would be traditionally known as ‘Luni Jau’ (khiri with less sugar). This was an important delicacy back then! What made it amazing, was ‘rasagulla’ served on top. That mud pot cooked ‘Kheeri’ did not even have as many cashews or nuts, says Dhiraj. “They were huge rasagullas, and of different varieties. All our eyes were usually on this sweetmeat. Gathering around and gulping them down quick was fun,” Prashant adds.

Bhaara (Especially stealing food from it)- ‘Bhaara’ was the takeaway sweets of the bride, from her parents’ side. This was usually meant to be distributed to her in-laws’ relatives who attended the function, which was accompanied by saree and dhoti (for married members) and the neighbourhood got the sweets. “Mudhi Muan, Khae Muan, Chuda Muan, Arisa Pitha, Kadali Kandhi, Khurumaa (deep fried flour balls coated with sugar), Pheni, Khaasta Gaja (Khaja), Jilapi (Jalebi), Chandrajkanti, Chinni  Khae with coconut slices, Phena or Saakara made from sugar, were all sent among the sweets. Arisa Pitha, Jilapi and Boondi Ladoo was given by those affluent .Labangalata weas added later on. These food items were supplied to in-laws houses in Sagada Doli (the bamboo container) on a bullock cart,” Taranisen says, in the fond memory of the good old days!

Picture Courtesy: My Good Times

Odia cooking style– The cooking space was known as ‘Roshai Khalaa’.  “In firewood, local varieties like Karanja, Aamba, Paraat types were used. Locally, sugarcane by-products were used to start the fire, since Aska (my native) is associated with sugarcane production & sugar factory,” recalls Taranisen. The three stoned makeshift ‘Chulha’ only enhanced the flavours!

Huge Brass and Terracotta utensils- Handaa for all items, served in Daaba (for watery menu), Donky, Khanati (Bada Khadika), Gudia Chattu, Khari Jaali (Massive deep fry pans) made of bamboo to starch and rice serving, Ukuna Kunda, Kara Chuli (donky), were some local names for all kinds of huge festive utensils made of brass and terracotta, says Taranisen. Likewise, Dhiraj adds, a lot of villages still use these earthen pots! “They also turned the food alkaline, and reduced the acid factor. These days we suffer from digestive issues after a wedding reception,” he laughs.

Traditional Odia mutton- A major, yet rare affair from the ‘Bahaghara Bhoji’, was the traditionally simply cooked mutton. Dhiraj says, it was nothing like today’s spicy mutton being served.”It was being cooked with minimum spices, less oil, and only rarely. If the function was in a temple, mutton was not prepared. I don’t think there’s anything I miss as much as this!” he adds.

Picture Courtesy: Oriya Rasoi

Pana– Dhiraj recalls a special ‘Panaa’ that was served to the bride and the groom, who would spend the entire day hungry. Nabaata Panaa (ନବାତ ପଣା – Sherbet made of Chhena, Jaggery, bananas, grated coconut & black pepper) was served most often because it was full of nutritional properties. Bride’s mother usually breaks their fasts by offering sweets to the groom first and the then bride after the marriage ritual.

Baraati Charcha – Groom’s Baraati usually came with only a limited number of family members, Patnaik reminisces. “On arrival, they were first given water to clean the legs & face in the rest room arranged at a given space at Akhara Ghara, Mandir premises or Kotha Ghara (spacious stock room of temple) etc. They were served Panaa drinks first, like Nabaata Panaa,, lemon juice  (lembu pani), or Bela (wood apple) Pana as per availability. They were given a ‘Tiffin’ or snacks that usually contained Boondi and Sev, Arisa Peetha, Khajara, Rasi laddoo, etc.”

Not to forget, the Jora Mahuri (traditional music system), and the decoration of bamboo and coconut leaves at the entrance. Limited ‘Lichu’ or fairy lights took over one corner and a gramophone player went on playing some beautiful Odia tracks. Besides, there were three main ‘Bhojis’- ‘Gaanti Kutumba Bhoji’ on Mangana day for exclusive family and relatives; Bahaghara Dina Bhoji – for whole village, family members, relatives and Baraati; and Chaturthi Bhoji for family members.