I was getting fed up in the city. I mean, a man on the wrong side of the forties, often feels like this and that’s the law of nature. And suddenly my wife approved a holiday for me for 2N3D. Jokes apart, she’s not that strict but with her permission, one fine morning, I started my drive towards Purulia. I have a friend who is at quite a senior position in the Purulia Forest Department and stay was arranged in the Purulia Forest Rest House. another friend committed Mahua for me and all was set for my quest for Pitha in Purulia.
Purulia is also well connected via train from Kolkata (approximately 6 hours journey) and booking can be done from the IRCTC site
Anyway, the drive to Purulia is around 6 hours and if one considers the breakfast and beer breaks, one can reach in 7 hours. Straight. The road is fantastic, barring a village, where I got in when I misread the direction. Surulia Forest Rest House is just on the outskirts of Purulia town and the location is tagged here. Imagine a rest house with 3 rooms on the first floor and living room and kitchen on the ground floor. The building is literally inside the Zoo and you become king of around 300 acres of jungle. During my stay, I was the only one staying there and I can’t describe that heavenly experience.
Booking for this place can be done by an application to the DFO Kangsabati North Division … and AC rooms are priced at 1000/- per night.
Pitha Kahini now
But more than the trip, I was interested in Pitha. Being in the Westernmost part of West Bengal, food in Purulia rarely got its due credit and honestly, rarely document was there for me to study. Everybody told me about enjoying the Mahua there- bloody drunkards. But very few people know that in Purulia, there is a huge variety of Pitha available. At each and every village household, Pitha is made on a regular basis and they make it out of almost anything.
In West Bengal, Pitha is a seasonal item and is prepared mostly during the winters. But what is a pitha ? Let me try to explain it. Some flour (like in Purulia, they use the rice flour) is kneaded with lukewarm water and thick pancakes are made with it. They can be steamed (aske Pitha or aska pitha) or shallow fried or even deep-fried. They can be sweet variety (maybe with grated coconut, in the village side) or savory variety. Now in Bangladesh, I’ve experienced something as Chhit Pitha, which is a very thin scattered designer pitha, enjoyed with Egg or meat curry. Even in Dhaka and Maimansingha region, there is something named as Nakshi Pitha (various designs are made on a raw pitha), but I am yet to experience that.
But, it’s a whole different story in Purulia. I was invited to the household of Rajwadas, thanks to my friend, to experience a meal with Purulia Pitha. And I was surprised by seeing the variety.
While the lady of the house prepared the Pitha, the man supported her in every step. From helping her in getting the ingredients to keeping the firelight intact, he provided great support. Their kid ( a 10-year-old lady) was watching me with wide eyes on what this fatso is doing inside their home. But, I get friends with kids quite fast and that was really not a problem. The lady was making 4 varieties of Pitha – a regular Aska Pitha, Shim pitha, Gur Pitha, and Chicken Pitha. These, I was told, are the regular varieties of Purulia Pitha that can be seen. But I was completely amazed at the process and variety and documented a full amateurish video on the process.
Purulia Pitha in details
Honestly, I am not a recipe person and hence, please do not expect a detailed recipe post on Purulia Pitha. But I can definitely talk about the experience. Any pitha in Purulia is made with rice flour. It’s mixed and kneaded with lukewarm water to form the dough. Now, in this part of West Bengal, we put in a stuffing (take Gokul Pitha for example), but there they mash the ingredient while making the dough.
Please check this chart below for the Pitha, that I’ve tasted and for details, please check below …
|Shim Pitha||Savory||Shallow fried|
|Chicken pitha||Savory||Shallow fried/ Steamed|
|Desi cock Pitha||Savory||Shallow fried|
|Hansher Pitha||Savory||Shallow fried|
The Savory Purulia Pitha
For example, while making Shim Pitha (Pitha with Snow pea), the vegetable is cooked boiled first with basic seasoning and then hand mashed with the dough. The seeds were inside and that added to the taste. It’s a savory pitha and yet the accompaniment is Gur. “But what do you do in summer ?” was my immediate question and the answer is they use the Akh er Gur (or Sugarcane Gur). And the next surprise was the chicken Pitha. Chunks of chicken (mostly boneless) are cooked and the same procedure was followed. Both these varieties were shallow fried and Mustard oil was used for that extra punch.
In fact, they even had a steamed pitha. A piece of chicken pitha dough was put in between two large saal leaves and the entire thing was cooked on the griddle. The steam was formed inside and naturally, that had a distinct taste.
Sweet Purulia Pitha
Aska Pitha was the regular variety, where just the rice flour dough was cooked. But here, the cooking process was different. It was put inside an earthen vessel and hot water was put on top. Steam formed inside and that cooked the Pitha. It’ll be interesting to share that a typical honeycomb structure is seen inside the Aska Pitha. But gur pitha was deep fried and the cooking medium was white oil or Palm Oil (maybe to save cost).
I personally liked the Gur Pitha the most and in fact, they packed a few for my home.
In the evening, another friend sent a few more varieties along with a bottle of Mahua and Hanriya. Mahua was priced at 100/- for 1 Ltr and Hanriya at 30/- for 1 Ltr. Please read about mahua here on my Jhargram blogpost. Hanriya is another variety of local country liquor made from fermented rice. It’s quite pungent in taste and please note, it gets spoiled in a hot weather pretty soon. Pitha made out of duck meat, country chicken and Potato were sent along with. The homestay is run by Biswanath da and he can be reached at 9547398826. If requested nicely, he can manage these items apart from his regular stay and food package at Purulia.
About the duck meat in Purulia
Now the question comes that what is the regular meat in Purulia … This is interesting stuff. Apart from the usual chicken and goat, a lot of duck meat is used in daily meals. And roti or chapati made from the rice flour is the usual accompaniment. In fact in the Purulia Forest Rest House, I was served the same over dinner. The hansher Mangsho, or duck meat was cooked in a homely style and it was simply yummy. I was told that traditionally, this duck meat is usually enjoyed during the winter season, as duck gathers fat and meat gets softer.
Another meal with Bamboo chicken
Now, Bamboo chicken is a regular delicacy in Andhra Pradesh. But when I was incited for the same at Raghunathpur Forest Office, I couldn’t say no. One forest officer was a champion in the dish and the place was just at a 1.5 hours driving distance. A homely meal with the dry Bamboo chicken is an experience in itself and I can’t thank the gentleman enough for this.
Just to mention, Bankura or rather Beliatore comes on the way back, if someone follows that very route. And the place is famous for its Mecha Sandesh. In fact, the whole Beliatore village is famous for the item. It’s a Sandesh without the chhena or cottage cheese. Chana Dal or Split Bengal Gram is powdered inside the shop and a besan is prepared from it. The besan is fried into Gathiya and the Gathiya is powdered again. It’s then cooked with kheer and sugar into lumps. The lump is mashed with ghee and green cardamom into small roundels or Laddus. the laddus are dipped in the sugar syrup and dried on sal leaves. Behold, the mecha sandesh is ready for consumption. Please check my blogpost here …
This was my first proper food trip to Purulia and I’m yet to learn about the cuisine. If anyone can enlighten on any of the points in this post, please let me know. Thanks in advance.
Bon apetit !!!
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