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In search of an Odisha favourite

All that’s festive: Singara

All that’s festive: Singara  

Even if it’s a bit of a hunt-down, it is now possible to find some good Chhena Poda in Delhi

The festive season is upon us, and there is talk of laddoo and modak. But when I hear about Indian sweets, my mind wanders off to the east. One of my all-time favourites is the Chhena Poda of Odisha. I got to know of this truly sublime sweet — made of cheese curds (the chhena) — relatively late in life, and now I can’t have enough of it. There was a time when it came to me all the way from Odisha in a special parcel. But now the sweet can be found in many parts of the city — including in Chittaranjan Park, where some Bengali sweet shops sell it.

As friends talked about laddoos, I thought of looking for Chhena Poda. I had heard about an Odisha restaurant somewhere near the Thyagaraj Sports Complex, and I pass the stadium often. Last week, on my way from South Delhi to East Delhi, I decided to look for the eatery. I stopped to ask for directions, only to be asked to look out for a Jagannath Temple.

Opposite the stadium, there is a lane going towards the Lodhi Colony Railway Station. There is construction work happening there, so you will see a fence of blue prefab walls. I parked outside the fence, and walked in (though, I later realised, one can drive in, too). I turned right and continued to walk quite a bit. Finally, to my left, I saw the Jagannath Temple. I entered the premises and found a small canteen right there. It offered only sweets and snacks; for Odiya meals, I was told, I had to go to Dilli Haat.

Dahi Vada Alu Dum

Dahi Vada Alu Dum  

In a display counter they had rasgullas (₹20 for a large one) and samosas, or singaras, as they are called in east India (₹10 per piece). They had Chhena Goja (₹20) and, I was happy to see, Chhena Poda (₹50 for 100 g). Also on the menu are Alur (potato) Chop (₹10), Dahi Vada Alu Dum (₹40 for two; ₹25 for one) and Vada Ghugni (₹30).

I asked for Chhena Poda, Singara and Dahi Vada Alu Dum. I’d heard paeans sung to the Dahi Vada Alu Dum — an Odisha special, which is special indeed. The dish consists of vadas dunked in curd. To this, some pieces of curried, asafoetida (hing)-flavoured potatoes are added. This is topped with fried sev. Overall, the dish is different — delicious.

I like the singara, too, which is vastly different from its northern counterpart. The potatoes are small, diced and fried, sometimes with bits of the skin, and tempered with peanuts. The flour casing is also thicker.

I rounded off my meal with the Chhena Poda, or roasted chhena. For this, chhena is kneaded with sooji (semolina flour) and sugar. This crumbly mixture is then baked. Originally, it was wrapped in sal leaves, and then roasted over a low fire for hours.

The sweet is sublime for several reasons. It is only mildly sweet, so you don’t get the sticky, syrupy feeling that other sweets sometimes leave you with. Then, since it is roasted, it is wonderfully light. I love its crumbly texture, and the dark bits, which add colour and a sharpness to the dessert.

The festive season has begun. Ring in the Chenna Poda!

The writer is a seasoned food critic

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 2:44:02 AM |

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