Pariba Kanji: Soup For The Soul

Considered to be one of the most delicious versions of Kashayam, this iteration of the Odia Kanji is akin to a much needed balmy hug for the body and soul – season notwithstanding. 

By Madhulika Dash; Image credit: Channdan Raath

Pariba kanji or a subtly flavoured, funky soup made with fermented rice water, spices and seasonal vegetables is one of the few delicacies that Odisha has in common with the Chinese Qin dynasty. A dish that is considered to be not just a brilliant kashayam that can cure all, but an antidote that both traditional and modern science has termed as “food for the soul”  

Yet, when it comes to familiarity, not just globally but in Odisha too, this once popular cure-it-all  ace is all but forgotten today. Few know about it and even fewer know the art of making it. And by knowing the art, one does not mean just the traditional recipes but the different variation in terms of vegetable combination and the usage of herbs to lend the soup its all season antidotal goodness – one of which is tempering it with leaves like Sabitri patra that would elevate the gut and brain boosting properties of the warm, balmy soup.  

Among those fortunate enough to have the original recipe or a modern adaptation to this once gourmet delicacy of the traditional Odia kitchen, the common consensus is of how a bowl of Pariba Kanji makes one feel with the very first slurp. Unlike other simpler versions of Kanjis in the Odia ledger, the Pariba version which uses no less than five seasonal vegetables has a more wholesome mouthfeel and satiation.  

Melange of Vegetable

In fact, courtesy the combination of the vegetables used that is mostly a clever pairing of tuber, roots, beans, green leafy vegetables and such, which then are slow poached in the fermented rice water along with the kernels of rice, the kanji feels more like a flavour on flavour bowl of congee rather than the funky clear soup Kanjis that through their history are most associated to. That rich mouthfeel and satiation while puts Pariba Kanji on a higher pedestal than its peers as a dish, it also makes it one of the exceptional examples of wholesome wellness antidotes that can do more than just induce you with the zen like feeling of a warm, gooey hug.  

No wonder that when culinary anthropologist Chef Sabyasachi Gorai recreated this fine format of Kashayam for one of his back in time tables, he introduced the good old congee or Kanji as “the soulful bowl of goodness.” 

The Clever Tempering

The Dish That Nourishes All

Quite deserving too. After all, here was a dish that presented not just the nourishing aspect of a wellness cuisine but a refined technique of minimalistic, nutritive cooking using fermentation. An aspect that not only has enamoured the chefs of the likes of Noma and Masque lately, but also the social media world that has awakened to the palate brilliance of fermented French fries. And to come to think of it, Pariba Kanji or Kanjka much like its peers as per Kashyapa Samhita, an ancient medical scripture, was designed as a frugal treat to good health. In fact, most kanjkas back in the day highlighted the local produce such as the parched podiari rice, long pepper, dried ginger and was often served with friend lentil pancakes called Vatakas.

Fascinatingly, while Pariba Kanji followed suit of the other kanjkas when it came to being hyperlocal in its ingredients, it differed when it came to the choice of ingredients which curiously was cued to those readily available at the grass root level rather than those privy to the affluent. The result, Pariba Kanji not only developed as this wholesome rice gruel but in variation that often showcased the natural bounty of the season and the region. 

Khuda Rice

Brilliance of Pariba Kanji

Take for instance the rice. While most rice soups of the era used parboiled local rice, Pariba Kanji is made from the fermented rice water of khuda – which essentially is the broken leftovers after paddy is dehusked and sieved. In the hierarchy of rice, this variant is considered to be for the poorest of poor. But when it comes to vedic science, khuda by its physical nature and nutritive properties is considered high on the nutrition content and easily digested. In fact, it is an ideal rice varietal for making the base of a rice gruel because of the shorter days it takes for the rice kernels to break down and release sugar for fermentation. Given that the kernels are broken, khuda is easy to digest and is often used to give the kanji its body as well.  

The other aspect where Pariba Kanji scores on its peers is the choice of vegetables and the time it is soaked in the fermented water before the tempering process begins. Although shorter as compared to Suryamukhi Kanji, where the vegetables are allowed to break down further with the fermented rice water with the sun playing the catalyst, the vegetable still goes through the process in the most nutritive-preserved way possible. Result, by the time the kanji has to be tempered, the breakdown of the complex nutritive structure into simple sugar and more is already underway making the Kanji, easy to digest and the most effective bowl. 

The Cooked Rice Water Called Peja

The Layer On Layer Goodness

The upgrading of the bowl of rice gruel, which essentially kanji or congee mostly are about, doesn't end with the clever choice of vegetables that aid each other by complementing the nutritional globe while negating the anti nutritive properties simultaneously, also extends to the tempering. Though minimalistic mostly – most Kanjis are tempered with dry chillies or crushed black pepper and panch phutana along with a fragrant leaf as per the season – the role of the tempering that has mustard, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, hing and curry leaves is to elevate the probiotic and prebiotic effectiveness of not only the rice water, which over the years included peja or the water of freshly cooked rice, to calm the mind and the gut, but also to enhance the digestibility of the vegetables and the quicker distribution of sodium and glutamate in the body and brain. 

Pariba Kanji

This tailored manner of ensuring the food gets digested effectively and efficiently is what has garnered Pariba Kanji its reputation of cure all. After all, it takes one to finish a bowl to not just feel full, satiated but also happy thanks to the gut-brain play that happens due to the easy digestion of food here without spiking the insulin. Result, one feels like a happy panda but without the heaviness of a full meal. The feeling of being re-energised only adds to the charm of Pariba Kanji, a congee style antidote built to make a happy you.  

Little wonder that Pariba Kanji became such a popular first meal for traders and soldiers alike who found that balminess a much needed R&R after a tired journey.