Potali Pitha: Love Personified

Sweet and soothing in taste, this Kendrapada lesser known speciality is a delicious connotation of love and happy beginnings.

By Madhulika Dash; Picture courtesy

“The brilliance about aphrodisiac dishes are they aren’t just a repository of amazing stories and ingredients – simple really exotic – but also of curiously complex techniques that may bewilder you in the beginning but make sense with your first bite,” the legendary food author and culinary historian Jiggs Kalra had said summing up what inspired him to put together one of the finest books on Indian love food called Kama Bhog of our times. The tome, which brings together some of the fascinating delicacies concocted by our ancestors wasn’t just an interesting deviation from the conventional books on the same topic, it gave an insight into what really made the aphrodisiac muster of our ancient times.

Back in time, Kalra had elaborated, “aphrodisiac food wasn’t just about one ingredient, neither was it about the quintessential red-white-chocolate colour but a combination of a ingredients matched with techniques that could help elevate the dish for maximum effect.” And by effect, adds culinary revivalist Chef Sabyasachi Gorai (Chefpreneur, Fabrica By Saby), “the primary job was curing, especially boosting fertility through a holistic approach. A dish had to work the palate, calm the mind, make you happy and willing towards recreation. And any food that could do it was put in the category of love food with the main ingredient hailed as the aphrodisiac. Barley, one of the first staple grains in our culinary history, was for long considered to be the perfect ‘love food’ – and the dish, continues Chef Gorai, “was a simple porridge that was made by boiling the barley and then sweetening with honey and some fruits.”

For a large part of history, says Chef Sharad Dewan (Regional Director, Food Production, The Park Hotels) “aphrodisiac food were mostly sweet – be it with the kheer, halwas, apupas (which is considered to be sweet) and the pithas. And the reason for that was sweet food, when rightly elevated using spices, can achieve the above said ‘effect’ with relative ease.”

After all, sweet food through our culinary history when aphrodisiacs or Kaam Bhog were designed for the purpose of fertility had few things in common – milk, milk products (chenna), jaggery, clove and cardamom. Ingredients, says nutritional therapist Sveta Bhassin, “that were adept at calming the brain, bringing the stress level down and resetting the circadian rhythm to give a feeling of happiness and a zeal to procreate.”

One such masterpiece is the Potali Pitha. The lesser-known speciality of Kendrapada, a district of Odisha and the place of origin of the famous Rasabali, this relatively later history creation fits the ancient concept of aphrodisiac like a glove. Made using two different formats of flour, wholewheat and maida, this version of pancake, says culinary custodian Alka Jena, “isn’t only local in its approach and techniques but also showcases our culinary flexibility to adopt new ingredients to our culinary tradition. A labour of love – it takes a good hand on the technique to make one – the pitha is a foreplay of combination of culinary techniques and batter.”

It begins by first making a maida batter that is used to create the first pocket in which jaggery sweetened, cardamom and pepper flavoured fresh chenna is filled into, continues Jena, “which then is dipped in the second batter made of whole wheat before being deep fried to crisp golden. In appearance, it resembles the old school flat patties.”

A far cry from the conventional style of pitha making in Odisha, which uses the fermentation technique to get the lightness, Potali Pitha, a dish that was created to celebrate Lord Balabhadra marriage to Tulasi, the daughter of the demon king Kandarasura, plays on the technique of aeration through whisking to get its light texture. In fact, continues Jena, “the beauty of this extremely complex dish that is said to be as an ode to the Lord’s fondness of chenna, and is rumoured to have been invented around the same time, is its modernity. True to its tale, Potali Pitha, one of the popular prasad of the Baladev Jeu temple that tradition say was presented to Lord Balabhadra by Lord Krishna as a wedding gift, represents the concept of union not just with the ingredients but also the wedding of two techniques.”