Article

The 'brilliance' of Chanda Chakata

Here’s why we have it on Kumara Purnima every single year – and why one small bowl ain’t enough, ever!

 

By Madhulika Dash; Pictures courtesy - https://culinaryxpress.com/

Chanda Chakata, the delicious highlight of Kumara Purnima isn’t just the main prasad of Odisha’s Moon festival but also occupies a place of pride in the list of favourite foods here. And by that we don’t just mean the denizens but even those who are introduced to the sweet prasad the first time and take to it like fish to water. Literally. The reason for this easy transitioning of popularity isn’t just the delicious taste which never changes, no matter when it is made – yup, one doesn’t need to wait for the festival to taste this culinary wonderment – but the clever choice of ingredients, and the rather intimate process of making the prasad.

The best tasting Chanda Chakata, which is ritualistically considered to be the food personification of the moon on plate and whose origin easily dates to the time of the Kharavela Kings as per some folklore, even today is made with exactly the same all-sweet ingredients like the fresh chenna , khai (popped paddy), ripe bananas, freshly grated coconut and sugarcane juice (or sugar) that are mixed and mashed into a delicious pulp by hand. In fact, adds culinary connoisseur Monalisa Kar, “if one wants to experience the timeless concept of love through food, this is the dish to relish. It easily translates a maker’s emotions to the one who is tasting it – and her blessings too.”

This perhaps explains why it is usually the grandmother’s (and mothers) who make this amazingly delicious, but deceivingly simple looking delicacy, where the only cooking needed is for the chenna, which, adds Kar, “is made from the milk of a cow that is has completed a month of giving birth. This is because of the high quality of fat and protein in the milk.”

But ever wondered why we have such a custom of prasad that often mirrors a certain theme and such fascinating selection of ingredients that often are palate-fit for the occasion? While ceremonially, the whole concept– at least the key ones like Chanda Chakata and Gointa Kheeri in Kumar Purnima’s case – has been explained as part of the ‘ancient tradition and the right thing to do’; there is of course an explanation to the ingredient and the prasad and its association with a festival like Kumar Purnima.

Let’s start with the ingredients, says culinary archiver Alka Jena, “the choice may seem a sweet on sweet affair, but if one has to look at the elements separately, you would realise that each of them brings in a different form of sweetness that allows they to pair together beautifully. This variation in sweet tones often showcases nature and seasonal ability to affect fruit. Take for instance the freshly grated coconut, which has a sublime sweetness; while the local bananas that have that pairing of salt and sugar that gives the contrast and of course the chenna which derives the sweetness from natural fat that is different from the concentrated sweetness of sugarcane juice or the slight bitterness in places that still prefer jaggery, the original option for the prasad.”

This foreplay of sweetness, adds Jena, “and texture that is created with grated coconut flakes and khai, which gives it that fascinating palate play, taste and popularity. The other of course, is the use of these ingredients make it extremely light and easy to digest for all – elders and toddlers included.” It’s however, says Kar, “the nutritional aspect and tradition wisdom that makes Chanda Chakata not only a craving around the time, but also a much prescribed food for wellness too.”

Concurs nutritional therapist Sveta Bhassin, who finds chenna one of the few dairy products to have good levels of Tryptophan, a protein that regulates the calming hormones in our system, especially the brain.

Continues the food nutrition expert, “chenna, besides being rich source of protein is also a valuable option for the kind of good, easy to digest fat that is needed for the body to kickstart the thermal activity in our body. It repairs the softer tissues and masses like your brain thus calming them down.

When paired with grated coconut, popped rice and banana, a rich source of potassium and Vitamin C, it revvs up the thermal activity of the body, which helps fight against the change of weather. In fact, the preparation given its minimalistic method of making it transforms Chanda Chakata into this delicious power booster that repairs the body and also preps it for winter while keeping the hormones calm, especially of the brain which tends to overwork during a seasonal change.”

This also explains why we feel this sense of soulful calmness wash over us after taking a bite – and also crave for it for the day – and few ahead as well. Because, adds Bhassin, “every time you are having it, the body is completing its need for energy and calmness to get through winters.”