The Legend Of Tanka Torani

Text By: Madhulika Dash 

It’s part of the ancient array of drinks that were created to heal the body while pleasuring the palate. But few have reached the temple corridors like this amazing brother of the famous kanji! 

If there is one dish that easily gets etched in the palate memory of anyone visiting the famous Jagannath Mandir in Puri, it is Tanka Turani – a drink best explained as a jugalbandhi of the tartness of a nimbu pani, sharpness of young curry leaves, warmth of freshly roasted cumin and freshness of a kanji with that hint of chilli. Undoubtedly, a pleasure fest – liked by both denizens and visitors - that remains unquenchable with just one glass! 

Little wonder that Tanka Torani stalls in Puri have been a rising feature at this Dham, more so during the peak, skin-skinning summers, when it provides both the refreshment and also the nourishment to stand against sun stroke and dehydration. But ever wondered how did a drink that heals and pleasures develop? And how did it reach to the corridors of one of the most beloved, powerful temples of India? 

While there is little document available to point exactly the time of when the dish was made – and by whom- many anthropologistS believe that Tanka Turani given its technique and use of ingredients may be as old as fermentation. Or in other words, easily a dish that is 7,000 years old. 

The journey of Tanka Torani is believed to have begun during the early part of rice cultivation. Odisha or Kalinga back then was a formidable kingdom known both for its strong navy, indigenous food culture and of course, rice. We grew more than a dozen varieties of rice, most of which was either exported or sold in copious quantities to other state and yet was enough to feed a nation made of tribes, farmers, scholars and warriors. And food much like the other kingdoms was made of dishes that were functional, nourishing and huge time savers. 

Pokhalo, which makes its entry into most books around BC was one such dish. It started as a farmer’s staple breakfast (at 11 o’Clock), when the rice cooked, the previous evening it was soaked so it didn’t spoil and then washed again before it was had with juice of lemon squeezed in, a crisp fried fish or sukhua (dried fish) and pearl onions. Back those days, dishes that took little administration was popular because people worked from sunrise to sunset, with mornings being of prime importance. Hence, anything that took away those precious hours was considered waste of time. Pokhalo, in that scenario, seemed like a perfect breakfast – filling, easy to prepare and could sustain them for hours without feeling thirsty. It was the very reason that led to the birth of the composite dish of dal baati chutney. 

Like all dishes, pokhalo too went through its own evolution and discoveries when people realized the importance of torani or the fermented rice water, which is rich with minerals, antioxidants, vitamins and a pitera too – making it ideal for the gut’s health and an effective heatstroke bender. In fact, grannies still call it the best hair and face wash – and see it as a home remedy to mouth ulcers and chapped lips. 

The creation of tanka torani as a drink however could have been the ingenuity of the woman folk, considering they were the inventors of Haandia –indigenous rice wine made from long fermented and treated rice water. A common kitchen tale however narrates a story of how a mother created this for her kids who often wanted a taste of the haandia she enjoyed in the evening. Another story is how the drink was created for a wedding between an Andhra Pradesh princess and a crowned prince as a toast to the new alliance. 

A drink created to celebrated or of necessity or simply a soft drink that was perked up as time passed, the debut of Tanka Torani in Jagannath Mandir was around the 10 century AD. Was it a part of Mahaprasad? Well, there are two schools of thought on this. One that believed it is given that it is served as a Mahaprasad; and another school, which sees it as means that could make the Mahaprasad reach to millions across the world, irrespective of religion, caste or creed. In fact, Tanka Torani is made of the rice which is offered to Lord Jagannath – and is created by the suras minutes before the Mahaprasad heads to Anand Baazar. 

Traditionally, tanka torani was made with roasted cumin, hand-tear lemon leaves, curry leaves and a little salt if needed. Later, green chillies were added to give it that kick. Of course depending on the sourness, curd is also added to the torani, which can be had any time of the day – and is refreshing. It in fact, tastes the best during the humid months in Odisha – and is akin to the kala gajjar kanji in Delhi with a food story about the evolution of Indian beverage as bonus. And the best part, you get addicted to it right with the first sip!  

Picture Credit: Lost Recipes of Odisha and Swetapadma Sathpathy