Let us begin by firmly refusing to address the elephant, er, sweetmeat in the room and not getting into the whole Roshogolla thing. The good people of Kalinga Stories, which has organised the ongoing Table to Table festival celebrating Odia cuisine at Novotel, clearly don’t want to get into it either, as it is the one item missing from an otherwise comprehensive collective of the foods and cuisine of the coastal state.
Table to Table, at Food Exchange, comprises thali lunches and buffet dinners, with the menus of each showcasing the various regions of Odisha, each divided yet bound together by geography. “For instance, western Odia food is very different from the rest of the state that area is land-bound and neighbours northern and central states, while southern Odia food has curry leaves and spices from neighbouring Andhra,” says food columnist and culinarian Madhulika Dash, who along with Kalinga Stories cofounder, chef and food stylist and photographer Alka Jena, put together what they call the first chapter of what Kalinga Stories aims to achieve.
While we sip on the bael juice so familiar to anyone from East India and take alternating bites of the Kakharu Patra Potli, a beguiling soft shrimp cake, hand-pounded, batter-fried, and literally leavened with pumpkin leaves (“Eastern Odia food, which is influenced by the coast, comprises a lot of seafood, and so prawn and shellfish sides like these are common with every meal,” explains Jena), and the Berhampuri Chicken Pakoda, its crunchy, spice-laced taste and crunchy texture so clearly influenced by the far more wellknown Chicken 65, we begin to see what the pair mean, and what Kalinga Stories has set out to do.
“So little is known about Odia food, and yet we use such a wide variety of seasonal produce, herbs and spices of proven great nutritional value, and have dishes so unique to us yet also similar to other more wellknown dishes,” says Dash, herself Odia (as in Jena and another one of their co-founders). This is what made Kalinga Stories want to not just tell the story of Odia food but make people taste and experience it for themselves.
The menu currently being served at the festival, comprises some 55 dishes and a culinary compendium on the various dishes of the cardinal regions of the state, has been vetted by everyone from dieticians (to check nutritive and caloric content) to psychoanalysts. “We want the food to be good for everyone who tries it; in every way.”
TILL: March 21
AT: Food Exchange, Novotel Aerocity