Home-chef Saipriya never has a dry spell when it comes to plating an Odia smorgasbord in Bengaluru. Her first foray into cooking was in childhood. As a little girl, she would stand on her toes, with curious eyes, to see what was simmering on the gas stove. When Saipriya—who only uses her first name—grew a little, she began tackling simple recipes. It was only when she moved to Bengaluru from Bhubhaneshwar in 2007, in search of a job, that a real interest in cooking, especially Odia cuisine, sprouted.
Saipriya’s initial attempts spun around Odia and Bengali dishes (her grandmother was Bengali). Living in Bengaluru showed her the multiplicity of Southern flavors, primarily spicy and tangy, contrary to the subtle flavours of Odia cuisine. “A paucity of Odia eateries in the city made me take up the task of making space for it,” she says. Quite close to its famed cousin, the Bengali cuisine, food from Odisha is a fine balance of flavours, cooked usually in mustard oil, and by using similar spices including the phutana, a fine mix of five different spices, similar to the Bengali paanch phoron.
Along with the similarities, it is also characterised by the addition of besara (garlic pounded along with mustard), ambula (fermented dry mango) and a whole lot of curd. The staples of the cuisine include rice along with vegetables such as yam, ash gourd, pumpkin, drumsticks, banana flower, and hendua (dried bamboo shoot). “Using all this and more, I have managed to retain the essence of the cuisine and that’s what people admire,” she says.
At first, Saipriya started posting food pictures of what she cooked on different food groups of Facebook. “People became inquisitive because one usually doesn’t hear much about Odia food,” she says. Along with her blogger sister Saswati Behera, they began Odia food pop-ups, with the first one being held in 2014 at her home. There have been 12 following that. The last one at Conosh, a unique community eating restaurant in Bengaluru, was particularly successful.
Among the things she enjoys preparing, one of her favourites, is Mudhi Mansa—puffed rice served with spicy mutton curry. “I serve this as a starter in my pop-ups and the superb crunch with the flavours of the meat makes it a best-seller,” she says, before launching into a monologue praising the glory of Odisha’s seafood. From the usual Rohu and Catla to crab and prawn curries cooked in a luscious tomato-ginger-garlic paste.
Using Facebook and Instagram to her advantage, she leveraged traction for her cooking. Social media has also helped her take the cuisine to more people. Saipriya used to have a pick-up service for her food but she’s always been more inclined towards pop-ups. These happen twice or thrice a year and involve days of planning before that. Usually priced Rs 1,000, it includes some of the best Odisha has to offer. Business is slow right now but she hopes to start home deliveries soon. Till then, she’s using pictures to tempt the glutton. “I post regularly on my Instagram handle called My Cooking Canvas. Being a freelance food stylist and food photographer has helped me showcase my favourite cuisine in a finger-licking avatar,” she says with the promise of expanding her culinary portfolio and offering more from the coastline.
Jaggery Chhena Poda
- Soft cottage cheese or chhena: 250gm
- Jaggery powder: 1cup
- Green-cardamom powder: 1tbsp
- Semolina: 2tbsp
- Baking powder: 1/2tsp
- Salt: 1/8tsp
- Clarified butter:1/8tsp
- Whey: 2 tbsp
- In a bowl, mix everything except whey
- If the mixture is dry, add whey. About two tbsp should be good.
- Preheat the oven at 200 degrees C for 10 minutes. Prepare a six-inch cake tin.
- Line the tin with a banana leaf (optional). Grease the leaf with ghee.
- Transfer the chhena mixture onto the tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until it’s done.
- Let it cool for 15-20 minutes. Demould and slice.
Using Facebook and Instagram to her advantage, the home chef leveraged traction for her cooking. Social media has also helped her take the cuisine to more people.