Mangsha jhola. Mangsha Kassa. Chingudi Besara. Chingudi Bhaja. Mudhi Ghanta. Poda Mangsha. Machcha fry. Kankada Jhola, the names just go longer. If there is a single day in an Odia life, when one can find the outpouring of “meat love” touching the zenith, it is Chhadakhai. The day marks the end
of the holy Kartik Masa and signals the beginning of the winter culinary fiesta.
In fact, for many Odias and those like culinary archiever Chef Sabyasachi Gorai, who has spent his formative years as a chef in Bhubaneswar IHM, it is a day of celebrating the hard-core carnivore. “I remember watching in fascination as my team members would recall some of the most fascinating dishes including the poda machcha and mangsha poda during the countdown to this day. It wasn’t just the number of dishes but their delicious description that added to the warm feeling of a feast,” he recalls.
One, who was often smitten by the sheer number of dishes that would be woked-out to celebrate Chhadakhai, Chef Gorai isn’t alone in this feeling. It is a day when the meat market after bearing a deserted look during the period of Panchuka (the final five days five days of Kartik Masa that is observed with strict absenteeism) finally springs into life with a flourish with every kind of meat and fish on display that our coast and land could afford.
Ever wondered, why is it a day dedicated to the Rajasik feast of meals? According to tradition, it is a day when most people can return to their usual diet after a month-long ritual of eating ‘sadha’ (austere vegetarian food) in some places without even the quintessential turmeric. Result, while many return to eating onions, garlic, mushroom , cauliflower and other vegetables which is barred during the Kartik Masa, for a majority of people, it is return to the meat-love.
According to history, the ritual began with the Bali Jatra festivity. As per the old Spice Route records, it is said that it was around the time (mid-November) when the winds changed directions – and the sailors, fishermen and traders get ready to set sail. The farewell of the traders and sailors would be celebrated with a big feast that constituted of the best of fish, crab, prawn and even meat in the coastal areas of Odisha. Incidentally, the day fell around mid-November, a time when the meat was better and the fish would move towards the coast. That period today is marked by Chhadakhai. Since then, many historians believe, the tradition of Chhadakhai began – not only as a festival of indulgence, but also as a mark the beginning of winters – sheeta rutu.
The change in quality of fish and meat is something that seasoned Chef Sharad Dewan, Executive Chef, The Park Hotels, Kolkata, concurs with too. “During winters there is a change in the fat-moisture ratio improves in meat -especially mutton and chicken. This ensures they not only taste well but are good to digest. And thus, are the ideal period to indulge in.” In addition to this, adds culinary aficionado Debashish Patnaik of Dalma, “The abundance of seasonal produce ensures that the meals prepared are
nutritive and delicious – and even easy to digest.”
A good reason for this, as per the Rutuchakra, which defines the change in the Kaffa Pitta and Vatta in during the year, “is that after the Sharat Rutu, during which the Kartik Masa actually falls, the three elements reach an equilibrium. This boosts the immune system, which now can take a good feast for the next season change, and thus the craving for rich food like meat, mushroom and even aphrodisiacs like prawns and crabs.”
The other more psychological reason is of course the craving. As curative nutritionist, Sveta Bhassin calls it, “the revenge return to your beloved food. It is the same feeling that a child would get when chocolates are banned for him or her.”
Incidentally, the “bereavement” isn’t the only reason that drives this craving, it is also the body’s need for ample amount of complex fat and protein diet that can actually help you through the earlier onset of
winters. Clearly, Chhadakhai is one time of the year when gluttony is good.
During winters there is a change in the fat-moisture ratio improves in meat -especially mutton and chicken. This ensures they not only taste well but are good to digest. And thus, are the ideal period to indulge in.
- Chef Sharad Dewan, Executive Chef, The Park Hotels, Kolkata
(The writer is a senior food columnist, who has been on the panel of Masterchef India and curated chefs retreat)