Written By Pratichi Satpathy (Grade 8)
We Odias have an answer to every question. Beaches? Yes. Mountains? Yes. Monuments? Yes. Phenomenal cuisine? Is that even a question? Of course we have it! But what about cheesecake? If you think the answer is no, you are incorrect. A sweetmeat made out of sugar, chhena (fresh cheese), semolina, and garnished with nuts, Chhena Poda is a humble dish with textures galore. Moreover, it is our beloved Lord Jagannath’s favourite sweet.
You might be surprised to know that the Chhena Poda is not a carefully calculated creation but an accidental ambrosial delicacy. One day, circa 1947, in the town of Dashapalla, Nayagarh, Odisha, Sudarshan Sahu (a sweetmeat seller) had committed a grave mistake: he had put sweetened chhena on a charcoal stove and forgotten about it. However, when he tasted the clearly burnt chhena, the gears of his brain were turning, and an idea was formulating in his brilliant mind. He knew that making a few twists and adding some ingredients here and there would create a sweet good enough to sell in his store, but what he was not aware of was that his sweet miscalculation would lead to sweet memories for all Odias alike.
My grandmother says that I was first introduced to Chhena Poda in my Annaprasana (an event celebrating an infant’s first intake of solid food). My parents, being typical first-time parents, were overly excited and a little too enthusiastic and decided to feed me Chhena Poda instead of rice. Baby me, who had been crying throughout the ritual, gave a wide smile at the soft Chhena Poda melting in my mouth. Needless to mention, I have always been an active member of the Chhena Poda fanbase since then and have relished every bite of the delicacy I have ever had.
Making a Chhena Poda traditionally involves wrapping in sal leaves and baking in a coal oven. The entire process used to take around four hours back in those days! It was slow cooking that made the interior creamy and soft, with the exterior having mixed tastes of nuts and a slightly burnt crust. These days, Chhena Poda can easily be made at home with common ingredients and a simple recipe. First, one must take fresh paneer or chhena and crumble it gently. After that, mix in sugar and cardamom. Then, add in milk, ghee, and sooji (semolina) and mix well. Next, in a baking tin or pan, spread ghee and sugar and place it on the heat until the sugar caramelises. Thereafter, carefully transfer the chhena mixture and place it in a preheated oven. Bake the mixture for around 45 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius, let it cool, and serve chilled!
The Chhena Poda is a fusion of flavours and textures. The slight bitterness of the caramelised crust goes quite well with the creamy chhena on the inside. Every bite is an explosion in the mouth: crunchy and nutty undertones from the cashews, the warmth of cardamom, the subtle but sure hint of caramelised sugar, and the occasional surprise of a raisin-laden bite make Chhena Poda a decadent and flavourful delicacy that is not only indulgent but also quite satisfying to gorge on.
Chhena Poda has a long list of admirers, and two of the most famous ones are Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, and Prabada Purusha Biju Patnaik, the erstwhile Chief Minister of Odisha. Furthermore, Ayushmann Khurrana, a Bollywood actor, is also a huge fan of Chhena Poda. Due to the increasing popularity of this delicacy, the Odias of Nayagarh have been relentlessly appealing for a Geographical Indication (GI) tag, which would definitely boost the popularity of this dish and make many more people from all over India fall in love with its creamy yet textured consistency and exquisite flavour.
To commemorate the birthday of the Father of Chhena Poda, Sudarshan Sahu, Chhena Poda Dibasa was celebrated for the first time on April 11, 2022, and continues to be celebrated annually thereafter.
It is not just the taste of Chhena Poda but the emotions behind it—the feelings in every bite, the flutter of your heart at the softness and creamy consistency, with the slightly strong tastes of the crust—that make it a dish held close to the heart.
Featured Image Courtesy – Wikipedia