Make pitha mainstream: Chunchi patra

Last week, I was invited as the Chief Guest at the Pitha Contest of the Odisha Society of the Americas’ (OSA) 50th anniversary. The 3-day event was amazing where upwards of 2000 Odias (demonym for people of Odisha) had gathered for the annual OSA convention.

Pitha is the collective name of the regional “cakes”. For other details, see my Purba book (I also did a book signing where I was impressed to see more men than women!).

Many lament that millennials are forgetting the tradition of wholesome pitha. In my little speech I exhorted the audience to Make Pitha Mainstream! (if I get permission, I will post the videos; the charming chaos of the bustling volunteers and the energetic audience is priceless.)

At the contest, I was also assigned the task of identifying the best two pitha entries after the number of candidates were whittled down to a dozen. One of the winning pitha I picked was the chunchi patra.

In the spirit of making pitha mainstream, I give here my version of chunchi patra: a very simple, yet irresistible lacy crepe version. The challenge is to avoid gloopiness: I suggest using a squeeze bottle. I recommend the fragrant Pandan leaves, for the aroma & a delicate green hue, and, coconut for softness & a subtle sweetness. Enjoy!

Special tools:

Blender, squeeze bottle, non-stick pan, big-head spatula.

Ingredients

  • Batter
    • Soak for 2 hrs: 1 cup long grain white or brown rice (basmati), with 12″ long pandan leaf
    • 50 gm shredded coconut + 1/4 tsp salt + 1 cup water
  • (optional) Filling: sweetened cottage cheese

Method

With scissors chop up the pandan into tiny pieces and add all the batter ingredients in the blender for a smooth, thin batter. In fact, if you rest the batter for a few hours in the refrigerator, it works even better. Fill the squeeze bottle with the batter.

Heat the non-stick pan. Add 1 tsp oil and wipe with a kitchen towel to oil the entire surface and removing any excessive oil from the pan. This is required only before the very first crepe.

Holding the squeeze bottle at 45 degree (not vertically straight up), rapidly make a zig-zag patterns forming a disk. Cover and cook for 2 minutes on slow-medium heat. Remove with a big-head spatula to a platter, since the lacy pancake is very delicate. This makes about 24.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. The batter is of easy-pouring consistency; the squeeze bottle helps in letting out a thin stream.
  2. The shredded coconut can be found in the freezer section of most Indian grocery stores. Alternative is to freshly grate a coconut. I don’t recommend using desiccated coconut found in most supermarkets.
  3. Pandan leaves can be found at the freezer section of Southeast Asian grocery stores. Note that this plant grows in Ganjam, Odisha. Using more pandan leaf than the suggested amount can give a somewhat grassy flavor (reminiscent of excessive matcha, say).
  4. Here, I used basmati rice. Even brown works very well. The blender works perfect here, since the batter has to be on the thin side (and the blender takes more liquid than the usual food processor).
    Bite-test: To check whether the rice is soaked enough or not- check if you can actually break it easily with your finger or grind it conveniently with just your humble teeth! If yes, then it is soaked enough and ready for the whirring blades of a motorized mixer.
  5. You may wonder if the rice papers from Southeast Asia may bear a resemblance to this. Yes, the Vietnamese freshly made gossamer thin rice crepes may. Here I add coconut to lend a little body as well as a subtle sweetness to the crepe.
  6. Oil and rice crepe don’t go together– it leaves an oily mess on the crepe. Invest in a good non-stick pan.
  7. Chitau pitha, the pancake version: The The same batter –just a wee thicker in consistency– can be used for the chitau pitha. See bottom panel in picture below. I used the Kerala appam non-stick pan. Just pour the batter (no squeeze bottle) and no need to move the pan to get the batter to climb the sides of the little appam wok (then you have appam and not chitau!). Bubbles appear just like in a pancake (but without any leavening agent like baking powder); cover and cook (2-3 mins) on low heat till done. This does not need turning either- it is cooked only one side, unlike the pancake. Chitau is on the thicker side, yet soft and delicious!

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4 thoughts on “Make pitha mainstream: Chunchi patra

    1. MehtaRN2000, do you want to see the charming chaos of an Indian gathering ? Me & the projector getting almost knocked over by eager volunteers ? 🙂 Or, do you want to see/hear my POV on pitha ?

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