The most prominent harvest festival celebrated in Odisha, Nuakhai literally means “new eating”. Nuakhai celebrations in 2023 will be held on September 20, and the Nabanna Bhog or feast with new harvests will play a central role in the festivities. Here are a few Odia dishes that are prepared on Nuakhai.
India, a predominantly agricultural nation since ancient times, celebrates every harvest with great fervour and happiness. One such unique harvest festival celebrated in Odisha is Nuakhai, which will be celebrated on September 20, 2023. Observed on the Bhadraba Shuklapakhya Panchami tithi, which usually falls after Ganesh Chaturthi, Nuakhai is a festival which is celebrated by consuming the first harvested crops of the season, including new rice, many green vegetables and seasonal fruits too. In Odia, Nua means new and Khai means to eat, so the festival of Nuakhai is clearly all about food.
Nuakhai is mostly celebrated in the districts of Western Odisha, with cities and towns like Sambalpur, Bargarh, Jharsuguda, Bolangir, Sundergarh, Sonepur, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Boudh and Angul witnessing some of the most vibrant festivities. Since this harvest festival is considered to be the most critical one in Odisha, the festivities celebrate the bounty of nature through Odia culture and cuisine. The Nabanna, or the first harvest of rice of the season, holds a central position in these Nuakhai celebrations.
So, Nuakhai celebrations begin with rituals like Safa-Sutra and Lipa-Pucchha, which focus on cleaning and repainting homes. This is followed by the making of Jhuti or Rangoli in every home. Then, the Nabanna or the first harvested rice crops of the season are offered to the deities of Devi Samaleswari in Sambalpur, Devi Pataneswari in Bolangir, Devi Manikeswari in Kalahandi, etc. This offering of Nua or Nabanna is done at a specific Lagna or time. Once these temple rituals are done, every household then focuses on preparing the Nabanna Bhog.
The Nabanna Bhog is basically a feast of dishes that include the new rice or paddy harvest as well as vegetables that have come into season. Like other harvest festivals celebrated during spring, like Makar Sankranti, making Pitha with the new rice is an integral part of the Nabanna Bhog feast. Here are some of the special dishes prepared during Nuakhai, with the fresh harvest, that you should know about.
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The Odia version of Kheer or Payasam is all about giving centrestage to the new rice harvest. Made with new rice or arua chaula, milk, sugar, cardamoms and plenty of dry fruits like raisins, almonds and more, Kheeri is an incredible sweet dish despite its simplicity. During Nuakhai, every household in Odisha indulges in the pure sweetness of Kheeri.
A sweet-and-sour dish most popular in Odisha’s Ganjam district, Ambila or Aambil is especially prepared during Nuakhai because it brings together plenty of freshly harvested vegetables. Pumpkin, sweet potato, taro roots, radish and brinjal are usually added to this curry. While the sourness comes from the addition of tamarind, jaggery is added for a dash of sweetness.
3. Ghanta Tarkari
Another dish loaded with a mix of freshly harvested vegetables, the flavours of Ghanta Tarkari will remind you of Gujarati Undhiyu, which is also a mix-veg dish prepared to honour new harvests. Made with pumpkin, potatoes, beans, raw bananas, elephant foot yam, ash gourd and brinjal, Ghanta Tarkari is a semi-dry savoury dish eaten with rice.
4. Muga Rasabara
A sweeter version of Dahi Vada or Kanji Vada, Muga Rasabara is a Nuakhai-special Odia dish that celebrates the fresh crop of moong dal. The moong dal is soaked and ground to a paste, fried into small balls or bara, and then soaked in a syrup made of sugar, water and cardamom. Many people also add baking soda to make the fried bara crispy and light.
5. Arisha Pitha
These rice pancakes from Odisha are especially prepared on Nuakhai to celebrate the new rice harvest. The new rice is ground into a coarse flour, mixed with jaggery, poppy seeds, cardamom and water to make a batter that is then deep-fried until golden brown. Many people also sprinkle sesame seeds on top of the Arisha Pitha before serving.
6. Saru Saga
With the fresh crop of pumpkins easily available, this dish called Saru Saga is prepared especially with pumpkin leaves or Makhan Saag on the occasion of Nuakhai. Along with pumpkin leaves, yellow pumpkin, ridge gourd, garlic and dry red chillies are also added to the dish. The cooked dish is very mildly spiced and is enjoyed with steamed rice.
7. Chaula Manda Pitha
Once again, this dish is prepared with the fresh harvest of new rice, which is pounded into a coarse flour. The rice flour is steamed with milk and cardamom and then kneaded into a soft, pliable dough. A stuffing of coconut, sugar and cardamom is prepared separately and stuffed into these Pitha which are shaped like Manda or round sweets. Often served with a spoonful of liquid jaggery, Chaula Manda Pitha is a true Odia delicacy.
This lentil-based, vegetable loaded dish is prepared on every auspicious festival in Odisha, whether it be Nuakhai or Rath Yatra. Dalma is made with plenty of vegetables like pumpkin, ash gourd, drumsticks and potatoes which are cooked and added to an arhar dal base. Seasoned with panch phoron, bay leaves and red chillies, Dalma is often served with a dash of fresh coconut on top.
A sweet rice dish made with the new rice produce, Kanika is Odisha’s take on Bengali Mishti Pulao or North Indian Meethe Chawal. Flavoured with ghee, bay leaves, cinnamon and cardamom, the rice is cooked with a bit of turmeric powder, salt and sugar to get a bright yellow hue and sweet taste. Usually, cashews, rainins and other dry fruits are also added to Kanika. The dish is enjoyed with a variety of vegetable ishes.
10. Bhendi Kardi Khatta
Among the newly harvested vegetables in Odisha that gain prominence during Nuakhai are Bhendi or okra and Kardi or bamboo shoots. Both these vegetables are celebrated in a dish called Bhendi Kardi Khatta, which is a sweet and savoury curry made with panch phoron, dry red chillies and a mustard and tomato-based gravy. The unique dish is enjoyed with steamed rice and other vegetable side dishes.