Odia Pakhala Bhat: A Cooling Rice Delicacy For The Summer Season
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Upon a closer look at meals that was consumed by the masses who were far removed from the grandeur of royal kitchens in India, the rice gruel porridge holds a special status of being the ‘poor man’s food’. What is also significant to note about the way of eating that took into account what was available easily, ideal for the season as well as nourishing, gruel was also born from the compulsive need to be resourceful. Leftovers couldn’t be thrown away when access to basic ingredients was scarce or unaffordable. Similarly, this sentiment reflected across various communities in India – where the practice of soaking grains of cooked rice overnight was meant to prevent spoilage, as well as consumed the following day with any other leftovers.

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Known by many names such as the panta bhat in West Bengal, poita bhat in Assam and as pazhaya saadham in Tamil Nadu, Odisha’s pakhala bhat furthers the same idea of eating resourcefully. A simple fermented gruel served with a dash of mustard oil, onions, green chillies and aloo bhorta, the pakhala bhat is also eaten with boiled vegetables, pickles, chutney and smoked or fried fish. Such is the impact of the dish in Odisha’s culinary legacy that the state also celebrates ‘Pakhala Dibas’ on March 20, each year since 2019.

The word pakhala – which is said to have been derived from the Pali word pakhaliba – which means ‘to wash’ – is said to have originated in the 11th century at the Jagganath temple in Puri. Served to the presiding deities during the summer season, where the liquid known as tanka thorani leftover from soaking the rice is also offered as part of a seasonal pastime. Some stories also indicate that the name for the delicacy was derived from the Sanskrit word prakshalana which also means ‘washed’.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The sattvic version of the pakhala bhat was also said to have been served in Puri during the 12th century period, where flowers like jasmine, mogra and katha champa infused their aroma into the fermented gruel, with some ginger for added flavour.  Since its discovery and preparation, the pakhala has also evolved into variations like th doi pakhala that has yoghurt mixed in; or chunka pakhala which gets a tempering of cumin seeds, curry leaves, green chillies and ginger. The saja pakhala on the other hand, the delicacy is consumed as soon as water is added to the leftover rice, whereas the mitha pakhala gets its name from the addition of sweet fruits and cumin powder.

Traditionally, short and plump grains of rice with a high starch content was used to prepare the pakhala and it was also relished as a special festive breakfast during Poila Baisakh in West Bengal, where it was eaten with fried hilsa. Due to its fermentation, the pakhala bhat is considered to be a gut-friendly preparation, which is loaded with probiotics as well as easy to digest. Here’s how you can recreate the recipe at home, for a cooling summer night supper.

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  • 2 cups cooked shortgrain rice
  • 2 cups cold water
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder
  • Salt, to taste
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 2 green chillies, slit lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon mustard oil


  • Add the rice and water to an earthen pot and mix well to combine.
  • Season with salt, lemon juice and cumin powder before covering the vessel and resting it overnight.
  • Stir before it is ready to serve the next day with a dash of mustard oil, onions and green chillies.