Sweet or savoury, these soft dumplings are always filled with joy.
In a shimmering pan of oil float golden nuggets of dough just waiting to be scooped up and served hot. In Bengal, Pithes and Pulis are a common sight at every festival but especially during Makar Sankranti. The harvest festival is celebrated across the country but is known by different names such as Lohri in Punjab, Pongal in South India, Magh Bihu in Assam and Uttaranayana in Gujarat. But in Bengal it marks the end of the cold season and the promise of spring with longer days and a fresh harvest.
Pithes and pulis are steeped in history and stories that tie back to the very foundation of Bengali culture and community. Though they’re both dumplings encased in a rice flour dough, the difference between pithes and pulis lies in their shapes. Pulis tend to be elongated and stuffed with coconut, jaggery and other sweet fillings, pitches tend to be either flat and resemble crepes or round.
The fillings themselves are known as pur and can differ as per seasonality, preference and occasion. Nonta Pulis are savoury versions of the puli, a given since ‘nonta’ itself means savoury in Bengali. They can be filled with winter vegetables like sweet potato, peas, cauliflower or mung dal. Most homes choose at least three or four different fillings and a mixture of sweet and savoury to serve up to their guests.
There’s among older generations of Bengali households that making pithes and pulis is a dying art. True, it’s a labour-intensive and highly skilled process. It’s also an age where hand-ground rice is being replaced by store-bought flour and desiccated coconut comes from the frozen section. But no matter how the actual process of making these festive staples has changed, their value and meaning to the people of Bengal remain constant.