Sukhua: The Odia Dry Fish Delicacy That Finds Mention In Charak Samhita
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Odia cuisine is known for its traditional fare. Be it the main courses or breakfast, Odia households like their food spreads to be elaborate and intrinsic. Pakhala, sukhua bhaja and tomato chakta, this combination is a Sunday-morning favourite on the breakfast table for many people from the state. 

Sukhua is a colloquial word for dried fish in Odia. It’s a staple in most Odia households, favoured for its nutrition and decadent flavour. As most Odias are lovers of seafood, sukhua doesn’t disappoint their palate. This food item is available in abundance in numerous parts of the state and is fondly savoured by seafood lovers.

It is believed to have cured numerous health ailments for ages now. Even the ancient text Charak Samhita has sukhua mentioned in it for its antidotal properties and is known to help cure health issues like arthritis. 

The dried delicacy zings with essential nutrients like Vitamin E, B9, fatty acids, calcium and essential protein. When it comes to varieties of the dried delicacy, the list is endless and Odias are all praises. Thanks to the state with a 482-km long seafood trail. My grandmother often states two varieties of this dried delicacy as the king and queen of the sukhua clan - khainga and ilish. Khainga is filled with a generous portion of flesh. The variety is used to make delicacies like besara or rai, as these preparations need to have a generous amount of flesh to soak the vibrant masala.

On the other hand, the queen of the sukhua clan, Ilish, usually comes from the shores of Puri, Ganjam and Chandbali. My favourite varieties include pomfret, pohala and tuari that my mother makes into a delicious tarkari or patrapoda. My family indulges heartily in two popular varieties of sukhua - kharpania and karanda. Both these varieties are made into a variety of dishes - chhecha and pagaw being two of my favourites. These dishes are simple to make - the former being made by pounding roasted sukhua with mustard oil, lime juice, onions, garlic cloves and green chillies and the latter being prepared much like chhecha but with the addition of mustard oil and ambula.

If we go back in time to trace the history of sukhua making, there are two probable reasons - one, preservation of the surplus catch to satisfy the cravings during times when the yield falls and two, it provided trade opportunities for two people for whom buying and selling fresh fish is still a luxury. To date, the process of making sukhua is traditional which begins with washing the fish and later drying it in the sun. The fish are covered in a mesh to prevent the skin from burning. The process of sukhua making is not just about washing and drying but also selecting the varieties. 

Most sukhua varieties are usually small fish varieties chosen from the sea. The seawater already has enough salt content for the fishes to dry on their own. However, when it comes to fish of bigger varieties, they are usually soaked in saltwater after which their bellies are cut and filled with sea salt to fasten the curing process. While the smaller varieties are dried over a mat laid on the ground, the bigger varieties are hung on bamboo to help draw the moisture quickly.

The sukhua usually take about a week to be ready while the smaller varieties take about three to five days. The month of October as the sunlight is moderate for the process. This is why most Odias feast on sukhua during winters.

Most Odia seafood lovers are die-hard fans of sukhua and cannot imagine a complete pakhala meal without it. If you ever get a chance to visit the state, do not forget to try the delicacy.