India’s one-stop solution to comfort food has more often than not been a steaming bowl of the humble Khichdi (rice, lentil and vegetable potpourri). The golden yellow dish is ubiquitous in its importance in Indian culinary rankings. From a piping hot bowl on a rainy afternoon to the auspicious offerings to the Gods—Khichdi is a constant presence.
Etymologically, the word Khichdi is derived from the Sanskrit ‘Khiccha’ which roughly translates to a dish comprising rice and legumes. Across the Indian subcontinent, every region has made versions of rice dish based on their local taste, aesthetics and available resources. While the West Indian state of Gujarat champions the Khichdi with a bowl of dahi (yoghurt), Tamil Nadu prepares the Ven Pongal with chickpeas and kidney beans. Karnataka on the other hand prepares the Bisi Bele Hulianna, a fiery hot version of it that consists of curry leaves, kapok buds, dried coconut, tamarind, seasonal vegetables and jaggery.
West Bengal’s love story with Khichuri is something for the books. The East Indian state not only offers Khichuri as the main dish for bhog (offerings to the deity) during Durga Puja, but also savours the hotpot dish in each of its households. The bhog rendition of Khichuri is especially dense, almost dry and is served with a pish-pash of vegetables and leafy greens, popularly known as Labra. The variant cooked in personal kitchens, however, is different. The Bhuna Khichuri, referred to as the more watery alternative, consists of whole onions and florets of cauliflower. The dish is served with a side of fried vegetables like potato wedges, brinjal, pumpkin or the most favourite option—fried fish. The other ritual for an at-home serving of the Khichuri is to add a dollop of ghee right in the middle of the deliciously yellow, gooey puddle—a perfect cherry on the icing.
As per tradition, Khichdi is also offered at Annaprasanas (a Hindu ceremony celebrating the first time a child is given whole foods by way of cooked rice). The earliest reference to the dish can be found in Mahabharata, believed to have dated back to the 8th and 9th centuries. Several mentions of Khichdi populate the text. Draupadi was believed to have served the Pandavas Khichdi during their strenuous period of exile in the forests. Lord Krishna was also said to have eaten a grain from the dish, leading to sage Durvasha losing his appetite after a surprise visit during lunch.