O ne of the most beloved dishes from Odia cuisine is the Maccha Mahura, a tangy fish stew of sorts, with chunks of pre-steamed fish. The fish curry even has a generous helping of vegetables and lentils, making it a one-pot meal in itself. It is one of those items on the menu that people absolutely relish at weddings or other auspicious ceremonies.
There are essentially two versions of this thick soup—Niramish Mahura (vegetable stew) and Amish Mahura (non-vegetarian stew, essentially made of fish). The unique characteristic of Maccha Mahura is the way in which the fish is prepared. Generally, freshwater variants of fish like rohu (rohi), catla (bhakura) or trout (balia) are preferred. The dish pairs perfectly with steamed rice and cucumber salad. Vegetables like pumpkin, elephant yam (ratalu / suran / senai), colocasia root or arbi, the stem of plantain, and lentils like brown chickpeas are used in the dish. This not only makes the dish wholesome, but the use of minimal spices also helps in highlighting each ingredient’s natural flavours. Traditionally, this dish is known to be prepared with an assortment of vegetables along with fish heads and tails only, however, with time, people have started using whole fish to make this delicacy.
Fish has always been one of the most prominent ingredients of Odia cuisine owing to the fact that the state boasts of an approximately 480-kilometre-long coastline along the Bay of Bengal. Pretty much like its neighbouring state West Bengal, Odisha loves its fish as well. More than 50 varieties of fish are cooked in Odia households. some of which are basic comfort dishes while some follow a rather elaborate procedure. Maccha Patrapoda, Maccha Mahura, Maccha Jhada Besara, Mudhi Ghanta, Maccha Chhecheda and Maccha Besara are some of the most popular preparations of fish in Odisha. Quite interestingly, a lot of these preparations bear stark similarities to the fish delicacies cooked in West Bengal.
Almost akin to a non-vegetarian version of the Bengali Shukto (without the bitter gourd, of course), Machha Mahura is a favourite during summers as well as winters. The typical Odia spices go into the broth—pancha phutana (the five spice mix), turmeric powder, whole black peppercorns, ginger and garlic paste, dalchini (cinnamon) sticks, and finely sliced onion. After steaming the fish and deboning it, the chinks are fried on a hot wok. After frying the steamed fish, they shrink up and start resembling small, ball-like structures. It is called Maccha Kharada at this point. Maccha Kharada is also an extremely popular snack in the food-loving East Indian state. Often, these fish fritters are eaten with Pakhala Bhaat (rice fermented in a blend of hot water, salt, chopped onions, chillies and oil).