Enjoy this centuries-old recipe with some of our exciting serving suggestions.
Bengal, even today, is largely agrarian. It shares many of the characteristics of other eastern societies that developed around wet rice cultivation—a method that dates back to the Neolithic ages. India is the largest cultivator of paddy in the world, and West Bengal grows most of it. Bangladesh is the fourth largest producer of rice with 75 per cent of its arable land used for paddy cultivation. Suffice to say that rice—not just its consumption, but also its production—defines the Bengali culture more than we realise ourselves.
In this tropical land, summers are harsh. Farmers, labourers, artisans, who go out to work in the the fields carry with them a tiffin box of rice soaked in water, some salt, some green chillies, and a wedge of onion. This rice ferments to form panta bhaat. Sometimes, water is added to the cooked rice at night and had for breakfast. Panta bhaat originated as, and still is, means of sustenance for the poor. Different parts of eastern India have different names for this recipe—in Orissa they call it pakhala, and in Assam poita bhaat.
The fermentation of the rice carbohydrates by good bacteria increases the availability of a lot of micronutrients and minerals in the rice. The table below shows a comparison of available nutrition of 100 grams of cooked rice and panta bhaat:
|Minerals||Cooked Rice||Panta Bhaat|
|Iron||3.4 mg||73.91 mg|
|Sodium||475 mg||303 mg|
|Potassium||21 mg||839 mg|
Source: The Telegraph, 4 August 2011
Consumed in summer, panta bhaat supplies probiotic bacteria and plenty of micronutrients that aid digestion. It produces a soporific effect that is conducive to a siesta that Bengalis love.
In spite of its humble origin, panta bhaat is loved and enjoyed by many people, rich and poor. There is no real recipe for panta bhaat. So, these are our serving suggestions based on what our family commonly eats with panta.
COOKING TIME 13 hours
YIELDS 4 servings (75g rice per person)
- 300g Rice (small-grained, unperfumed, and parboiled)
- Potatoes (halved)
- Lime or gondhoraj lebu
- Green chillies
- Sliced onions
- Kasundi (Bengali mustard)
- Boiling pot
- The first step in this recipe is boiling the rice. Wash the rice thoroughly and fill your pot with water. As usual, we need at least five times as much water as the rice. For details, check out our video on how to cook the perfect rice.
- In the same pot as the rice, add some peeled and halved potatoes. This is so the potatoes are boiled at the same time as the rice.
- Set the pot on the stove and boil the rice for 10 minutes longer than you normally would—for this recipe, we need the rice to be soft and mushy.
- Extract the boiled potatoes from the pot. Strain the rice and set it aside to cool completely.
- Once the rice is cool, add regular water to the pot. The water level should be about 2 cm over the level of rice.
- Using your hands, gently break up the lumps in the rice.
- Cover and place the pot in a cool, dark place for 12 hours. This will give the rice a chance to ferment and develop good bacteria.
- While eating, take fistsful of rice from the pot and squeeze as much water out of it as possible. Transfer to a serving bowl.
- Using your hands, mash the rice thoroughly. Also mash in half a boiled potato along with it.
- Add some freshly squeezed lime juice, crushed green chillies, salt, and kasundi to the rice. Mix to combine.
- Next, add a couple of ladles of chilled kacha aam diye tok dal and sliced onions, and mix well.
- Top off with some of the water in which the rice was fermenting. Mix again.
- Serve with fresh coconut slices, onions, fried red chilli, and green chillies. Bhajas such as alu bhaja, dal’er bora, and machh bhaja go very well with panta bhaat, as does alu bhorta (mashed potatoes with fried onions, garlic, and green chillies).