Piaji : Dal fritters from Orissa

My sister’s eyes used to light up when my father proposed something takaliya .  She would beam at my father, put on her shoes, and shout back to my mother “Bhai sangere jauchi. Khaiki asibi” (I am going out with bhai. Will eat out). She called my father bhai (big brother) instead of the baapa (oriya for father) like yours truly did. She always had a mind of her own. That kid surely did.  I always pictured them as a part of some secret fraternity, a brotherhood, hanging out together, doing cool things, two buddies walking into the sunset together. I don’t remember what I did while they were away busting gangs, but what I remember is them coming back, my sister more chirpy than she had left, usually with the spoils of the war-a newspaper packet. A hot newspaper packet, speckled with oil.  “Jaldi kholo! Ebe baharila kareiru! Jaldi kholo thanda heijiba” (Quick! Open this! These just came out of the frying pan. Open the packet quickly or these will get cold).  Inside would be all sorts of fried goodness (everything tastes good when fried, remember?), dusted with black salt. I would pick  one up, take a bite, take two bites and reach for more, all the while making stories about two great buddies, one considerably shorter than the other with her hair bunched up in the front, almost resembling a whale spout.

I don’t know how to translate takaliya into English.  I don’t even know if its an Oriya word, even though it was used often in our household (parents are constantly making up things, so one never knows). Savoury is too overarching a category, and sounds particularly insipid when it is used to describe food that is supposed to make your mouth water.

Piaji, Pakudi, Bara, Alu chop are some the favourite tea time snacks in Cuttack, where my father was born and brought up, and where both me and my sister were born. It is known for its street food (or so my father claims. He claims quite a lot of things for this beloved city of his, by the way). Being an old town, unlike Bhubaneswar, it has a rather amorphous urban topography. The city is made of sahis (plural) that are usually made up of a single street with houses on either side.  Sahis are mini localities in themselves and people have very strong social (and emotional) attachments with their own sahis.  Every sahi (neighbourhood) has a shop that specializes in these and you will find a horde of people outside these shops since the moment it opens, usually just in time for tea.  Most of them have walls made of wooden planks and a tin roof, and are very small square structures.  These shops are usually manned by two men, the older one doing the frying and the younger one packing  things for the waiting masses. The frying goes on till the supplies last, which is generally till dinner time. By 8 pm most of these shops close and the men manning them start for their long walk home.

Piaji is a onion and dal fritter. Even though it is usually served as a snack at tea time, it is sometimes served as a part of the lunch as well. A typical Oriya lunch has at least five accompaniments-dal, a side of vegetables, bhaja, bharta, and khata. Bhaja is a vegetable stir fry, seasoned with salt and turmeric, and some cumin at times. These fritters are sometimes served in the place of bhaja or even in addition to it. When guests arrived unannounced at our home during lunch, my mother’s way of “jazzing” up the lunch plate was to quickly slice some brinjals or potola (parwal or pointed gourd, dip them in a mixture of besan (chickpea batter) and deep fry them.  These fritters are also crumbled into a favourite Oriya snack-masala mudhi (a spicy mix of puffed rice, onions, chillies, and a host of other things, brought together by a drizzle of raw mustard oil and a dash of lemon juice).

Ingredients

Channa Dal- 1 cup

Onion (finely chopped)-2, medium

Dry Red Chillies-3

Green Chillies-4-5

Ginger-1 inch piece

Garlic- 1 large clove

Salt- to taste

Oil- for frying

Black salt

Tap on the first picture for a step by step demonstration.

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12 thoughts on “Piaji : Dal fritters from Orissa

  1. Namrata

    i looooove the piaji!! in Bengal its done with onion slices and besan- add to it some onion seeds (kalonji). i nearly reached Cuttuck in my mind, given the vivid description- kinda like our old Calcutta – with paras and telebhaja corners (tele bhaja – is the assortment of fried stuff dipped in besan- it can be dal, brinjal, onion, alu, mocha (banana stem) you name it!) – there’s so much in common in our cuisines. Also as in Bengal are ur fried snacks also complimented with muri and green chilli.

    An important addition here would be the cookign medium. Telebhaja in Bengal is almost always fried in mustard oil – wat about Orissa??

    Thanks for this post Suchi – im most certainly going to try this variation of telebhaja at home!!

    May i suggest alternately to use masoor dal variant instead of chana dal for a different taste – my mom in law makes them and it tastes like heaven!!!

    I also love the story u added- gives me a warm image of u tow sisters munching away as kids :) u should seriously consider taking this up professionally!

    Reply
    1. More Than Just Curry Post author

      Thanks a ton Nammie! There definitely is a lot in common in coastal Oriya and Bengali cuisine. Some Oriyas take heart from the fact that most cooks in Calcutta are from Orissa. I don’t know if that true though! Cuttack has been compared with Calcutta by many people I know…the para culture that you mentioned is a very common feature in both these cities, I think.
      We also have an assortment of tele bhajas, the ones made with brinjal are called baigeni, but I have not come across the banana flower variety in Cuttack. My mother makes a version of those, but it is usually served as a part of our lunch.
      There are a lot of ways we eat piajis. One of the ways is to crumble it into a mixture of muri and onions and then drizzle it with some mustard oil. It makes for a really good snack!

      Even though mustard oil is the preferred medium in Oriya cuisine, these fritters are fried in normal vegetable oil.

      Masoor dal sounds really interesting! I will certainly try it :) In Delhi they have Ram ladoos, which are basically fried dumpling made out of mung dal. But unlike the tele bhajas of Bengal, and our Piaji’s etc…the dumpling has no spice. It is served with a very spicy corriander chutney and grated radishes.

      Reply
  2. Kshitiz

    garma garam “Dal ke pakode” vaah, and I also liked the word “cross section” in the last photo…

    Reply
  3. Namrata Ghosh

    Hey…yes actually its true there were a lot of Oriya cooks, mostly Brahmins.I’m not sure if that’s the case now.
    Ram Laddoos sound interesting. The chutney you mentioned is available in some pockets of calcutta too where it is offered with what is called a ‘hing-vada’ – small circle shaped fries that is made of dal (urad and chana i think) with a strong flavour of hing.

    Talking of street food early in the morning!!! ha ha

    Reply

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