Bangladesh is a country renowned for its rich cultural diversity and home to a wide range of culinary traditions. Pitha is one of the many beloved dishes that grace the culinary landscape of Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, pitha is more than just an ordinary culinary item—it's an expression of love, togetherness, and legacy. It is a part of life and culture for Bengali people.
Pitha, traditionally made for festivals and special occasions, has grown into a vital part of Bengali culture. It is impossible to imagine a cold winter morning in your grandparents' village home without Pitha.
Families from all across Bangladesh, scattered throughout the busy cities and towns, embark on their yearly journey back to their respective villages as the winter vacation approaches. It's a season of reunion and valued intergenerational bonds. Children have a particular attraction to this time of year because it represents the eagerly anticipated visit to their grandparents' home. They wake up with the smell of delicious pitha in the morning. This delightful and tasty experience takes a lot of preparation.
It all starts the night before. The kitchen comes to life when family members gather there. Grandmas take the lead and teach the younger generation their age-old skills and insider tips. Together, they go on a cooking journey that is more than just preparing food; it's a way of celebrating their heritage and being together.
Pitha isn't just a sweet or savoury treat. It is more than a delicacy. Most pithas are seasonal, prepared specifically for the winter season due to the availability of certain ingredients exclusively during the winter season, such as date juice. Several pithas are intimately tied with harvest celebrations, such as Nabanna and Poush Parban. Some pithas are also produced all year. Most pithas are sweet, although some are spicy.
The beauty of pitha lies in its wide range of variety and taste. Each pitha has its own unique flavour and unique method of making it. The flavours of jaggery, coconut, sesame seeds, and oil, as well as a variety of fragrant spices that vary in different corners of the country, are frequently added to these pithas to improve their flavour.
Pati Shapta, Chitoi, Jhal Puli, Dudh Puli, Bhapa, Malpoya, Pakan, and Nokshi—all of these have their delightful flavour and taste.
On one side, Pati Shapta is a sweet pancake filled with coconut and jaggery, and on the other hand, Jhal Puli is a rice dumpling filled with chicken, onion, and some vegetables. Bhapa pitha is the perfect breakfast on a cold, foggy morning when a soft ray of sunshine crosses the house's front yard. The ingredients—flour, coconut, milk, and jaggery—remain the same, but the methods of preparation vary. What really sets the finished pieces apart are the different methods and recipes used by the makers. Various methods result in various tastes. Pithas can be baked, steamed, or fried in oil or rolled over a hot plate, depending on the kind being made.
Salma Parvin, a homemaker from Bogura, shared her childhood memories with this writer. She said, "My mother used to make pitha every now and then. However, it was almost mandatory in our house throughout the winter. It was more than simply a food item when I was a kid. The day we decide to prepare pitha at home becomes a feast on its own."
"Our neighbours also contribute to the process. There were kids in the neighbourhood. We used to sit together in the front yard of our house and eat together."
She also remarked about how she feels in the present day. She said, "My kids don't like pitha as much as we did in our childhood. I make pitha every winter. But it never feels the same."
Nowadays, people lead hectic lives. The tradition of preparing pitha at home is rare in the city. One might discover a food cart selling pitha on the road. Chitoi and Bhapa are the most common pithas they sell. One can have Chitoi pitha with vortas. There are so many options for vortas, including shrimp vorta, coriander vorta, mustard paste, spicy chilly paste, and so on. But if one wants something sweet, they can have Bhapa pitha. Previously, these food carts were mostly common in the winter season, but nowadays, one can find a few food carts selling pitha all year.
'Pitha Utsab' - festivals where numerous pitha shops showcase and sell pithas in cities are getting popular. In urban areas, it has grown into an annual festival. Those who are unable to travel to the village take their families to 'Pitha Utsab.' They bring their children to learn about the roots of Bengali culture.