Panta bhat and Sage

As I looked back before shutting the door, heading out to work, I got a glimpse of Sage sitting on cool kitchen floor, panting. The temperature is about to hit 90 degree Fahrenheit today and although I finally turned on the air, the poor, fluffy puppy is hot. I had this desire to feed Sage panta bhat. I know I should not but long time ago, when we, inhabitants of Kolkata panted like Sage in the dense, humid heat of Kolkata, panta bhat was like manna from heaven. You have probably googled panta bhat by now, but just in case you have not, I will tell you what it is. The real complicated recipe is this.

You take leftover cooked rice.

You soak it overnight in water.

You pour mustard oil on it (optional).

You put salt in it.

You squeeze ‘gondhoraj lebu’ (or just plain lime/lemon juice)

You eat it.

Panta bhat is a popular breakfast in rural Bangladesh and certain parts of Eastern India. Fortified with this carb heavy breakfast, farmers start their day of heavy toil, women start their days of tending family and children go to village schools (or work in fields with their father).

But for us, middle class Bengalis beaten down by intense heat in the summer months of Kolkata, panta bhat was respite and comfort. The poor could not afford anything but rice, water, salt and maybe green chillies to give the food some spice. We ate this as a treat. Our panta bhat was not simple though. Along with the soaked rice, we had to have gondhoraj lebu (special lemon, the smell of which is heavenly), pickles, green chillies, slices of raw onions. At the beginning of the month, when we were somewhat flush with money from newly acquired paycheck we would have fried pieces of hilsa fish with it. At the end of the month, when the money dried up and we had to budget, vegetable fritters accompanied our panta bhat.

No one paid any attention to the empty calories and unnecessary carbs. No one felt bad about eating fried fish or fried fritters. Panta bhat, in those doggone hot days, was ‘praaner aram, atmar shanti” (peace of soul).

Panta bhat was accompanied by an afternoon nap. In my memory, this lunch of panta bhat is closely associated with a decadent, luxurious nap.

Gone are those days when people cared nothing about what they partook. Food soothed our souls. I want those days back. I want ignorance from all the research that says white rice is empty calories that my aging body does not need.