The party season is over and so is everyone back to business. By now even tourist hotspots across the country see lesser crowds of people. However, Assam (and a few other Indian states) is ready to celebrate one of her biggest festivals – Magh Bihu.
Bihu is Assam’s answer to Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali in Mumbai. Typically there are three Bihus in a year – Magh, Bohag and Kati. Magh Bihu is celebrated in the month of January, which coincides with Sankrant or Sankranti celebrated in other parts of the country. Also known as Bhogali Bihu, it heralds the end of the harvesting season in the villages.
On the last day of Sankrant or Uruka as we call in Assam, a village feast is held in the paddy fields, which is now dotted with hay after the crop is cultivated. People flock to the markets to buy fish, poultry and meat to prepare for the night’s feast. During the day, meji and bhela ghar (thatched houses) are built that are burnt early the next morning. In the evening, families come together to cook and eat dinner followed by singing and dancing till midnight. Young men stay up to guard the thatched house at night, and everyone wakes up as early as 5 am braving the cold to offer prayers to the Fire God by throwing black sesame and pithas to the meji. In my village, the half-burnt bamboo poles of the thatched house are brought down to hit coconut and betel nut trees in one’s home to accelerate their growth.
This seven-day festival is all about eating, drinking and merry-making. After all, festivals are supposed to be this way. In every house, handoh gakhir gur (pounded rice powder with milk and jaggery), til and coconut laroo and pithas – til pitha as well as ghila pitha are served along with a strong cup of black tea. It is also customary to eat sweet potato for breakfast along with a variety of pithas or rice cakes for jolpaan (morning snack).
Today, I am going to share the recipe for til pitha, a must-eat item on all Bihu festivals. Til pitha is the simplest of all pithas only if you can master the art.
Recipe for Til Pitha
500 gms sticky rice flour
200 gms black sesame
200 gms jaggery
1. Wash and soak sticky rice for 1 to 2 hours. Later drain the soaked rice.
2. Take a mortar and pestle or a mixer grinder to pound.
3. Keep sieving the mixture till you get a considerable amount of rice flour.
4. Dry roast the black sesame, and grind to a coarse consistency.
5. Now mix the jaggery well.
6. Next, take an iron tawa. Heat it properly and lower the flame.
7. Take a spoonful of rice powder and spread it evenly on the tawa.
8. Fill the centre with sesame and the jaggery mixture. Let it stay for 2 minutes.
9. Now, roll the pitha from outward to inward motion to give a cylindrical shape.
10. Press on the edges so that the filling stays intact.
11. Take it off from the tawa.
Eat it right away or store in an air-tight container once it reaches room temperature.
Gitika calls herself as an Assamese food evangelist. Once a marketing professional, she is now a North East Indian food curator in Mumbai. She wants to showcase and promote Assamese tribal food on Gitika's Pak Ghor.