Chitoi Pitha and it's many variations

8:34 PM

 Another year has gone by.

I am another year older, probably another year wiser and if anything to go by my kids- I'm another notch cynical too.

Cynicism has never been my personality trait but I guess ageing slowly is not only giving me salt and pepper hair but also is toning down the tolerance level that I once was so proud of. And if that wasn’t enough,  I do not even shy away from showing my disapproval at times.

One of the things that I probably would never be in terms of, is the idea of fusion cuisine without getting the basics right. Please don’t get me wrong here. I strongly believe that food should evolve and change but at the same time am a big believer in preserving our heritage, our food culture, preserving everything that invariably is ours. So, while I will vehemently agree with you that ‘authenticity’ in food is tricky but at the same time honouring the origin of a dish and knowing the background is of utmost importance too.

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 Now that Pithe season is upon us I am seeing a lot of variations in those recipes without getting the basic recipe and technique right. Though I don’t claim to be an expert here but am pretty passionate white it comes to pithe making. I can spend my whole life perfecting one of these recipes and writing down a detailed description for the coming generation to try and get it right. So all I can do is share my experience and help anyone who is scared of making these so-called difficult recipes. At least as Bengalis, we owe this much to these dishes, which are considered one of the oldest recipes in history.

 Let us start this series with Chitoi Pitha. As Shakespeare once said ‘what’s in a name!’ this pithe too is known by many many names and sensibly enough they are named after the ingredients and techniques. If you are curious to know then just read the following.

chitoi pitha mould made of iron

Sawra pitha: These pithes need a special flat Earthenware with few holes made in it where these pithes are cooked. This pan is known as sawra hence the name Sawra pitha.

Chitoi pitha: the sawra or the Earthen pot has flat on the top and concave at the bottom which looks like a person is lying down face up. That kind of posture in Bengal is known as ‘chit hoye showa’ from which the name chitoi came from.

Aske Pitha: ‘Ashu chal’ or new rice is considered to be the best for making most pithes, from which the name ‘aske pithe’ is obtained. Some also say that this pithe was a favourite of Emperor Ashoka and to honour that it is known as ‘ashke or aske’.

Chidrapishtak: the word Pitha comes from the Sanskrit word ‘pishtak’ or food made of pounded grain. One important characteristic of these pithes are the numerous holes or chidra (hole in Sanskrit) for which these pithes are also named as ‘chidra pishtak’. Some argue that the word ‘chidra pishtak’ over time changed to ‘chitoi pitha’.

Sajer Pitha: The word 'saj' is the colloquial term (derivation) of the word 'Chanch' or mould. Since making these needs a mould hence it is also called 'sajer pitha' or 'chancher pitha'.

Kanchikhocha pitha: once the liquid batter is poured into the holes in the sawra for these pithes. They stick to the surface so once cooked, one needs to use a sharp edge to release them from the pan. In rural Bengal mostly scissors were used for such purposes. Scissors in Bengali are known as ‘kanchi’ and ‘khocha’ means to nudge. This name sure is self-explanatory.

Reading all these might have started to make you believe that this has originated in Bengal, which might or might not be true. Because like human race food also have travelled and migrated from one place to another and this same dish with a different name and with little changes is available in many parts of the world. 

In the Uttaranchal region a similar dish with an almost similar name called ‘Aska’ is made by the Jaunsari Community. They also use a special pan called ‘Askai’ to make this. The grain used there is the locally grown ‘Jhangora’ or Barnyard Millet and is relished with some spicy curries.

This for me is the most fascinating characteristic of food. The way it travels from one place to another, the way it evolves taking into account the local ingredients and in the end the way it gets integrated into one’s culinary culture and becomes a part of it is most interesting to follow. This simple aske pithe probably is part of all rice-based economy’s culinary repertoire. The pandan-tinted green ‘Lak Lak’ served with coconut and palm jaggery syrup in Bali, the sweet or savoury ‘khanom krok’ in Thailand, The kueh Serabi of Malaysia or the very spicy ‘Mont lin ma yar’ of Myanmar proves the same theory that ‘food is our common ground, a universal experience’ (James Beard).

My most favourite way of eating this pithe is with jhola gur
(liquid date palm jaggery) and freshly scraped coconut. look at the
way the air pockets in the pithe soak the liquid gur.)

Coming back to the recipe which is very simple and straight forward but getting them right is quite tricky. Here are a few pointers if you are planning to make them.

Rice flour: controlling the moisture for this pithe is of utmost importance, for which cooks always suggest using newly harvested rice as the starch is much more glutinous than older rice. Preferably pounded in the traditional wooden rice mill called 'Dhenki',  where soaked and semi-dried rice is pounded using the basic idea of the lever, load and effort. This is known as 'bheja chaler gura' (soaked rice flour) and results in softer and fluffier pithes.

Using our mixer grinder at home we can easily grind our own rice flour. For that wash some rice 3-4 times. Then soak for 2-3 hours. Drain the water and place them on a kitchen cloth to dry up overnight. In the morning pulse it in your mixer grinder in small batches. Make sure to run the mixer for short bursts of 30-45 seconds. Then open the lid and stir them before running it again. once done sieve it and run the bigger particles in the mixer again. You need to save this rice in the fridge or use it up as earliest as possible. 

Or one can soak sundried rice (Atop Chal) overnight and grind it to a smooth paste using very little water. I prefer this method.

Pan or Sawra or Chanch: Sawra / sora / chanch/ means mould or a specific pan with cavities made in it. they are either made of terracotta or cast iron. The idea behind such material is its high heat retention property which is very much important for making these pithes. Try to acquire one such pan which is easily available in Kolkata in the puja needs shops known as ‘Dashakrmma Bhandar’ around Poush Sankranti time (Early January).

In case of unavailability try to use a very small cast iron kadhai like the Appam Patra from Kerala.

 If you have got an earthenware pan then prep it by heating it on medium till burning hot. Place some salt in the small cavities and stir using a small spoon. Once the salt is burnt discard it and wipe the pan with some mustard oil.

 Heat: One needs to maintain the heat while making these pithes. I prefer to use a small makeshift woodfire Chula (oven) for these. If making on the gas stove make sure the pan is very hot before you pour the batter in it. keep the heat at maximum while cooking this pitha. Please see the video attached with the recipe down for better understanding. 

Lid: find the best tight-fitting lid as trapping moisture inside the pot while cooking, is very important. Once the batter is poured immediately cover the pan to get nicely puffed up pithes.

 Now that all these difficult parts are discussed let's discuss the recipe and a few variations of this dish. 

 Chitoi pitha

Chitoi pitha with Spicy duck curry


Rice flour: 2 cups OR mix of parboiled and sundried rice washed and soaked in water for 4 hours. Then made into a smooth paste.

Salt: as per taste

Grated coconut (optional but suggested): ¼ cup

Hot water


Before you start making the pithe put the pan on fire to make it properly hot.

Mix everything together with a wooden spatula. The thickness of the batter would be like crepe batter. Slightly thick to cover the back of a spoon and flowy.

Cover and rest it for 30 minutes.

If using soaked rice, grind it to a fine paste before adjusting the water to make the batter.

Now if cooking on gas stove, use the biggest burner on high and pour the batter. Immediately cover with the lid. Cook for 2 minutes or till the pithe puff up with its signature hump in the middle. Take out and keep in a covered pan to keep it hot and moist.

After making 2-3 batches clean the holes with a mixture of mustard oil and water. I use a small piece of cloth for such a purpose.

                                      Here is a small video for easy understanding. 


This plain pithes taste good with freshly scraped coconut and liquid date palm jaggery (nolen gur) or any curry of your choice.


Dudh chitoi: You can soak these hot off the pan pithes in thickened sweetened milk. To make it boil 1.5 liters of full-fat milk on low for 20 minutes. Switch off and take it off the flame. Add some chopped Datepalm jaggery (khejur gurer patali) to it. mix and also add some freshly scraped coconut.

Take out the pithes from the sawra and directly place them in this warm milk. Rest for 2-3 hours for them to soak then serve.

Jhal Chitoi

Jhal Chitoi: Chitoi batter mixed with fresh herbs and chillies.

Just add finely chopped coriander greens, spring onions and chillies to it.

Follow the same method described above to cook them.  


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