What’s strange about poha, sir?

Kaushik Dasgupta
kailash vijayvargiya, poha

Kailash Vijayvargiya said workers 'eating only poha' made him doubt their nationality. (Image designed by Rajan Sharma)

The eating habits of some construction workers near his home seems to have affected Kailash Vijayvargiya's peace of mind. The BJP general secretary apparently saw the workers eating poha and suspected they were Bangladeshis. Given that Vijayvargiya is from Madhya Pradesh where poha is a veritable staple, he could have been forgiven for confusing it with muri, which Bengalis generally snack on. But this was no momentary lapse of culinary reason or ignorance about humankind's well-known felicity with rice. Vijayvargiya's chose a meeting on the Citizenship Amendment Act to burp out his angst and laced it with references to “strange eating ways” of the workers.

The beauty of rice is that it lends itself to a variety of textures and flavours. In several parts of the country, paddy is soaked in hot water and then dehydrated giving it a crispy puffed feel. It's time for the aromatics to take over. In Maharashtra, Gujarat, and parts of Madhya Pradesh the murmura loses some of its crunch, with a moist tangy chutney. This is Bhel -- with finely chopped onion, chillies, coriander and peanuts, it's an easy on the pocket snack. In Bengal, mustard oil gives the muri an extra zing and when the fruit is season, there are small cubes of green mangoes.

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But, the puffed rice might be just be had with a green chilli or onion and salt. It is known to be the go to dish for working class people, like the construction workers, whose presence has troubled the BJP stalwart.

Par-boiling rice, pounding it to remove the husk, flattening and drying it produces chivda -- the basic ingredient for the poha. Depending on the extent it is flattened, the chivda is further classified into -- thick, medium, thin and extra thin varieties. Different recipes require different types of flattened rice.  The thinner varieties make for a carbohydrate-rich breakfast dish – it can, of course, be eaten anytime of the day . The medium or thick varieties lend themselves well to the crispy savouries that are part of the snack culture in different parts of the country, even the Subcontinent.

ALSO READ | Indians actually love to eat poha, here’s how it is made

The region does have a feel for rice. Go figure, is this “strange”?