POST TIME: 1 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Pitha Utsab
Maria Mohsin

Pitha Utsab

Jatiya Pitha Utsab (National Pie Festival) represents tradition and taste of Bangladesh in one single event, at least that’s what it feels like when one visits the annual festival at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy (BSA) in Dhaka.

Jatiya Pitha Utsab Udjapan Parishad (festival committee), in association with BSA, organised the festival from January 23 to 31 this year. The nine-day festival featured about 150 types of pithas (pies) from different parts of the country. Noakhali, Barisal, Narshingdi, Netrakona, Brahmanbaria, Bhairab, Comilla, Tangail, Narayanganj, Faridpur, Manikganj, Chittagong, Bagherhat, Gazipur, Kushtia, Rajbari and Gopalganj are some of the districts that participated in the festival.

The pithas that were seen in almost all the 50 stalls were malpoya, bhapa, kuli, rosh phul, khejur finni, bhajapuri, bou pitha, kola pitha, pati shapta, rosh golap, nakshi pitha, pantua, ilish pitha, jhinuk pitha, puli pitha, chitai, dudh chitai, mug pakon and hriday haran. But there were some uncommon pithas, too, like dalim bhapa, kushum koli, dim chitoi, kolosh, shotin mochor, aske pitha, dolon, lal banu and dim shundori.

One popular item was chitoi pitha (rice pancake) with duck curry, and it was the most expensive dish, too, at Tk 100 per plate. Other items were in the price range of Tk 5 to 50. Though some pithas cost more than usual, customers agreed it was acceptable as they couldn’t find so many varieties in any other place.

Nasima Parveen, a school teacher, was there with her 12-year-old son. “There are many people who are stuck in busy city life and don’t get the opportunity to taste such kinds of traditional foods. Now, the situation has become such that many people don’t have relatives in a village from where one could expect these delicacies, and many don’t know how to make these foods in the family. So, for  people like us, visiting ‘Pitha Utsab’ is a must, not only to taste traditional foods, but also to introduce the new generation to our tradition and culture,” she said.

Another visitor, Khaled Lokman, a private-service holder, said, “Why spend money going to the village for eating pitha in winter if we can get a festival like this? It helps us to save money and time, and this event lets us get a taste of home.”  

Most of the stall-holders were professional pitha makers, but there were some entrepreneurs who came to represent their organisations or districts. Cooks at some of the stalls were making their items in front of the customers and serving them hot.  

Sharmin Sultana, director of Tanura Youth and Women Development Organisation, who had rented a stall at the fair, said: “I participate every year, and I can see how much our traditional food items mean through this event.”   

Zinnat Rahman, another stall-holder, started her pitha business, named Narshingdi Parijat Pitha Ghar, as she felt it was a big opportunity for her. She takes part in the festival every year, and the response from it encouraged her to start her own business.   

Papiya Khandakar, a singer, attended the festival to represent her home district of Tangail.

Pithas and sweets from Chittagong hill districts were major attractions at the festival. There were many different kinds of tribal delicacies and a huge crowd gathered there to taste unfamiliar items, like pahari mishit (hill sweet) and kengdum, which if cooked in bamboo. The stall was hosted by two medical students, Pinky Chakma and Monika Dewan. They said they brought their relatives to Dhaka to prepare their local dishes for the event, as it is a big platform to showcase their traditional cuisine.

Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy staff had their own stall, called Chhoy Konna (Six Daughters) where six members from six districts displayed their local delicacies. The stall got good response from visitors.

Beside pithas, there were other food items, like cakes, sweetmeats, chicken pies, pasta and many more in different booths. Some items were uncommon, but seemed to be popular, like coconut water pudding, chocolate shondesh and carrot chhana. Apart from the food stalls, there were some booths selling natural honey, spices and organic produce.

When asked for their opinion on the quality of food at the festival, many visitors said there would always be difference between homemade and commercially made items, but they all agreed the event brought small pieces of different districts together in one place, giving them the chance to fulfil their appetite for traditional pithas and enjoy different cuisine in one place in a busy place like Dhaka.

Photos: Mahmud Zaman.