Rice has always been a staple food of Bengalis from antiquity and thus was grown in abundance all across West Bengal and beyond. Arguably, photo-Australoid people from South Asia resorted to eating panta bhat (fermented rice) because they cooked once a day in the evening. It is said that during the Mughal era, members of socio-cultural organisations participated in open-air concerts, and the audience came listening to them while eating traditional food, specifically Panta Bhat, which became an integral part when the economy of West Bengal began to collapse.
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Some reports even indicate that people have been interested in digging the origin of Panta Bhat in the past. For instance, in the 17th century, when Fray Sebastien Manrique visited West Bengal, he found that people of all communities were at peace with Panta Bhat, salt and green vegetable (shak in Bengali). Earlier, the idea of fermenting rice was to preserve rice, so it didn’t get wasted as the refrigerator hadn’t been introduced by then.
The report by Manrique is not a myth. Today, if you visit rural areas of Bengal, you will see people still leave leftover rice to soak in water overnight and serve it next morning during summer with salt, onion, chilli and lime juice.
Not only in summer mornings but the fermented rice is also consumed on many occasions like Shital Shashti (when Bengalis are not supposed to cook), Durga Puja (when everyone is exhausted in ensuring that everything is in place and wants to relax) etc. Besides, people also have it on the day of Pahela Baishakh (Bengali new year).
Originating from Bangladesh, Panta Bhat is widely eaten in eastern Indian states such as West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Odisha, Jharkhand etc.
The word panta means soaked in water, and Bhat indicates rice. Along with traditional value, Panta Bhat has more micronutrients than fresh rice. It helps strengthen body immunity and remove iron deficiency. Hence, traditionally, it is served to someone down with fever.
How to Prepare Panta Bhat?
- Take a bowl, add water and steamed rice to it
- Start the fermentation process by leaving it at least for 6 hours or overnight
- You can also ferment it for up to 16 hours
- Serve with accompaniments like salt, wedges of lime (preferably Gandharaj lime), chopped onions and green chillies, mustard oil and deep-fried fish.
Things suitable for Panta Bhat
Panta Bhat is often garnished with mustard oil, lime, onion, chillies, vegetable curry, or any type of fried fish. But if you ask me, I’d suggest you try it out with aloo bhorta (mashed potato) combined with mustard oil, salt, chopped onion and chillies, deep-fried Ilish or shorshe Ilish (Hilsa cooked with mustard seeds), and a wedge of Gandharaj lime.