Through Thick and Thin

Downtown Louisville has a character of its own. It's quiet and peaceful for the most part although lately, it seems to be more like that slumbering giant, slowly being shaken awake. The city comes to life once the sun takes a more westward turn. Until then, its quirkiness is on display for those who choose to walk through its quiet streets and alleys. One thing that can't be doubted though, is that we are a welcoming lot. So welcoming that sometimes we put our couches outside the house.

welcoming in downtown Louisville
Drive-by shooting

While I don't have any couches in my frontyard for a weary runner, bicyclist or walker to put their feet up for a while, a welcome to my home is usually in the form of idli-sambar-chutney, instead of the ubiquitous pohe. And, I have to wonder why that is the case when pohe (po-hay) is a rice dish that can be served at any time of the day or for that matter, for any occasion! Someone drops in for tea, make pohe. Too exhausted to make dinner? Make pohe. Diwali feast? Yes, pohe have to be on the menu. That well-groomed green-card-equipped engineer from the US dropping by to see if you are pretty enough to marry? Your mother insists you must make pohe. Or, she makes pohe and passes it off as your doing, while the prospective groom watches closely as you walk across the room without tripping, to confirm that you have no limp and that you are not blind.

I've often wondered why pohe was such an important part of that last ritual until it dawned on me that if a girl can make pohe, she has some of the basics in place and will be able to feed her family most of the time, even if they get bored with the same ol' same ol'.

Off I went to my pantry in order to be a true welcoming Maharashtrian girl and finally understood why pohe was not on my menu as often as it should be. Three bags of thin pohe and not a single bag of thick pohe.

Look closely; they're both Poha thi- 

Those darned dancing people are the same and while the packet may be color-coded, I see Poha thi- and I grab it thinking I have bought the kind of pohe I need to make pohe. (That's another thing you have to bend your mind around if you're new to pohe: the uncooked flattened rice is called pohe and the cooked savory dish is also called pohe.) It's only when I get home that I realize that the thi- fooled me yet again and I add to my pile of thin pohe.

So why do they write poha on the packages? Because in Hindi and in Gujarati, it is poha. Even powa and pauwa. In Marathi, it is pohe. I am biased but I think it sounds nicer. Thin pohe can be put to very good use: to make chivda, of course. It is now Kitt's job to show up for Diwali celebrations with a truckload of chivda. Yep, I'm looking at you, Kitt, for this year's party, too!

The thin and the thick

Don't you have enough of those already? was thrown loosely in my direction when I finally bought the right kind of pohe. I was in a good mood else three of the older packets would have suddenly become air-borne with a trajectory aimed suspiciously towards the general area from whence that voice emanated.

I've come across a few sites that have thin pohe in their ingredient list for pohe. Please. No. There are others that don't mention the kind of pohe you need. Thick. Most of the recipes are called kanda / kande pohe because they have onions. Only in dire circumstances do I ever make pohe without onions so I drop that qualifier.

When I make pohe, I make a fairly large amount. It feeds us for at least two meals and a tea-time snack should anyone feel the need to dig in.


Yum! Pohe!

  • 6 cups thick pohe or flattened rice
  • 6 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • pinch asafetida
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 5-6 hot green chillies, chopped
  • 7-8 curry leaves
  • 1/4 tsp + 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 cup onion, chopped fine
  • 1 cup potatoes, chopped fine
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • salt to taste

Most of the ingredients

  1. Place the pohe in a colander and rinse in cool water. Drain well and set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a kadhai and when hot, add mustard seeds. 
  3. When the mustard seeds do the dance of life, add asafetida followed by cumin seeds. 
  4. Add green chillies and curry leaves and cover the kadhai to avoid oil getting all over your stove. Turn the heat down.
  5. When things have calmed down some, uncover and add 1/4 tsp turmeric powder. Also add chopped onions and cook until they have softened.
  6. Next, add chopped potatoes, grated ginger, a dash of lime and salt to taste. What you have here is your main masala. This needs to be spicy enough to carry the flavors through the entire batch of pohe. It needs to be very spicy.

    Your main masala
  7. Cover and cook on medium-low until the potatoes are cooked through.
  8. While the spicy mixture is cooking, break up any clumps that may have formed in the  soaked pohe. To this, add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1/2 tsp sugar, lime juice and salt to taste and toss to mix well.

    Soaked pohe
  9. Add the pohe to the mixture in the kadhai in three parts, mixing well after adding each part. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.
  10. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 7-10 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld well.
  11. Either garnish with chopped cilantro or mix the cilantro into the pohe. Serve hot with tea.

  1. My mother used to say "one fistful of pohe for each person, if there are other dishes; two fistfuls if that's all you're eating." Her hands were teeny but that ratio still holds. Six cups are just right for us to eat over two meals and six cups was just right for our Diwali party last year. 
  2. More oil always makes everything taste better and so in this case, too. I use as many tablespoons of oil as cups of pohe when I am cooking for a crowd. When I cook for us, I halve that number. I add about 1/4 cup of water to the potatoes to help them cook faster. When I do this, the pohe always taste better when they are just made than they do the next day.  I sprinkle them with warm water before re-heating to moisten them up a bit. That helps some but not as much as using the additional oil would have.
  3. I used eight chillies in these pohe and they were still not spicy enough. I couldn't believe it either!
  4. Traditionally, pohe is served with a wedge of lime but I find it more convenient to add the lime to the soaked pohe and do away with flying wedges at the table and squirting lime juice in someone's eyes. 
  5. I like to add spicy sev, especially bhujia sev, to my pohe for an extra zing and a crunch.
  6. Fresh grated coconut is often used to garnish pohe.
What's that you say? Speak up because I can't hear you? Tea party? I have no clue what you are on about. But I did put my brushes down for a bit, even if figuratively so; poured myself a freshly brewed cup of tea which I enjoyed with a bowl of pohe, dressed with bhujia sev.

Join me for a cuppa


GB said...

LOL! I love your "drive by shooting" pic! :)

and your poha looks so tempting, I might need to make myself a bowl soon!

Panfusine said...

Love the photosynthesizing Couch!
reminds me of Charpoys being 'sunned' out in India!

Don't know if you agree but, whats with the thick & thin poha in this country, there is hardly any difference.. I'm always worried if the poha is gonna disintegrate, if I soak it longer! In India thick Poha is THICK!!
Alu Poha for breakfast tomorrow it is!! Wonder how the purple potatoes wd work...

Miri said...

Love the quirky mug on your tea table - and the pohe looks exquisite. This is a simple dish, but not very easy to get right - which is why the "test" of cooking for the bride I think-time the grooms were asked to make this or rasam - if the lady falls ill, atleast she will get some succour!

Anita said...

Of course there was a good reason behind parading the daughters...!

I make my pohe same-to-same as yours including the but about adding lime to the entire quantity (though I add after they are done) - keeps it simpler. I don't use ginger though but will definitely try this the next time.

Last time I cooked tooooooooo much (3/4 of the 500gm pack) so I think I will keep your measures in mind (I will double, of course!).

Nice tea time...those cups! Perfect for the Madness...alas we have to wait still.

cybergabi said...

That was delightful. The only thing this rookie is asking herself is why they even produce thin pohe if nobody likes it. Would love to learn about the difference.

Desisoccermom said...

In my case, my mom and I were served poha at T's place when we went for the 'visit'. As to cybergabi's query about thin poha, besides chiwda, they are also used to make 'dadpe poha' which are no cook poha, with a phodni on top. As kids, we would eat the thin poha, soaked in milk and sugar. Pure bliss!.

Sayantani Mahapatra Mudi said...

thats a beautiful and generous idea of putting your couch out for passersby. love the pohe but am totally in love with your coffee mug. looks excuisite

Indian Food Rocks said...

GB, thanks!

ramblin' rose, that couch was quite a find. We have lots more curious stuff like this in downtown Louisville!

I wish I could say I remember what the poha in India was like but I don't. The two varieties we get here are also products of India so it may be a case of sourcing? I'm not sure. I don't leave the poha to soak in water and never have. I rinse it thoroughly under running water in a colander and drain. Maybe you could try that? I have brown poha which is very thick but haven't made anything with it as yet.

I think purple potatoes would lend a gorgeous color to poha! Please take pictures!

Miri, you're a riot!

Anita, there was? What was the reason that grooms were never paraded? And, no, this is not for your tea party!

Gabi, there are lots of uses for thin pohe. Chivda, as I mentioned, and a lot of other savory dishes where the pohe are either dry roasted or sprinkled with water before adding spices and aromatics. See Jaya's comment right below yours for some examples.

Jaya, but did he make those pohe? In your case though, it matters not! T is a great cook!

Cynthia said...

The next time I go to Guyana, I am definitely going to pick up a pack of this to try.

Anita said...

The reason was to make sure they would be able to take care of everyone...We all want good looking partners because, science tells us, it reflects robust genes. Girls would also check out their prospective mates at the same time. Of course, the whole process of selection got twisted in favour of men once dowry became the ill it has.

Now the girl-meets-boy ritual is changing again to reflect our changing values. In many communities today the girls get to have an equal say! Let's pick you or me, for example! :-)

Since we are talking about the choices..and tea...whip up something impressive - everyone is watching!

Abhi said...

Check this and eat your pohe:

Unknown said...

This is certainly a new dish to me. I have never seen anything like it among our Caribbean East Indian population. always learning something new

Kulsum said...

hey there ! loving your blog. I have a similar recipe for Poha and have a whole post on thin and thick poha ;)

Bharti said...

Uh uh! I've been buying and making (not that often) thin pohe all along! Next time, it's going to be the thick stuff. The last picture is lovely. I really enjoy reading your blog Manisha!

Manjusha Nimbalkar said...

U bet Manisha. I took quiet sometime to figure out why my pohe doesnt come out so well with thin poha. fInally one day I got thick one and then dhan ta just worked so well.Ur Pohe looks yumm. Are you making Modaks ukadiche for this coming ganesh festive ??

Manjusha Nimbalkar said...

U bet Manisha. I took quiet sometime to figure out why my pohe doesnt come out so well with thin poha. fInally one day I got thick one and then dhan ta just worked so well.Ur Pohe looks yumm. Are you making Modaks ukadiche for this coming ganesh festive ??

Kitt said...

OK, I got the hint! :-) When's Diwali?

I love your thick pohe. Must make some of that, too.

AnuG said...

The couch.. and the pohe ... look stunning :)! Feel like thinking up another name for thick or thin, just to avoid the three-letter confusion LOL

Gaile said...

This was really good. I made it tonight, looking for something easy on my stomach and comforting, and it was just the thing. Thank you!

Namitha said...

Parading the daughter reminded me about the scene from Namesake :)I love poha, but never made myself. I am bookmarking your recipe. Will get thick pohe from Krishna's next time ;)

Shammi said...

Can't pinpoint what set me off giggling, but giggling I am (sounds weird? i think so too) - really enjoyed your post, Manisha. I've got more thin pohe than thick, unfortunately... that's what happens when you buy online, sight unseen. *sigh*

Sarraju Narasinga Rao said...

So true - making poha....err...pohe is the test of basics for the Indian cook - like that business of French chefs and fried eggs.

Neat idea - showing the size of the dice for the onion and potato for the perfect poha, err...pohe.