IndusFresh Details

By TPCI | November 26, 2019

From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Indian cuisine is all about diversity. This is quite evident in the fact that be it a piping hot cup of tea or biryani – there exist myriad recipes and names across the country for each item. The same holds good for kheer a (rice pudding) enjoyed popularly across the length and breadth of India. You call it payesh in Bengali and payasam in Kerala, which is derived from the Malayalam word peeyusham, meaning “ambrosia” or “nectar.” It is also said that this word is derived from the Sanksrit word kshirika (meaning a dish prepared with milk). Similarly, this dessert is available in different forms – it can be made of fox nuts, tapioca, cracked wheat, vermicelli and even bottle gourd.

Albeit these variations have made their presence in the hearts of many Indians, rice kheer remains a classic favourite. What is even more beautiful about this dish is that it is the epitome of India being a melting pot of cultures and cuisines. This delectable delight is commonly served at Muslim and Hindu festivals and special occasions. Even more fascinating is the tale of the origins of this endearing dish.  

Kheer finds mention even in Ayurvedic texts, which recommend it in their list of happy foods for good health. The first mention of this dessert, according to historians, is found in the fourteenth century Padmavat of Gujarat, as a sweetmeat prepared using jowar and milk. During the Chola dynasty, rice was used as an important ingredient in all important religious functions & hence, kheer became an important part of these rituals.

It is also quite amusing that kheer played an important role in the construction of Konark Temple. Legend has it that the chief architect’s son used a bowl of warm kheer to show how a bridge could be built to the point so that a foundation can be laid. This was also the day when a new form of kheer, called the gointa godi kheer, came into being. Post the Kalinga War, this mouth-watering treat was one of the evening staples in Ashoka’s palace.

According to another folklore, Lord Krishna took the form of an old sage and challenged the great king who ruled over that region around Guruvayoor and Ambalappuzha to a game of chess. The sage’s only condition was that if he wins, an amount of rice grains for each square of the chess board, each pile having double the number of grains than the previous pile should be distributed in the temple. The king couldn’t get the enormity of the number, and even lost the game. After that, the culture of distributing payasam in temples is said to have commenced.

The craze for kheer is not exclusive to India. It is said that Romans used it as a stomach coolant and often used the rice pudding as a detox diet. The Persians were the first ones to introduce the use of rose water and dry fruits in the dish, called ‘phirni’. Till then, it was made by boiling rice first and then adding milk. People in Iran and Afghanistan, too, have a melt-in-the-mouth rice pudding specialty, which can be had both as a savoury or a rich sweet dessert made with saffron and rosewater called ‘Shola’.

China’s Ming dynasty was also known for its own version of kheer, which is made of fruits soaked in honey. Gradually, the popularity of this dessert spread along the Spice Route and reached Europe. During Shakespeare’s era, people relished baked rice pudding.

Over the years, springing from the simple preparation of milk, rice and sugar to a complex preparation with several ingredients and fusion elements peculiar to different regions, kheer has had a pretty eventful journey. Yet, with all the culinary innovation we have today, it remains a sought after old world charm – simple, satisfying and highly fulfilling.