One of the earliest food memories of my life while growing up in my childhood home in Cuttack was the sound of the pressure cooker whistle on a warm Sunday noon.
Our home would be filled with the aroma of the mutton jhola (Goat meat in gravy) that would instantly make my mouth water. What would follow is an impatient kid pestering her mother for when the jhola would be ready.
The beauty of the mutton jhola lies in the simplicity of its ingredients and it’s delicate flavours. It is one of those dishes which finds its place from the humble to the most elegant kitchens of Odia households. While many Odias are vegan on certain weekdays, Sunday is the day when most non-vegetarian Odias create their fond ‘mutton’ memories.
My childhood memories of the Sunday lunch are more ingrained as I was always involved in its creation. I remember enthusiastically helping my mother marinate the mutton in the morning by adding salt and turmeric. Constantly chatting, I would watch her cut whole potatoes in quarters, followed by big onions and tiny cloves of garlic and ginger for the mutton jhola.
The cooking would start with the slight aroma of heated mustard oil, followed by the frying of the large potato chunks. The mutton would then be tossed in the onion-garlic-ginger paste and other spices. For me, this meant the countdown of tasting the mutton kassa.
Mutton kassa (Mutton in dry gravy), is typically tasted before the water is put into the gravy for the final version of the mutton jhola, and is quite a delicacy in itself. Many Odias have a special place in their hearts for the mutton kassa.
Meanwhile, my mother would ask me to finish off my daily tasks which I would do, reluctantly so, as the entire time the impatient me would be waiting for the cooking to finish.
After all the hard work and pressure cooker whistles, the steaming mutton jhola is mostly served with white rice and a curd- cucumber salad. Its a combination which many Odias simply can’t live without on a Sunday afternoon.
With the increase in the price of mutton and many other social factors, the frequency of this Sunday specialty has decreased in recent times.
However, most Odia households still have a large pressure cooker, typically dedicated to the mutton jhola that is cooked almost every Sunday. This is when the entire family comes together, has a hearty meal and then enjoys a delightful afternoon siesta. We can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday!
Each kitchen holds the story of an Odia family’s happy Sunday mutton lunch, something that stays with them reminding them of love, laughter and amazing food, no matter where they are, for all the Sundays of their lives.
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