Cuisine of the Pongala Festival

Posted on 12th January 2018

A popular harvest festival celebrated in South India, Pongala is traditional event that celebrates the produce of the region with four days of celebrations that culminate with delicious dishes shared with family and friends. Marking the end of winter and the beginning of Uttarayan – the sun’s journey north as we head toward summer, this year the festival falls on the 14th January. 

Held during the season when rice, cereals, sugar-cane and turmeric are harvested, the festival gets its name from a Tamil word which means ‘to boil’. Ponga literally means ‘overflowing’, which comes from the tradition of cooking the newly harvested rice until it overflows – a symbol of abundance and prosperity. 

Ven Pongal, a rice and nut dish

Pongal Dishes

Special South India dishes like sarkarai Pongal, chackra Pongal, rava and khara Pongal are popular during the harvest festival. Sweet and savoury rice dishes are a big part of the feasts, cooking of the Pongal dish is traditionally done in clay pots on wood fired stoves. 

Ven Pongal is rice mixed with mung beans, ghee, cashew nuts and mild spices. A traditional breakfast dish, it’s easy to prepare and can be made at home in 35 minutes!

Sweet Pongal dishes are usually made with jaggery, a cane sugar grown in India to make rich, sumptuous desserts. Made with rice, mung beans, ghee and cashews just like the savoury dish, but spiced with cardamom and cloves, and garnished with coconut and raisins. 

Tilgul with tumeric and vermillon, a sweet sesame treat for Makar Sankranti

Around India

Harvest festival is celebrated all over India with different traditions in each region. In Northern India its known as Lohri, a cultural celebration linked with the winter solstice and is all about gathering together with family and offering food to the holy fire. In Uttar Pradesh, Makar Sankranti is famous for its kite flying and sweet delicacies made with sesame, in the above image are tilgul - sweet sesame treats with tumeric and vermillon powder. In Assam, Bhogali Bihu is the celebration of Sankranthi with feasting lasting for several days. Animal fights were traditionally a big part of the events, but in recent years the practice has mostly stopped. 

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