Payesh - A Sweet Story
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
With the Asian Cultural invasion in full swing, it is no surprise today to see young kids mesmerised by the food stuff of our easterly neighbours. One of these dishes is the Rice Pudding, legendary in this country, but which abounds in Doraemon, Ninja Hattori and other Japanese cartoons. However, little do the kids know that we have our own rice pudding in India, and that they might be more familiar with it than they know!
Kheer, Payesh, Payasa, Firni. Whatever you may call it, the basis of all these dishes is the same as the rice pudding we have heard of. It is a dish flourished with myths and legends, and almost no festival in the country is celebrated without the lip smacking dish in our hands.
It is said that Payesh was invented in the “rosa shala”, or kitchens, of the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Orissa more than 2000 years ago, when a prince solved an architectural problem regarding a bridge with a demonstration of dropping rice balls into sweetened milk. Served as part of the Bhog, the dessert was also mentioned in the Ayurvedas, as one which is a “happy food”!
The history of Payesh is rich in South India too, where it is known by other names as well as different ways of preparation. It is mentioned in the text Manasollasa, composed by the Chalukya king Someshvara III. It is also called Prathamam in Kerala, and is an integral part of the festival Onam.
Payesh are also of different types like vermicelli, sago, lentils, wheat granules, poppy seeds, and then there is the cream-kene in Kannada payasam as it is known in South India. The Payesh is prepared with milk as its basis, although sometimes jaggery and coconut milk is also used. This is complemented with rice or different types of lentils (dal), nuts and other dry fruits and of course, sugar.
Suffice to say, the influence of this dessert only increased further, with its importance in Islamic food history also being recognised. The dish, called Gil-e-Firdaus, was also popular in Persia, and was said to be one of the favourites of Prophet Muhammad, who considered it to be made by the angels themselves. The Payash also spread to Europe, where it is relished till today. Suffice to say, there are many more variations of this delectable delicacy throughout India that builds on this base and creates its own version.
The author is a BA student in English, History and Political Science at Christ (Deemed to be University), Bangalore