Long before savory oats became the trendy breakfast du jour, poha has been the most important meal of the day for thousands of years.
As a daily oatmeal eater, it takes a lot for me to consider switching teams. Poha was the unexpected jolt of inspiration to break out of the routine for a low risk, high reward payoff.
What is Poha?
Poha is flattened rice, but the word is also shorthand for many of the dishes it creates. There are thin, medium, and thick flakes, producing a range of textures best suited for instant snacks, quick meals, or more time-consuming creations. They all cook more quickly than whole grain rice though, while retaining more vitamins and minerals than standard white rice.
Like Vietnamese broken rice, this unique format isn’t a defect but intentional feature. Modern factories use heavy rollers to flatten the grains just like rolled oats. Traditionally, and still to this day in some small villages, the rice is pounded by hand, earning the alternate description of “beaten rice.”
Chivda is a term that can be used interchangeably depending on the region, although it often refers to a thinner variety, dry-roasted with spices and enjoyed as a crispy snack.
What Does Poha Taste Like?
Very neutral in flavor as you’d expect from plain rice, the real attraction for poha is the texture. Soft, slightly sticky, tender, and easily yielding, it’s easy to eat and beloved by young and old. Thin poha tends to fall apart and become mushy when cooked, which is why it’s more popular when dry roasted. Medium and thick poha can have fluffier, separate grains
India itself is a huge, diverse area encompassing many unique cultural identities, so it should come as no surprise that poha does as well. These variations are a testament to the versatility of poha, allowing individuals to customize their breakfast experience according to their preferences.
- In Maharashtra, you’ll find Kanda Poha, where onions play a dominant role in the recipe.
- Batata Poha, from Gujarat, incorporates potatoes for added substance.
- In the north, you’ll encounter Indori Poha, which is boldly sweet and sour, tart and tangy, with plenty of heat in each bite.
How To Cook Poha
Though I naturally draw parallels between oatmeal and poha, there are notable differences in the cooking procedure and textural results. Rather than porridge or gruel, poha is dryer, more like pilaf, true to its rice base.
- Medium and thick poha needs to be rinsed to remove excess starch that would otherwise make the dish gummy or mushy. Place it in a fine mesh sieve and rinse it under running water for about 10 – 15 seconds. Gently swish the poha with your fingers while rinsing to ensure even coverage.
- Transfer the rinsed poha to a large bowl and add water to cover. Soak for 5 minutes to soften, which expedites the cooking process. Drain thoroughly so it doesn’t get waterlogged.
- Always stir gently to avoid breaking the flakes. Add your cooking liquid, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until soft and fluffy.
Breakfast All Day
Don’t forget, breakfast is truly a state of mind. Though it’s traditionally enjoyed as a morning meal, there’s nothing stopping you from enjoy poha for lunch or dinner, too. This version, redolent of toasted spices and finished with a bright splash of lime juice, is simple to make yet complex in taste. Basic pantry staples are the foundation that’s easily adapted to taste. Many also enjoy sweet poha, aligned with conventional American hot cereal with cinnamon and maple syrup, so don’t be afraid to experiment. These grains may be flat, but their flavor sure isn’t.