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Panta bhat (Bengali: পান্তা ভাত; Assamese: পান্তা ভাত; Pàntà bhàt) is a lightly fermented rice-based dish consumed in Bangladesh and the eastern Indian states of West Bengal and Assam. Panta means "soaked in water" and bhat means "boiled rice". This dish of leftover rice soaked in water to prevent spoiling, is generally served with salt, onion and chili.
It is especially popular in rural areas served as a breakfast. A similar dish consumed in the Indian state of Orissa and Chattisgarh is known as Pakhal, Pakhala or Pakhal Bhat. In Bengali, where it is sometimes called Poitabhat, offering Dudh Panta (milk with stale water-soaked rice) is a part of the marital ritual.
Among Hindu Bengalis, it is consumed during the Ranna-Puja (Bengali cooking festival). In Bangladesh, it is a part of the Pohela Boishakh (Bengali new year festival) festivities. On that day it is consumed as breakfast by urban people. Panta is also served at high-end eateries in Bangladesh and West Bengal.
According to a study (Henry et al.), panta bhat is often contaminated, with almost 90% of the samples containing fecal coliforms with a median count of 3.9 log cfu/ml. The contamination was more in the rainy season. Numbers of faecal coliforms increased 10-fold when there was a delay of more than 4 hours between preparation and consumption; 90% of the samples were eaten more than 12 hours after preparation. In cases of diarrhoea this stale rice is not to be served to the patient. According to another study (ILSI 1998), fermentation improves the bioavailability of minerals such as iron and zinc as a result of phytic acid hydrolysis, and increases the content of riboflavin and vitamin B. Panta bhat contains a small amount of alcohol as a result of fermentation. When the conditions of preparing panta bhat — keeping rice soaked overnight in water — were simulated in the laboratory, the rice was found to be inoculated with veratridine, a steroid-derived alkaloid.
There are many variations of the dish but a common one is made by soaking cooked rice in water overnight. Care must be taken to cover the dish during the long soaking to avoid contamination. In the morning, the soaked rice is usually eaten with salt, lime and chili. Other curries or fish preparations may also be consumed along with panta bhat. Curd is also often consumed with the dish. Pokhalo often differs from panta bhat in that seasonings and yoghurt are sometimes added prior to the fermentation process. This cold and wet food, is suitable for summer mornings, but in winter dry foods, such as Chira (flattened rice) and Muri (puffed rice) are more preferred.
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