Boka Chaul is derived from the Assamese words boka which means mud and chaul which means rice and as mud is soft in texture, literally means soft rice. The ethnic tribes of Kamrup and Goalpara spell it as Bakachaul and pronounce it as Banka Chaol or Buka Chal or Boga Jhul while those dwelling in the Lower Brahmaputra Valley call it as Baka, Banka, Bukaor and Booka in their colloquial dialects.
There is ample historical documentation that this sali or winter rice also called ‘Magic rice’ or ‘Zero cooking rice’ has been grown in the Lower Brahmaputra Valley region in the districts of Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Chirang, Bongaigaon, Goalpara, Barpeta, Nalbari, Baksa, Kamrup, Darrang and Udalguri for centuries.
The special winter rice varieties called Boka dhan of whole rice kernels is processed through parboiling and called as Boka Chaul. Some of the well-documented Boka dhan varieties of erstwhile Assam are Banta Boka, Bhokhoorie Boka, Boka Jahinga, Jokhoroo Boka, Khamti Boka, Laobuka, Para Chakhua, Ranga Bokadhan, Ronga Boka, Santi Boka, Booka, Baga Jhul and Boga.
The traditional processing method of Boka Chaul varies slightly from place to place but the basic steps are the same. The paddy is soaked in hot water overnight after which it is soaked in water at room temperature for 2 – 4 hours. The paddy is boiled in large iron vessels called kerahi over wood fire till the husk splits open slightly.
The water is drained and the boiled paddy is heaped on a colander made from bamboo to drain off the excess water. The boiled paddy is spread thinly to cool and dried in the sun. The paddy must be dried on the same day as any moisture remaining in the boiled rice will severely affect its quality. The sundried paddy is then kept in the shade to maintain the right amount of moisture in it. Once the drying process is completed, the rice can be stored up to 3 – 5 months. The rice is sent for milling at the time of consumption.
Boka Chaul derived from the parboiled grain after milling is soaked in cold or lukewarm water for 15 – 30 minutes and swells up approximately 2 times after soaking in cold water and up to 2 – 3 times in lukewarm water. The common practice is to soak it in water at ambient temperature for 4 – 5 hours. It is commonly used to prepare traditional Assamese dishes called Jalpaan that are taken as breakfast or snack. The soaked rice is served with curd or milk and sugar or banana or jaggery.
Sweet dishes are prepared by mixing it with ripe banana and molasses. It is also mixed with boiled vegetables or hot chillies. It is served as a light refreshment during marriages or religious ceremonies with curd and sugar. Sira (beaten rice), Sandah guri (fried flour) and akhoi (fried corn) are prepared from it. A traditional dish, Mukh Roshak is prepared by mixing Boka Chaul with germinated moong dal, chopped and fried carrot, chopped chillies, a pinch of salt and garnished with lemon juice of Kaji Nemu.
As Boka Chaul does not require any fuel for preparation, it is the ideal nutritious food recommended for military regiments. This food is said to cool the stomach and is partaken by farmers during the peak summer. This is suggested for pregnant women for its high nutritional value. The unique softness of this short grain rice is because of the low percentage of amylose (8 – 12% as compared to 20 – 25% in most rice varieties). This makes Boka Chaul easily digestible, fluffy and light. The water absorption capacity and fibre content are also much higher than other parboiled rice varieties.
Boka Chaul received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2018. This supremely versatile rice variety is now making steady inroads in the domestic and international market as an excellent health food option.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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