Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Pristine Flavors of North East

        To look at the diversity of Indian cuisine is sometimes an unfathomable proposition. With the world getting smaller by the day, we get to eat good quality regional food in most of our cities we live in without much of an effort. That’s not all, it has also initiated us to look for newer and lesser-known cuisines.

The not so much talked about northeastern cuisines have pristine flavors and food with the aroma and taste of nature. Renowned singer Bhupen Hazarika or the colourful Bihu festival is not the only thing about Assam, the food is simply delicious. It is one among the seven northeastern states also called the seven sisters, which has fabulously earthy cuisines that the rest of the country has still to discover. The majestic river Brahmaputra cutting through the juxtaposition of luscious green hills and plains along with its rich culture give Assam an enviable culinary heritage.
Assamese cuisine use less oil and spices. The staples are rice and fish. Breakfast is frequently of beaten rice (chira) with yoghurt or milk and jaggery, apart from that there are varieties of rice-based breakfast cereals; khoi/muri (puffed rice) etc. Rice powder is  used in desserts like pitha which has a sweet jaggery stuffing. Rice is also used roasted, steamed and wrapped in leaves and boiled in husk. The common varieties of fish eaten are rou, illish and chital and every household in Assam eats fish. A traditional meal begins with a khar, a selection of dishes named after the main ingredient, and ends with a tenga, a sour dish which is also the most popular dish.  The most popular tenga is made with tomatoes, though ones made with kaji lime and thekera (dried mangosteen) added to other vegetables are also popular. Another favorite is small fish roasted in banana leaves.
Green leafy vegetables, called saak, are an important part of the cuisine. Green vegetables are often boiled with water to form a gravy or sautéed in mustard oil with onions. Other local vegetables are; cauliflower, beetroot, kohlrabi, curry bananas, banana flower, banana stem, potol, jeeka, ronga lao ; different gourds. Side dishes called pitikas (mashes) are very popular. The most popular is aloo pitika (mashed potatoes) garnished with raw onions, mustard oil, green chilies and sometimes boiled eggs. khorisa tenga is mashed fermented bamboo shoot, sometimes pickled in mustard oil and spices. Kharoli is fermented mashed mustard seed. Pitikas are also made from roasted vegetables (tomatoes and egg plants being very popular) and small fish.
Mizoram, which is another state, have a lot of similarity with Assam as far as the cuisine is concerned. Manipuri’s like their food to be traditionally served on clean banana leaf. Their love for rice can be seen in every household here. Some eat rice with meat and others prefer a fish delicacy along with the main dish. Infact Kabok, a traditional specialty, is mostly fried rice with a variety of vegetables. The Iromba, an eclectic combination of fish, vegetables and bamboo shoots is served fermented.
Talking about Nagaland the Naga dance is as popular as the  rumba, which is a dried fish preparation that is slightly spicy. Naga food is mostly boiled, steamed and less oily but includes every available animal and does not waste any part of it. Meat particularly pork is also the major part of the cuisine of Meghalaya.  Pork Jadoh, a spicy dish of rice and pork is eaten almost any time. Besides, the local pork delicacies are cooked Khasi-style, Owing to the proximity to China, you get some superb Chinese food. Kyat, the local brew made from rice, adds zing to all the local celebrations.  The spicy cuisine here also compliments the insistent rains that this state experiences.  A visit to Sikkim is a must for the most amazing Tibetan Thupka,  Momos, Ningro with Churpi, Gundruk, Phagshapa and sael roti. Beef is eaten here and alcoholic drinks like tchang; a millet beer served in a bamboo mug is popular. 
Arunachal positioned at the extreme northeast has a cuisine were the local food and Chinese food co exist.  Tripura on the other hand shows a predominant influence of the Bengali cuisine. So if you find the cuisine in Bengal getting a commercial makeover you can visit Tripura for a traditional version of the same. 
The seven sisters compliment as well as enrich the cuisines of the rest of India with pure and pristine flavours which can only make us more proud of our rich culinary heritage.  

By : Devraj Halder

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