The seven sisters, nestled in the North East of India, strangely enough continue to be a culinary enigma for the rest of the country. With flavours as elusive as its environs, food here is strikingly mild — in a good way. Devoid of rich, filling ingredients, the North-Eastern populace likes their food healthy, but without disappointing taste buds.
Mustard oil is an indispensible ingredient — at least a hint has to be present in each preparation. Thanks to the proximity to the Bay, people here are lovers of fish of all kinds.
A popular Assamese delicacy is a sour preparation of fish cooked in a mixture of tomato, dried kokam and fresh lime. As far as other meats go, potato as a base ingredient is an absolute essential.
They also use spices of rather fascinating origins, like ‘khar’ for instance, a kind of soda typically used in daily subjis, a bio-antacid prepared by cutting down a banana tree, sun-drying the trunk for a week, burning it, and filtering water through its ashes.
If you visit a North-Eastern family, you will — first and foremost — be greeted with a cup of hot tea and a piece of betelnut with a tinge of lime to suck on. Their daily meals typically comprise humble fare — one leafy vegetable prepared dry, at least one fish preparation, dal and rice.
People of the North-East don’t usually opt for chapatis, but in certain areas they are eaten as pre-supper snacks. Another famous munchie are their delectable savoury rice cakes, which they call ‘pithas’.
A very special part of their diet are some unique chutneys. Kharoli — made of mustard and ‘khorisa’ from fermented bamboo shoots are two of their most commonly prepared chutneys. As a side dish, people swear by mashed potatoes, which is definitely the most popular vegetable here.
Celebrating the north east
Puberun, which means ‘eastern sky’ in Assamese, is a festival celebrating the North East, organised by Black Swan this weekend to give the city a glimpse into the colours, songs, food and culture of the relatively unexplored seven states.
The festival will feature talks by experts, documentaries and delicious food to transport visitors to the region. Partners include Grubshup on Law College Road where you can head for yummy food from four states, Mizoram, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur from July 28-29.
• For the WRAP
• Barley flour: 130 gms
• Salt: 15 gms
• Oil: 2 tspn
• Water: for kneading
• For the stuffing
• Garlic: 30 gms, chopped
• Onion: 60 gms, chopped
• Ginger: 30 gms, chopped
• Green chillies: 20 gms, chopped
• Chicken kheema: 150 gms
• Salt: to taste
• Black pepper powder: 1 tspn
• Oil: 5 tspn
• Soya sauce: 3 tspn
• Water: 1 cup
• For the stuffing, heat oil in a pan and add the garlic, onion, ginger and green chillies
• Saute for around two minutes
• Add the chicken kheema and saute for another two minutes
• Add a cup of water, salt, soya sauce and black pepper and saute until dry
• Remove from heat and keep aside
• For the wrap, mix the barley flour, salt and water and knead into a dough
• Make six equal-sized balls and then roll every ball into a thin wrap
• In the middle of each wrap, put 2 tspn of stuffing and fold the edges of the wrap to cover it
• Steam the momos for 10 minutes in an idli steamer
• Serve hot with a spicy chutney
Narikolor Laru (Coconut Laddu)
• Coconut: 350 gms, freshly grated
• Sugar: 420 gms
• Cooking camphor: 2 small pieces
• Mix all the ingredients together
• Saute on low heat for around 20 minutes
• When it becomes sticky, remove from heat , and immediately make small coconut balls
• Let them cool and serve as dessert
Chicken Chamthong / Kangshoi
• Boneless chicken: 100 gms
• Potato: 1, cut into round slices
• Tomato: 1, de-seeded and cut into chunks
• French beans: 50 gms, cut into finger size
• Onion: 1, peeled and sliced
• Zucchini: ½, peeled and sliced
• Carrot: 1, peeled and sliced
• Green peas: ½ cup
• Ngari (fermented fish): 2
• Red chillies: 4
• Ginger: 1 cm, grated
• Salt: to taste
(For vegetarian Chamthong you can replace the chicken with hawaijar or fermented soyabean)
• Mash the red chillies and ngari together and keep aside
• In a saucepan, bring three cups of water to boil and add salt
• When the water boils, put all the raw ingredients (except the chillies and ngari mash) in
• When cooked, add the mash
• Serve hot with steamed rice!
• Boneless fish: 250 gms
• White mustard seeds: 2 tspn
• Coriander leaves: half a bunch
• Green chillies: 3
• Garlic: 4 flakes
• Lime juice: 2 tspn
• Mustard oil: 2 tspn
• Salt: to taste
• Clean the fish and apply the lime juice to it
• Soak the mustard seeds and make a paste
• Take the coriander leaves, garlic, green chilly, and salt and make a paste of them all
• To this, add the mustard oil, mustard paste and mix
• Apply the final paste to the fish
• Wrap the fish in banana leaves and put in to an open fire. If not possible, wrap the fish in silver foil and put into an oven at 180 degrees Celcius for 10 minutes
• Eat steaming hot!
► From North Guwahati in Assam, Chef Diganta Deka came to Pune 11 years ago to pursue a Masters degree.
He soon joined the Hotel Taj River View, Chiplun and went on to work at the Residency Club, Off Beat and a some other clubhouses, before becoming manager-cum-head chef for Grubshup.
Dega swears by the healthiness of North-Eastern cuisine and is a staunch follower of authenticity, not believing in ‘compromising on the traditional style of preparation’ — for instance, his momos are made with barley flour not refined maida.
He likes to maintain a friendly environment in his kitchen, and believes every cook should put their heart and passion in their cooking
Pics: Rajesh Nirgude