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The Ultimate Guide to a Culinary Journey through Northeast India
August 31, 2020 | Guest post by: Riddhi M.
Culinary tourism has been taking the world by storm lately. The curious and adventurous travellers are seeking to go on more and more “food trips” all around the world to explore the different local delicacies. Food tourism has become a booming industry that caters to the wanderlust as well the gastronomic cravings of the tourists. And when culinary tourism is the subject of discussion, India, with its rich heritage that has been interspersed with culinary references, proves to be a favourite among the tourists. But when we think of Indian food, more often than not, the north-eastern states fail to pop up on our minds. However, north-east India with its seven sister states and Sikkim, offer up an intriguing cuisine, mixed with an essence of tribal culture that is reflected in the history of the region.
As we take a trip through the picturesque villages cradled amongst the mountains of North-East India, we find interesting and sumptuous delicacies that remain a mystery to the rest of the world since these states do not commonly come upon a list of culinary tourism hotspots. But imagine trying some lip-smacking, hot and savoury dishes while huddling in front of the fireplace inside a log cabin that offers a breath-taking view of the mountains surrounding the place---sounds heavenly, right? Well, let us head right into a list of culinary specialities you should try if you are planning on visiting the North-East anytime soon.
The Assamese dishes speak a lot for the state’s vibrant culture. In fact, it was so difficult picking just one of their signature dishes because they have so many! Being in the north, rice is the staple food here and the cooking styles are influenced by cooking habits of the hills as well as that of the plains. The cuisine is characterised by very little use of spices. The Assamese dish that deserves the most mention is, for sure, Masor Tenga, a lightly spiced, slightly tangy fish curry that features many ingredients like tomatoes, lemons, raw mango etc. The word “Tenga” means sour in Assamese, so now you know the origin of this interesting name. It is preferred during the summertime as it is believed to help digestion after a heavy meal. The Assamese also enjoy a savoury duck meat curry, locally known as Hanhor Komora Mangsho that is cooked with a host of ingredients like sesame, lentils and ash gourd. The Khaar is another Assamese delicacy that is prepared with sun-dried skin of banana and is eaten with rice. The Poitabhat is famous in Assam as a refreshing summertime delicacy, made from fermented rice and pickles. Assamese side dishes include the Aloo pitika which is essentially mashed potatoes flavoured with dried chillies, mustard and other condiments.
The people of Nagaland are incredibly loyal to their tribal roots and their dishes speak for that fact. This beautiful states, cradled between the mountains, remains a mystery as not many people go there, bypassing the usual tourist destinations like Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. But the simple yet sumptuous Naga food would surely allure you to visit the place and one such dish is Axone or Akkhuni which means dried soybeans and the Naga people use it to make a thick curry that goes mouthwateringly well with smoked pork. The Naga dishes are spicy, unlike the other north-eastern dishes. In fact, Nagaland is famous for the Naga Morich, a close relative of the Bhut Jolokia and one of the hottest known chilli peppers. The Naga people also enjoy dried pork with is cooked with dried bamboo shoots and served with rice. Another delicacy that is worth mentioning here is the bamboo steamed fish that is very popular in Nagaland. The fish are stuffed in a hollow tube of bamboo and roasted slowly over the flame. The hint of musty aroma in the roasted fish, flavoured with spices and served hot, make it an utterly amazing treat for the taste buds! Also, I would ask you to try the Akabiye if you are a vegetarian on a culinary quest to Nagaland. This simple dish, popular amongst the Sema community, is made with bamboo shoot and several spices and the thick gravy goes so well with rice!
The land of perennial rains, Meghalaya is famous for many savoury dishes like the Jadoh, Doh Khileh etc. Meghalaya is home to the Garo, Khasi and the Jaintiya hills which house many different tribes. The Khasi community is credited with the discovery of the Jadoh, an appetising concoction of red rice and generous amounts of pork, sometimes cooked in pork blood. The rich colour and the aroma makes it an indispensable addition to our list of culinary marvels of India. The Garo people enjoy various savoury pickles made from bamboo shoots and mouth-watering spices. The Doh Kpu, famous around Shillong, is a delicious dish with pork meatballs served in a spicy sauce. The Khasi community makes a popular dish called Shriew which is essentially boiled or steamed yams, commonly eaten with rice and vegetables. There is also the Tungrymbai, a fermented soybean preparation, a Khasi delicacy that has a unique flavour and sticky texture. You also need to try the Pu Doh in Meghalaya, since it is a traditional dish made from rice and stuffed pork, served with chillies and other spices that add to the aroma.
Probably my most favourite on this list, the Sikkimese cuisine is definitely a must for you if you love the Nepalese and Tibetan platters. Apart from its gorgeous landscape and glittering fountains, Sikkim offers a blend of many cultures as people from Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet live here and the cuisine has evolved to suit their likings. The momos(dumplings) are the most famous dishes of Sikkim. Believed to be of Tibetan origin, I promise you, Sikkimese momos are a delight to the taste buds and when I stayed there, I had those soft buns for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Another famous delicacy that you must try in Sikkim is the Thukpa or Gya Thuk. This soupy dish is made with noodles, chicken and various sorts of fresh, green vegetables. The hot Thukpa proves to be a sumptuous food that soothes your insides when you’re out in the shivery coldness of the Sikkimese mountains. Gundruk is a Nepali food that has been adopted as a staple in Sikkim. If you are a vegetarian, you would want to try this dish as it is made with fresh cabbage and juicy radish. It is traditionally cooked in a earthen pot and the musky smell of earth adds to its flavour. Do not miss out on the Sikkimese Phagshapa if you love pork. It is a spicy dish made with strips of pork fat tossed with dried red chillies and other spices that leave the best of tastes on your buds!
The mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh comes with a variety of lip-smacking dishes and one of the most delicious ones is definitely the Lukter. It is a roasted beef slice, served hot with red chilli seeds on top of it. In the chilly evenings during the Arunachalese winter, this hot, savoury dish is definitely going to make you fall in love with the state’s cuisine. In the pre-Independence times, the Arunachalese used to enjoy various dishes with wild birds and animals but now, that has come to an end. But the people of this state have retained their ancestors’ way of adding many wild herbs to their food which enhances their aroma and makes them incredibly satiating. The Arunachalese enjoy the Apong which is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice and flavoured with a host of herbs and spices. If you are a vegetarian, the Arunachalese dishes which come with lettuce, boiled with ginger, chillies and coriander will definitely appeal to your palates. Like its neighbouring north-eastern states, Arunachal Pradesh is also famous for its many recipes which are prepared with bamboo shoots. Pika Pila, an interesting side dish famous amongst the Apatani community, is made using bamboo shoot and pig fat and serve hot along with a platter of rice.
The Manipuri cuisine is hugely influenced by the Meiteis, a tribal community that represents the ethnic majority there. Among the most famous foods is the Chamthong or Kangshoi, a savoury, hot vegetable stew, served with rice and flavoured with slices onions, cloves and ginger. Another one od Manipur’s delicacies is the Morok Metpa, a spicy and tangy chutney made with mashed green chillies and some salted Ngari fish. Drooling all over the place already, are you? Eromba is another traditional Manipuri food, prepared with the Ngari fish and many sorts of vegetables. It also features the flavours of coriander which makes it particularly delectable. Paaknam is the Manipuri version of a pancake that is prepared from a thick batter of gram flour (besan) and tossed with chillies, herbs and other spices to make it a perfect side dish! Another side dish is the Aloo Kangmet, which has boiled potatoes spiced up with dried chillies, drizzles of mustard oil and a dash of salt. A dessert that is famous in Manipur is the Chak Hao Kheer. “Chak Hao” translates to black scented rice that is mixed with raisins, cardamoms and milk to whip up a sweet dish that proves to be the perfect end to a feast fit for the kings!
The Mizo cuisine displays a delicious mixture of North Indian and Chinese pallets and interestingly, the food here is mainly served on fresh banana leaves. Among the famous dishes, the Bai deserves some special mention. It is made with many herbs and spices that are indigenous to Mizoram and includes pork, bamboo shoots and vegetables. It is a soupy, savoury dish that you should definitely try if you are like me and spicy food is not your thing. If you like some seafood, definitely try out the Misa Mach Poora of Mizoram. It is a side-dish made with fire-grilled prawns flavoured with mustard oil, citrus juices and lemon zest. The bamboo shoot fry is another delicacy famous in Manipur for its amazing aroma owing to the host of spices that are added to it. Do try out the Koat Pitha, a dish made with a batter of banana and flour, and fried with some condiments which add to its flavour. If you are looking for some vegetarian options, try out Chhum Haan, a simple recipe made with steamed vegetables such as carrots, beans and broccoli.
The majority of the Tripuri people are non-vegetarians and their traditional cuisine, which is locally known as Mui Borok, is essentially centred around fish and meat. Tripura is mostly inhabited by nontribal Bengalis of north-eastern lineage and as it is bordered by Bangladesh, its dishes have been extensively influenced by the Bangladeshi culinary culture. So you can expect to taste some spicy curry poured over deliciously cooked fish when you visit Tripura. Among popular dishes, the Wahan Mosdeng is mentionable, which is an amazing delicacy prepared with pork and flavoured with the likes of sliced onions, green chillies and flavourful coriander leaves. Like all other North-Eastern states, Tripura has prepared its very own recipe with bamboo shoots, locally known as Muya Awandaru. The Tripuri cuisine also includes a tangy chutney called Mosdeng Serma, made with berma, tomatoes and flavoured with garlic and onions. The freshly brewed rice beer of Tripura, known as Chauk is a must during several occasions that are celebrated by the people of the state. The Tripuri dishes are often found to include “berma” which is nothing but dried and fermented fish.
About the Author: Riddhi is a nineteen-year-old student, trying to keep a balance between her pre-med studies and her desire to go on a quest for the unknown. An ardent traveller at heart, Riddhi contributes to some websites where she describes her many expeditions and talks about travelling, the most recent being an account of why travelling is good for your mental health on Mumbaikar’s Perspective, a Mumbai-based blog.
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