Food has been a universal connection between people for a really long time now. The food habit of a region reflects its culture and traditions to quite an extent. The same holds true for the cuisine of Assam as well, which has its own style and pattern, quite distinct from the rest of the country as well as ther north-eastern states. It is said that one can only get the true essence of the place he is visiting by tasting the local cuisine. The Assamese cuisine is one such factor of Awesome Assam that would add another star to the welcome note of Assam Tourism ‘Once you visit Assam, it stays with you forever’. The traditional food of Assam comes across as a blend of many exotic spices, herbs and condiments. With a wide variety of indigenous food to offer, the food of Assam is famous for its distinctive flavoring and influences. The people of Assam are known to have been blessed with the art of cooking and at Assam, men and women both cook with equal proficiency. Men folks of Assam comprise of the workforce that do cooking activities at any celebrations or religious ceremonies of Assam. The delicacies of Assam boast of a unique charm derived from exotic herbs and vegetables that are used in the dishes adding freshness and magnificent taste. Rice and fish are the staple food of Assam and are the main ingredients in Assamese cuisine. Less spicy and less oily are the speciality.
Assamese cuisine is influenced by the majority of the indigenous tribes of the State which is generally a confluence of cooking habits of the hills that favor fermentation and drying as forms of preservation. The Assamese cuisine is characterized with simplicity and variety and is much different from the cuisine of the rest of the country because the cuisine is less spicy. The Assamese cuisine is characterized with health and natural flavor because of the extensive use of herbs and organic vegetables. Assamese cuisine is generally low in oil and spices but the exotic herbs, meat and the Bhut Jolokia (the hottest pepper in the World) impart a strong flavor to the cuisine.
A traditional meal in Assam begins with a Khar (a range of dishes named after its main ingredient) and ends with a Tenga (a sour dish). Food is generally served on bell metal plates and saucers accompanied by Tamul (Betel nut) and Paan. The people of Assam are mostly non-vegetarians with meat and fish being a regular dish accompanied with the staple diet of rice. For vegetarians, the cuisine of Assam serves an assorted meal of various locally grown organic vegetables and Cottage Cheese (Paneer).
The Assamese cuisine sees the use of meat varieties like chicken, duck, pigeon and pork. Fish varieties to fill a major part of the sumptuous Assamese cuisine. The fish curry is typically sour flavoured owing to the use of certain local herbs and vegetables. The meat dish is little spicy because of the use of green chillies and mustard oil often cooked with bamboo shoot called Khorisa. Baked or steamed fish wrapped in plantain leaves with mustard paste is a local delicacy called ‘Patot diya maas’. However, what sets the Assamese cuisine apart is traditional ‘detoxifying’ appetizers cooked in a variety of ways. The most popular being the ‘Khar’ which is prepared by burning the stem of the banana tree and roasting an soaking banana peels. The Assamese cuisine ‘Khar’ has a distinct flavor and is soothing for the stomach. With numerous rivers and wetlands, Assam is also home to the largest variety of fish species in India, and thus many fish recipes like tenga anjaa, sorsori, patot diya, sungat diya, pora, pitika, bhoja, korikat diya, bhapot diya, etc. all depending on the type of fish you are eating here in Assam.
The typical Assamese snacks and meals for breakfast include chira, akhoi, pitha-guri, hurum, sandoh-guri, muri, doi and gur, with a sonda-hol or malbhog kol (local variety of banana) adding to the taste. Sweetmeats include various kinds of pitha made up of different varieties of rice-powder, gur, coconut powder and sesame (til).
In summary, the various ingredients of the Assamese cuisine are ~
- Herbs and Vegetables
- Natural Spices
The Various preparations in the Assamese Cuisine are ~
- Khar (Named after the ingredient Khar)
- Masor Tenga (Sour Fish Curry)
- Narasingh Masor Jul (Fish curry with curry leaves)
- Pura (Roasted meat, fish or vegetables)
- Pitika (mashed potatoes/vegetables with spices)
- Chutney and Salad
- Pokori (fritter made from potato, brinjal, herbs, etc.)
- Rice Beer (locally brewed named variously as Xaas, Laupani, Zudima, Apong, etc.)
North East India is home to over 200 tribes and each of these tribal community have brought with them the secret recipes and flavours from the land of their origin which, they have continued to pass in on to their generations. From various herbs to meat preparations these tribes bring forth to you an exquisite blend of mouth watering savory delights. Although the use of meat is prevalent in most of the food preparations, the dishes like the khar, fried mixed vegetables and the yam soup are sure to mesmerize the taste buds of the vegetarians.
However, with the advent of time and adoption of technology leading to modernization has made the modern households of North East India to stick to their favorites of the likes of Maggi, Burgers, KFCs and Ready to Eat recipes but still people find time to visit the markets on a Sunday morning to get home the freshest organic vegetables, fishes/meat for the lunch. This meal on a Sunday afternoon also serves as a get together for the entire members of a family.
Getting back to the traditional cuisine from the region, North East Indian cuisine is very different from the cuisine across the country in the sense that the use of oil and powdered spices are minimal to almost nil. This minimal use doesn’t make the food Bland instead its “Aromatic and Hot” with the use of Garden Herbs, Organic Vegetables and the Second hottest pepper in the world the ‘Bhut Jolokia’. A chilli or two (enough to spark the fire), ginger, garlic, occasionally sesame and a few local herbs are all it takes to churn out a meal with the distinctive flavor of North East. A meal here, is incomplete without a steaming platter of rice, various green vegetables and recipes churned out to get the daily dose of protein via Poultry (duck, geese, chicken), Beef, Pork, Freshwater Fish. Not to forget, all this arranged on a platter and that too with the minimal use of artificial spice.
The seven sister states have a varied taste when it comes to their food preparation. This is mostly due to the use of ingredients in their food preparations. The state of Manipur is better known for the recipes churned out using fish as an ingredient, the state of Nagaland Nagaland is better known for its dishes that use bamboo and meat as primary ingredients. The state of Mizoram prefers it platter to contain boiled and subtle preparations rather than the fried foods. The states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh prefer their main course to contain their version of momos and noodles, but again without much influx of spices. The state of Assam is home to a wide variety of tribes and their influence on the food habits of the locals is very evident. A traditional meal in Assam begins with a khar, a class of dish named after the main ingredient of Papaya and ends with a tenga, a sour dish. The food is usually served in bell metal utensils. Paan, the practice of chewing betel nut, generally concludes a meal.
Jungleideas welcomes you to North East India and be a part of the exciting culinary journey to savor the delights of the traditional cuisine of North East India!
A short description of the most famous dishes of Assam is as follows:
These are the home cooked cakes of Assam: Pitha is one of the most popular snack-time dishes of Assam, usually eaten at breakfast or with evening tea. There are a wide variety of Pithas available across households of Assam. They can be sweet or savoury, steamed of fried, cooked in a many different styles and techniques. This is one of the most technical foods of Assam and needs a lot of precision to get the dish to turn out correct. The different pitha varieties of Assam are known as ghila pitha, til pitha, bora pitha, narikol pitha, sutuli pitha, tekelir mukhot-diya pitha, bhaat pitha, luthuri pitha, sunga pitha, etc.
Tangy Fish curry: This graceful dish of Assam is extremely refreshing on the palette. This fish curry recipe of Assam is made sour and yet it magically turns out to be delicious! The local fish varieties of Assam is slow cooked in a rich, tangy broth made with tomato, outenga (elephant fruit) and kazi nemu – a local variety of lemon. The end result is a melt-in-the-mouth fish recipe. flavoured in pure awesomeness.
Various Duck Meat Recipes:
Duck meat is a delicacy across Assam. This delicacy of a food of Assam is cooked with Ash Gourd (lauki) and is generally cooked on several occasions. The use of whole spices gives the meat a unique flavor. The curry can be cooked according to individual preferences which may vary from person to person. It can be cooked with lentil, sesame, pumpkin and a lot of other ingredients.
Comfort food of Assam. Aloo Pitika is a simple side dish accompanied with rice and dal. A soul food in its truest sense, aloo pitika is loved by all of Assam. It is essentially a dish made with mashed potatoes, mustard oil, onion, coriander and salt. This dish can be eaten at both lunch and dinner. Assam version of the humble mashed potato is delightfully simple and flavorsome.
Food of Assam to tingle your taste buds!
Saak aru Bhaji:
Herbs and vegetables: This dish of Assam is a usual side dish for lunch/dinner. Made with herbs and vegetables, the components of this dish are generally seasoned with ginger, garlic, cinnamon, onions and sometimes lemon. It is a staple diet food of Assam which is consumed on regular basis, and is still tasty and flavorsome.
Various Pigeon Meat recipes:
Pigeon meat is simply a delight for non-vegetarians of Assam. Pigeon meat usually makes your body warm and is perfect to eat during the cold winters of Assam. It tastes best when eaten with Koldil (banana flower) which is a common side dish in the food of Assam. This is a wonderful Assamese dish which combines the delicious texture of the banana flower along with the pigeon meat. Banana flowers are the buds of the banana plant, which are soaked and shredded for use in curries.
Fried silkworm: Creative food of Assam:
Yes, Assamese people like to eat creepy crawlies too and make it taste awesome! The word ‘exotic’ would best describe this dish. Essentially a tribal dish of Assam, the larva is stir fried with spices. It is crunchy on the outside and liquid-like inside. Might not please everybody, but is definitely worth a try.
Baanh-gaj aru Kukura: Chicken with Bamboo Shoot
This is a unique dish of the food of Assam made with chicken meat, bamboo shoots and lentil. The taste of bamboo shoots is not very common and doesn’t suit everyone but once you eat it, it leaves behind a unique taste which is generally complimentary to meat dishes.
Various Pork recipes:
Widely popular among most Assamese foodies are the various pork dishes like Gahori aru Lai Saak (Pork with spinach), Gahori aaru gaanj tenga (Pork with Bamboo shoot), Pork meat smoked and roasted on bamboo skewers, etc.