Know your location
» North East India
To an outsider, the northeast Indian
cuisine literally begins and ends with Momos (steamed dumplings),
Noodles and its various versions. But this is far from the truth. Being an
amalgam of many tribes and sub tribes with varied culinary habits, it is
difficult to hit upon one set of food for each state.
Not By Bamboo Shoots Alone
There are certain common elements in the cuisine across this entire belt. The people of this region are predominantly Rice eaters with a definite tilt towards meat (Pork, Chicken, Fish). The rice is of a sticky variety, invariably steamed. The food is simple with most of it either boiled or steamed. Very little cooking oil is used if at all. Almost little cooking oil is used if at all. Almost no dried spices are used. For flavouring, Ginger, Garlic and bamboo shoots are used widely.
The love for "very, very hot" Chili transcends the geographical boundaries of the states. There is a special variety of Chili especially grown in the northeast, which is very small in size but dynamic and fiery. This variety is generally a part of the cuisine in this region. There are no typical desserts - a heartache for those with a sweet tooth. Drinks are locally brewed from rice or millet.
Here is a small compilation of some popular dishes from the various states. This list is by no means all encompassing.
From Manipur, the vegetarian Thali is famous. K. Manobi Singh, GM (marketing) Manipur Handloom & Handicrafts Department Corporation Limited, tells that the late Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru had relished it when he had visited the state. Traditionally served at the Govindji temple on plantain leaves, it is very elaborate and has at least 20-25 items. The rice is served in the middle and little bowls made of plantain leaves surrounds it. They are used for serving Chutney, lentil, vegetables and other recipes.
A black lentil called 'Uti' is compulsory at all feasts. Vegetables consist of cauliflower called 'Sak', pumpkin made into a hot and spicy Curry, Spinach, Banana flower and a wonderful Salad called 'Singju' made of very finely shredded vegetables and raw Papaya tossed in herbs.
A desert made of Rice called 'Chak Sao' is deep violet in colour and is combined with milk, sugar, coconut and dry fruits. 'Heithongba' is a pungent dish of Lemon, Sugar, Salt, Amla (Indian Gooseberry) or Tamarind. 'Moroi Morok Thongba' meaning different types of vegetables or 'little plants', is another specialty. "Morok" stands for green chilies so this dish may be a bit hot to taste. 'Madhur Jhan' is a sweet made of milk, sugar and gram flour; 'Suktani' is a combination of Neem leaves, Basak leaves and sugar. This and more make up the ceremonial Thali. A normal Thali has three to four items. 'Eromba Chutney' is an essential at every meal. It is made of fermented fish and Bamboo shoot with chilies, boiled vegetables and Potato. Fish is also an important part of Manipuri cuisine and is cooked in numerous ways.
In Mizo cuisine, 'Bai' is a popular dish. It is made from boiling Spinach with Pork and Bamboo shoot. The Bamboo shoot acts a flavouring agent. Bai is eaten with steamed Rice. 'Sawchiar' is another dish made of rice cooked with pork or chicken.
From Meghalaya, we have 'Doh Khileh' which is Pork boiled, diced and cooked with minced Garlic, Ginger, green chilies and Onion. The recipe is served cold. Wak Bizak is Pork boiled and served in gravy made from Bamboo shoot, green chilies and Ginger.
In Tripura, no meal is complete without Shidal. It is a special variety of fish, which is cleaned, stuffed with oil and salt. This is then put in a clay pot and covered and buried underground for about three weeks. It is then ready and sold in the market. 'Shidal' is used in almost every Tripuri preparation. It is simply boiled along with vegetables, green chilies and garlic as in a stew and served with rice. Sometimes, it is cooked with lentils, vegetables and a pinch of soda. This is called 'Chakoi'. Chutney is also prepared from Shidal. It is roasted then ground into a paste with Onions, red chilies and Garlic. The Rice served is of a sticky variety and is steamed in a Banana leaf cone.
Among the Nishis of Arunachal Pradesh, the food is generally boiled using Bamboo shoots, Salt, Laisa (leafy green vegetables) and chili. The 'Yerdak' Chilli, plucked after it is red, is very hot. Even a wee bit is unbearable for those not used to chilies. Meat is either boiled or dried. A type of pickle is made from rice husk called 'Picke' by the Apatani Chuki and Nishi tribes. A popular drink called 'Apang' is made from fermenting Rice or Millet, and is served daily.
In Nagaland, a Rice Beer is popular and is usually accompanied by smoked Beef Chutney. With 13 tribes in the region, the range of food varies. Ayen who is from the Ao tribe says that they are purely non-vegetarian. Most of their food is just boiled or steamed. Bamboo shots are used for flavouring as well as garlic and ginger. A well-known dish is the 'Anishe' made from dry Yam leaves, which are smoked and then boiled with Pork. 'Raja Mirch' (king of chilies) is used in some dishes. A vegetable strew is made by boiling Bamboo shoots and Tomato.