Discover the culinary delights of the Far East, from their staple rice dishes to their unique, mouth-watering street foods
Travelling within India is truly an adventure quite like none other. With diversity being the second name in the sub-continent, one is treated to a cornucopia of experiences spanning nature, art, culture, customs and cuisines.
Sampling local cuisines replete with native produce, ingredients and cooking techniques specific to a particular region can be quite a fascinating experience. The fact that the cuisine of a place is influenced by geographical features, climatic conditions, distinct traditions and beliefs makes the whole exercise of exploring local cuisines all the more exciting. And when the region is the easternmost state of Arunachal Pradesh, the prospect is indeed alluring to say the least.
Rice: A Staple in the State
A large part of the population in Arunachal Pradesh belongs to tribal communities, with as many as 26 tribes and 100 sub -tribes. While each of these tribes has simple variations in specific dishes, the main food of the state is centred around rice, millet and potatoes. Rice is grown extensively throughout the state and is accompanied by pisciculture in the region of Ziro. The latter is , in fact , one of the only regions in the country where paddy and fish are reared together.
Rice , which is of a smaller and a slightly sticky variety , is cooked in two ways – the ‘Dung Po ‘ and ‘Kholam’ method. The former involves cooking and steaming the rice in leaves while the Kholam method involves cooking the grains in hollow bamboos over coal lit fire. Rice is accompanied not only by a variety of meat that is consumed in the state but also plenty of greens and fresh vegetables. Kitchens of most tribal houses are indigenous with bamboo flooring and have a central fireplace. Right above the fireplace are two levels of shelves that store fire wood, meat etc. The warmth not only keeps them dry but also lends the meat a smokey flavour.
Apart from rice and meat, a typical meal would include plenty of green leafy vegetables like ‘laipatta,’ which is a kind of spinach that has a subtly bitter flavour. Organic ladyfingers, beans as well as tomatoes are a key part of the meal. Tiny potatoes that have a pinkish tinge are native produce and are served fried in the form of a simple curry. Bamboo shoots fermented is a regional speciality and a delicacy is served with meals.
Another signature dish is “Thukpa” soup prepared with noodles and a variety of vegetables. Meat is also added at times to this soup. ‘Chura Subzi’, a curry prepared from the fermented cheese of yak or cow milk, ‘Pasa’, a soup made from fresh, raw fish, as well as ‘Peha’, a spicy sauce made from soya bean and chilli, are some other authentic common dishes served in the state. Fruits like kiwi and mulberry that are grown locally in the season are fermented, brewed and served as speciality wines.
The cooking style is generally devoid of strong masalas and other accompaniments. The use of oil too is limited and techniques like steaming, fermenting and boiling is largely employed. Teas too are brewed black and is served sans milk. Dairy products are hardly used as most of the tribal population is lactose intolerant. Likewise, desserts too are not really popular and are rarely prepared.
Local markets are a great place to gain insight into native produce. A visit here reveals a variety of locally grown chillies, bamboo shoot powder and little green brinjals called ‘Thitha gutt’. The latter is known to have medicinal 5 properties too.