A Rustic Assamese Meal

Today I had one of my most memorable meals.When I go to a restaurant,I usually pick the most unusual item on the menu.The lunch today was rustic Assamese made by Gitika Saikia who has lived in Mumbai for 16 years.Except for the Brinjal Pokora(Assamese fritters) which were like Bengali Bejun Bhaja,the rest I had never seen before.My kind of happiness :)  .
I was expecting it to be like Bengali food but it wasn't.Assamese food too varies with the season.
Mumbai has no Assamese restaurant but Bengaluru does.
I first read about Assamese food in Charmaine O'Brien's Penguin Food Guide to India which explains cuisine of every state

The pop-up organized by the Small Fry Company's division called "The Secret Ingredient"was at a store at Khar.It is run by Insia Lacewala and Paresh Chabbria.They want people to experience secret ingredients of various regional cuisines that can only be found in home meals
We were seated around a low table around cushions."Like Snow-white and the seven dwarves " said my friend Benaifar.

We were eating with our hands hence my pictures aren't good as I was trying to click with my left hand,an art as you can see, I have yet to master :)

There is no bread in Assamese cuisine (and in Saraswat cuisine too) We were served rice (Basmati but sticky rice Joha is eaten in Assam) wrapped in haldi leaves.With it came Lau Khar,made of pulses and bottle gourd.Lest you think it tasted like dal,it had a base made from water passed through ashes of burnt banana tree roots.It lent an distinct earthiness  and is known to aid digestion.You can see the process of making it here,wherein Gitika featured on The Foodie on Times Now with Kunal Vijayakar.
We were served Bhoot Jholokia Pickle,the spiciest thing I have ever tasted in my life! Enough to send you through the roof, if you have too much.The lime they use is called Kaji Nemu and a slice is fragrant enough to make a jug of lemonade
My friends (Pradeep,Kiran and Supriya) liked the Fermented Bamboo Shoot Mash.It was much too strong for me.For some reason it reminded me of horses.Even the Saraswat community makes this.Bamboo Shoot is only available in June-July.It is then stored with salt and stays for months.In Karnataka and Assam,there is hilly terrain and heavy rain which explains bamboo shoot being common to both cultures,my friend Pradeep explained.

The vegetarian items bowled us over.Pumpkin Leaves stir fried in mustard oil,Koldil Pitika (Banana Flower in black sesame paste) and Posola Bhoji (Banana Stem with black chana).Liked them so much that I did not attempt abandoning them to taste the pork served on my plate....and that's saying a lot

The nonveg items were Katla fish cooked with sesame seeds (Til Aru Mas) which was a black curry and Khorisa Gahori which had both fresh and smoked pork along with  bamboo shoot.The pork had been smoked in Gitika's inlaws' kitchen,hanging above their chullah for months

We bit into black organic jaggery and then sipped black Assamese Tea and chatted about bygone days......the good life....

Pickling is a part of Assamese cuisine.Fermentation too.Michael Pollan's book "Cooked" has an excellent chapter on fermentation in various cultures and how it not only extends shelf life but also adds to nutritional value.

We were given gifts of miniature traditional farmer hats :) Very sweet of Gitika!


The knife said…
I had eaten at one of Gitika's first lunches and quite enjoyed it. Great to see she has built on that. Her cooking is indeed good. Pop ups like these give people a taste of what is there beyond what restaurants offer
Sassy Fork said…
True Kalyan... It's wonderful to see the positive response to such events. In America one finds restaurants based on various cuisines of its citizens,based on their country of origin.... Greek,Vietnamese,Peruvian for example. Here in India we have the diversity but not that many restaurants.
Gitika Saikia said…
I am so glad you still remember it...you know what can't wait to make you taste the other dishes.
Benaifar said…
I love the way you write :)
And I also love the fact I seem to creep in to your blog :D
Most of the pipcs have come out really nice.
Hope to see ya soon! xoxo
Sassy Fork said…
Thanks Benaifar! Always a pleasure to meet you at the events.Looks like you had a great time yesterday at the Pujo
suvro said…
This is a very interesting meal. The use of the water extract of burnt banana plant roots is very unique. I wonder about the food ethnography of that - who first decided that it was worth playing around with burnt banana root! Reminds me of the apocryphal story of the origin of roasted pig in Chinese cuisine!

I watched the video of the making of the daal with papaya using this water - I think the color change comes from the reaction of haldi with the water, which must be slightly acidic. Normally the yellow pigment of haldi is from the curcuminoid phenols, but these can react with acid, allowing the redder carotene pigment to dominate. Fresh turmeric root is redder in color than haldi powder. One can see reversible color changes by using washing liquids with turmeric - yellow to red - and reverse that with some vinegar.

Popular posts from this blog

A Heartwarming Goud Saraswat Brahmin Meal

Food at a Baarsa...A Maharashtrian Naming Ceremony

Archaeobroma: Back to Summer School