An Exotic Assamese Bihu Feast
Rongali Bihu is the main festival celebrated in Assam and marks the onset of spring.It's a time for joyous celebration and that's exactly what we did at the A Perfect Bite Cook Studio where Gitika Saikia arranged for the most exotic meal I have had! It was a part of the Culinary Legacy Series and many more such events are planned.The studio was packed,understandably so!
Having had her Assamese food earlier at a pop-up,I expected this to be great.Walked into a studio decorated with Assamese "gamosas" and Rushina and her hubbie Shekhar wore them too.Gitika was wearing the traditional red and gold Mekhala Chador.Bihu songs played in the background,adding to the festive mood and bubbly Gitika danced for us :D
Bihu is a festival of the farmers and has no religious connotation
First thing we were served were the pithas or pancakes made of rice flour.Stuffed with jaggery and sesame seed paste,these had to be dunked into black Assamese tea.
Loved them though they are called Ananya Pithe...meaning give and take back.In Assam,it is customary to offer every time you meet so no one really bothers to have them.Too much of a good thing!
I sat next to Sushmita,who is half Bengali and half Oriya.Having never tried food from Orissa,I asked her for details.The cooking oil is mustard oil like in Bengali cooking but the similarity stops there.They have very light curries,stir fries and lots of fresh vegetables.In fact they add vegetables to fish! Pitha is also an important part of Oriyan cuisine
Gitika demonstrated Silk Worm Stir Fry.She went to rural Assam to get the ingredients.These are hard to find as the processing is laborious and not many people from new generation want to do it.Silkworms are used for cooking and silk.The cocoons are boiled with soda bicarbonate and the worm removed.The fibres are then taken for making silk.Insects are now in focus as food.Well,with beef being banned,one has to look for other options....
Gitika stir fried the Eri silkworms in mustard oil,onions,chillies and garlic.They tasted nutty and had a crunch at the end because of their covering.They are rich in protein and low in fat
Next were the Weaver Ant Eggs which she cooked with hen's eggs....tasted like scrambled eggs
She had made other dishes for us.There were many Assamese folks at the event,all in search of food from back home.The fish curry was made with Rohu (carp) and elephant apple
The elephant apple is so named as elephants love them.The pieces looked like squid and one had to chew at them like drumstick or sugarcane.
Next was the Chicken with Rice Flour,a lovely light curry,which many took seconds of
Then came the best part,a rural tribal dish...Fiddlehead Fern with Pork.These are greens that blossom when it rains.It rained in April in Assam so we were lucky to have them at the meal.The pork was tender and matched well with the ferns.The ferns were from Gitika's garden and the pork from their neighbor's farm....totally organic!
Saw Rahul relish this with rice.He's Assamese.They all have two names like Bengali...one formal and one pet name.I forget his other name
His wife Angana is also called Mimi.She explained that the fish curry which was sour yet light,aided digestion
There was Channa Dal and Rice and Jaggery Balls for the vegetarians
The fragrant Assamese lime,fermented bamboo shoot chutney and sweet and sour olives add a pleasant punch to the meal.I had the Bhut Jholokia pickle by mistake and it had me gasping for water
The Red Rice Kheer was the perfect ending! The red rice had been soaked overnight and then cooked like usual rice along with raisins.
Blessed were we to get a glimpse of Assamese rural food and rituals! It was no wonder then that we all beseeched Gitika to take us on a food trail to Assam!!