Tribal Assamese Food on a Sunday Afternoon
Imagine being transported from the hustling bustling city of Mumbai to a simple village in Assam.That's what happened to us on a Sunday afternoon.We were invited to Gitika Saikia's home in Juhu to a meal that had untried ingredients like silkworms,duck,eel,fiddlehead fern and red rice.Gitika learnt much of her cooking from her mother in law who lives in rural Assam.Here the mode of cooking is slow and the ingredients farm fresh.A refrigerator is used mostly to store milk.Vegetables are plucked from the garden before cooking.Fish is caught from the ponds on their property.That's how the above Mud Eel Soup was made! Known to be useful in anaemic patients,this soup has a strong smell thanks to the Paduri Leaves but is delicious and leaves you wanting for more.
Rice is a staple grain in Assam and is eaten for breakfast,lunch and dinner.At breakfast time,sticky rice is had with vegetables and many times the villagers are so full that they skip lunch.Gitika made us Pani Pitha made of rice flour and cooked it in mustard oil.We had these with delectable miniature potatoes (smaller than marbles) that she had stir fried with skin on.
She also served us pickles with fermented vegetables
and Olive Pickle.Yes,olives grow not only in Italy and Spain but also in our country!!
Then there was Fermented Bamboo Shoots Chutney and spicy Bhut Jolokia Pickle.
From the ponds in their village,Gitika had sourced tiny shrimp....
which Gitika quickly stir fried.The thing about Assamese food is its simplicity.Onion,garlic and salt are the usual accompaniments.No heavy masalas.Black sesame seeds are also used.
The most exotic thing I have tried in India has been Silk Worms,thanks to Gitika.These are bred for the same unlike ant eggs,where weavers ants are wild.Gitika tossed these with unpeeled Garlic and they had a nutty texture....
The way Assamese greet a prospective groom is by serving Duck (We Maharashtrians serve Poha).An 8 month old tender duck is used.Here Gitika cooked it with ash gourd and potatoes and we realized why this hearty comforting dish is only for VIPs!!
Fiddlehead Ferns are found in the monsoon and are oh so delightful!! Here she cooked them with pork but even by itself it would have been just as great!
She showed us a piece of fresh yeast use to make Rice Beer
The dessert was Black Rice Porridge with Raisins,one of my favorites,specially because it is not overtly sweet!
Met up with some of my friends Rhea,Kurush and Rituparna.Was mighty pleased to finally meet Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi whose writing I have great respect for.Her articles are simple,original and well researched and always leave you pondering about the subject.Also met the lovely Sheryl Soh who works for Singapore Tourism Board and who told us about Assamese home food.Kurush and Rhea ate at Assamese restaurants at Guwahati in January this year and had outstanding chicken cooked in bamboo stem.They found urban Assamese folks have a lot of fish,chicken,pigeon and duck at home.
The ever so effervescent Gitika Saikia is the epitome of the contemporary urban woman.....one who celebrates her traditional roots and has a modern outlook to life.Who says the two have to be mutually exclusive?!!