To the quintessential foodie, Assam has to offer an intriguing array of culinary jewels. Assamese food is all about minimizing waste. It constitutes a varied combination of ingredients starting from rustic vegetables and the complex “Khar” to a lot of animal proteins and even insects.
Needless to say, the true foodie in you must now be curious to discover the marvels of this cuisine. If you are experimental and big of heart, Assamese food will wow you with its traditional dishes and techniques. Here are 5 dishes that make this cuisine unique.
Khar is both an ingredient and the name of any dish prepared using it. This dish can be prepared with pulses, vegetables or even fish or meat. The basic ingredient “Khar” is obtained by filtering out the liquid from a solution of water and dried, charred banana peel. This Assamese dish is unique in the sense that it preserves the alkaline or astringent taste of the Khar liquid.
This dish is believed to have appetizing and digestive properties. Sometimes recipes can direct you to use baking soda if Khar is not available with you. Although alkaline, it fails to create the taste of an authentic Assamese Khar recipe.
The invention of Khar may be explained by the fact that it probably was a more cost-effective and easily produced ingredient for preserving food as compared to salt which was preferred by aristocrats. For the curious, this is indeed a taste without any parallel and only in Assamese food do your taste buds awaken to it.
The word “Tenga” in Assamese means sour. The favourite souring ingredients are tomatoes, dried mangosteen, lemon, raw mango, and elephant-apple. The Masor Tenga is a lightly spiced, tangy fish curry best enjoyed with rice during lunch or dinner. Consumed during summertime, this dish is believed to enhance digestion after a heavy meal.
Different temperings like fenugreek, 5 spice mix (panch phoran) or mustard seeds impart uniquely different flavors to the basic dish and give a refreshing variety to the demanding food lover.
This is basically a form of charred or boiled vegetable or fish mixed with green chilli, onion, chopped ginger, mustard oil, and coriander leaves. A variety of ingredients like potato, eggplant, pumpkin, red lentils, and even fish can be prepared into a Pitika.
This dish retains the original flavour of the basic ingredient combined with the pungency of raw mustard oil and the aromatics. Easily prepared and served with rice, this dish is a wholesome and tasty comfort food for the novice as well as the jaded home cook.
Pigeon meat may be banned in other Indian states; but it is a specialty in Assam. It is considered to give the body warmth and is consumed during the winter months. The most preferred recipe is when pigeon meat is cooked with banana flower and lots of peppercorns. This dish may be eaten with rice or roti or as a starter.
The Assamese have been preparing this for ages and it remains very popular with people eager to uphold tradition. This Assamese delicacy is a confluence of flavors and textures with a hint of the exotic.
Polu Or Leta
Which fabric is Assam best known for? Silk, right! But why talk of fabric in a food blog? This might be a nose scruncher for some, but stir-fried silkworms are a delicacy favoured by many Assamese. After the silk is taken out from the cocoon, the pupa is boiled in water then stir-fried.
Essentially a spicy tribal recipe, it has a crunchy outside and a soft gooey center. It is a must try for all the not-so-faint-hearted who have an itch for the untried and taboo.
Assamese cuisine works with different tried and tested ingredients and cooking techniques. The hills prefer fermentation and drying as fresh produce is not always available whereas the plains have a bounty of fresh vegetables and animal proteins. A unique characteristic of the food in this region is the combination of vegetables with fish or meat for many of the traditional recipes.
This draws attention to the complexity of flavours and textures the Assamese understand and use to create an intriguing mix of dishes. There are some ingredients which would probably require a braver heart, but the modern food lover would surely appreciate the uniqueness of this cuisine and probably recommend it as a personal favorite.