Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Assamese Kitchen

I am not an excellent cook, but like to explore exotic dishes, and hey…..I enjoy the MasterChef and the cooking programs too….!!!

Cuisine of a land reflects the culture, tradition and practices of a specific society. A cuisine is primarily influenced by the climate and the ingredients that are easily available in the area. As I originally belong to Assam…just wanting to write few words on its cuisine.

Mother Nature has given Assam bountiful greenery. The biodiversity of Assam makes her biologically rich with many rare and common plants and herbs. There are more than 3000 species of medicinal plants and herbs. Infact, Hsüan-tsang, the famous Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar and traveler said that every plant in this region has medicinal value.

Assam is a multiethnic society with diversified culture. Forty five different languages are spoken by different communities in Assam.

In this state, eating means much more than just indulging the stomach. Cooking process is in sync with nature, and reflects the simple lifestyle of the populace.

We, Assamese cannot live without rice. Rice is our staple food which is cooked in numerous ways. In rural areas and to honor guests in traditional way, Assamese people serve meal on Ban Kaahis (heavy bell metal plates) and give them to sit on bamboo mats (Dhora) or low stool (pira). Sometimes, meal is enjoyed in plantain or banana leaves also.

A traditional meal in Assam begins with a khar, a class of alkaline dishes named after the main ingredient, and ends with a tenga, a sour curry, made mostly with fish. These two dishes characterize a traditional meal in Assam. In between the khar and tenga fish, meat, vegetables are served and chutneys and ambals provide the refreshing touch of tartness to make the tongue anticipate the sweet dishes. Raw Betel nut generally concludes the meal.

Our Non Assamese friends lovingly call us Khar Khoa Asomiya as khar is served as a first course of a meal.

We are fresh fish lovers. It is enjoyed eating with hands as many fishes, specially the small ones are full of sharp bones. More the bones tastier the fish is. Baked fish in plantain leaf is a delicacy. Fried small fish is a favourite side dish. Meat is also a delicacy. Dal is also served along with one or two Bhajis. We also have our very own chutneys like Kharoli, Pani- Tenga etc.

Assamese cooking is a mixture of different indigenous style with regional variation. It is basically low cal and low fat cuisine. But, off lately, the Assamese cuisine has the influence of Bengal, Orissa and Bihar.

The Assamese unique food preparation is distinguished by its distinct flavour of exotic herbs, the smell of lemon (gol nemu or kaji nemu) and the sweet smell of Joha and Bohra rice. We also have our own share of exotic delicacies like fermented bamboo shoot, herb chutneys and khar.


The people of this land of blue hill and river take full advantage of Mother Nature’s bounty. Locally available green leafy vegetables known as ‘Xaak’ are: Spinach, "Lai" (a family of mustard greens), Mustard greens, fenugreek greens. "Khutora". "Moricha", "Mati Kaduri". "Mani Moni", Mint, Cabbage. Green vegetables are often boiled with water to form a gravy or fried in oil with onions. Other locally available vegetables are: cauliflower, beetroot, kolhrabi, curry bananas, banana flower, banana stem, bell pepper, "potol". jeeka". "bhool", snake gourd, bottle gourd, "ronga lao".



It is a common practice for a typical Assamese kitchen to have fermented and dried bamboo shoot, dried cocum (thekera), rice powder, powered lentils (mahor guri), Kharoli, Khahodi and chilly pickle (bhut jalakia, kon jalakia).
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