Cuisines of Assam
Cuisines of Assam
Because of its unique topography, Assamese cuisine is varied with fresh vegetables and meat from the plains and dried, fermented and preserved food from the hills. The main ingredient remains rice, which is served with a side of a gravy-based curry. Due to the use of a wide range of meat products and fresh vegetables, Assamese cuisine differs significantly in terms of flavours from the other cuisines in the country.
Rice is taken either in steam boiled form (ukhua) or in sundried form (aaroi) and is even eaten as a snack such as the xandoh (roasted and grounded), akhoi (puffed), chira (flattened with the husk on) or kumol saul (precooked, dried and then husked). Chira with jaggery and yogurt is a traditional Assamese breakfast. Farmers are known to eat the poita, which is rice soaked overnight and eaten with salt, onions and mustard oil. A very unique preparation of rice in Assam is by wrapping the sticky rice in plantain leaves or in bamboos hollows and cooking it either by boiling or steaming. Special occasions such as Bihu call for a unique preparation called pithas wherein soaked and ground bora saul (glutinous rice) is fried in oil with a sesame filling and roasted in young green bamboo over a slow fire or baked.
Fish and Meat
The second most important ingredients in Assamese cuisine are the wide range of fish and meats. Fresh water fish is abundantly available due to the large number of rivers and lakes in the region. In fact, many rural households have their own ponds where they grow freshwater fish. The Borali, Rou, Cital, Khoria, Maggur, Xingi, Bhokua, and Xaal are the popular big fish while puthi, Ari, Goroi, Koi, kholihona, borolia, mua, ceniputhi, lachin, pabho etc are the same small fish varieties. Fish is commonly cooked into a stew with vegetables, greens and herbs in Assamese cuisine. The cuisine in Assam is characterised by low spices and oil but a good amount of ginger, curry leaves, green chillies and lemon juice. Certain delicacies are prepared by slow cooking or roasting inside bamboo shoots which gives a unique flavour. Chicken, duck, goat, pork and beef are the most common types of meat savoured in Assam.
The Khar is one of the most exotic dishes in Assam. Its key ingredient is the skin of a certain kind of banana which is sun-dried and then used to filter water through its ashes. The khar is the basic ingredient and is cooked with fish, meat or raw papaya and seasoned with mustard seeds and pulses.
The Baanhagajor Lagot Kukura is chicken cooked with grated bamboo shoot which gives the curry an enhanced flavour.
The aloo pitika is a richer cousin of the humble mashed potato. The addition of chopped onions, coriander leaves, chilli powder and a garnish with mustard oil makes it a favourite vegetarian dish.
The Masir Tenga is a sour fish dish that is cooked in a sour gravy using either mangosteen, lemon or tomatoes. Another popular fish dish is the narasingh masor jhol wherein the fish is cooked in a light gravy made from curry leaves.
Grilling and roasting is highly favoured in Assam so vegetables, fish and meat are often mashed and grilled with a few aromatic herbs.
Sweets and Desserts
The Gooror paya, which is made with milk, rice, jiggery, dry fruits and bay leaves, is a scrumptious Assamese favourite. The addition of dates and saffron makes it extra special. Another version is the Oayas which is similar but made with Joha rice and is cooked slowly on a slow flame. For the Komolar Kheer, orange pulp is added to the kheer, which makes it truly unique to Assam.
The Gujiya is a stuffed and deep fried delicacy with a rice-jaggery-sesame seeds centre.
The narikolor Laru is grated coconut mixed with sugar and made into delicate balls.
Assamese enjoy bitter delicacies that are made using fresh bamboo shoots, cane shoots, neem leaves, bitter gourd, xukuta, sewali phool, and titaphool. An Assamese meal is not complete without the Tamol which is betel leaf filled with betel nut, edible limestone and tobacco.