Welcome to our culinary journey through the captivating state of Assam, nestled in the northeastern part of India. Often referred to as a 'Mini India,' Assam is a land of remarkable diversity, boasting a rich tapestry of multi-ethnicity, languages, and diverse geography. This November, we invite you to join us in discovering the unique flavours and traditions that make Assam's cuisine a treasure trove of culinary delights.
A Dash of Southeast Asia
From a culinary perspective, Assam's cooking techniques and styles bear a resemblance to the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand and Burma rather than its neighbour, Bangladesh. The flavours here are distinctly different, offering a refreshing twist for those seeking a taste of something new.
The Significance of Khar
A traditional Assamese meal commences with "Khar," a crucial element of Assamese cuisine that is traditionally served with rice. Khar is a fascinating concoction made from alkaline water derived from the ashes of sun-dried banana peels. This unique ingredient lends its distinctive character to this month's special- Assamese Black Gram Lentil Curry (Mati Mahor Khar). The alkalinity in this dish is a result of the banana peel ashes, setting it apart from other Indian dishes that tend to be more acidic in taste.
Khar, apart from its intriguing flavour, is a nutritional powerhouse. Rich in essential minerals like potassium, sodium, iron, cobalt, manganese, nickel, zinc, and copper, Khar offers a wealth of health benefits, according to Ayurveda.
Rice: The Heart of Assamese Cuisine
Rice holds a special place in Assamese cuisine. The region is home to a diverse array of rice varieties, and some even believe that the grain was first domesticated in the Assam-Yunnan region. Fun fact: India boasted approximately 110,000 heirloom rice varieties until the 1970s, a number that has now dwindled to around 6,000. However, recent efforts are seeing a revival of these precious rice strains.
Abundant Freshwater Fish
Assam's many rivers, ponds and lakes are abundant with fish, making it an essential part of their cuisine. There is no traditional ethnic community in Assam that does not eat fish. Many rural households even maintain their ponds for fish farming.
For this reason, our second special this month is the Iconic 'Masor Tenga'
No exploration of Assamese cuisine is complete without indulging in 'Masor Tenga' or 'sour fish.' This iconic dish captures the essence of Assam's culinary heritage, a delightful blend of tangy and savoury flavours.
Spices and Herbs: Simple but Flavourful
Assamese cuisine, in contrast to its Indian counterparts, relies on a limited selection of spices. Commonly used spices and herbs include turmeric, curry leaves, ginger, garlic, cumin, black pepper, and fiery green chillies. Assamese meals are incomplete without the kick of green chillies. There are many varieties of chillies to be found in Assam including the famed 'Bhut Jolokia,' known as the world's hottest chilli.
Meat Dishes: A Unique Touch
Meat dishes in Assam are characterised by their mild spiciness, minimal use of oil, abundant ginger, curry leaves, and the distinctive addition of bamboo shoots. Don't miss our special dish: Pork with bamboo shoots, which brings in all the elements from above including a touch of 'Bhut Jolokia' (though we promise to be a little conservative with the chilli)!
The Chicken Dilemma
We discovered two fascinating chicken dishes during our culinary journey through Assam: one featuring banana flowers and the other with black sesame seed paste. Choosing between them was a dilemma, so we turned to our Twitter community for their verdict. The poll was decisive, with chicken cooked with black sesame seeds emerging as the clear favourite. That is our fourth special this month!
Our exploration of Assam, its people, and its cuisine has been a very interesting journey. The more we delved into this northeastern gem, the harder it became to stop. Assam has undoubtedly earned a top spot on our list of places to visit. We hope you enjoy this culinary adventure as much as we have in bringing it to you.
Join us in savouring the diverse and flavourful world of Assamese cuisine this November.