Assam on a Plate: How a Guwahati-centered chef is putting Assamese cuisine on India’s culinary map

You have been travelling to Assamese villages, being with tribal people and finding out about their cuisines for 28 long yrs. What encouraged you to vacation so extensively to document these ethnic recipes?

Food stuff is identity. There has been a ton of confusion about Assamese communities. I desired to crystal clear this confusion by documenting the genuine cuisines of Assam. We have 23 main communities and a number of sub-communities in Assam, but they are hardly known or recognized. Around time, we have missing all the things we had. But without the need of our traditions, we are practically nothing. Today, there is a crisis of identification. Even the new era is transferring absent from common foodstuff. At the beginning of my culinary journey, I preferred to find out Assamese cooking. But when I requested my mom about our food stuff, she could not arrive up with additional than 3 or 4 dishes. I realised it is not probable to master this delicacies at a culinary institute. So, I made a decision to journey across Assam to discover about the foods of distinctive ethnic teams. I visited villages belonging to diverse tribes like Rabhas, Tiwas, Karbis, Khamtis, Tai Phakes, Sonowal Kacharis, Bodos, Garos, Misings and a lot of a lot more. I have been documenting their culinary traditions for the previous 28 yrs.

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How do you persuade the tribals to share their mystery recipes with you? Tell us about some of the tribal dishes you learnt to make throughout your travels.

Before I learn to cook from them, I talk with them, keep and celebrate with them. Then slowly and gradually, they increase to like me. Only then do they allow me to enter their kitchens.
A calendar year in the past, I experienced travelled to Tinsukia district in the vicinity of Dum Duma, about 600 km from Guwahati. On the border of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, there is a group referred to as the Khamtis. They do a stunning dish known as pasa. According to me, it’s the finest dish we have from the North East. Pasa is a seasonal soup built from fresh river fish, minced meat, fragrant makat leaves, ginger, garlic and environmentally friendly chillies. Generating it is a extended and intricate course of action. It certainly is a perform of artwork.

Chef Atul Lahkar at function. (Photo: Atul Lahkar)

What makes Assamese delicacies unique and special? How is it different from other NE cuisines?

To most of the foods environment which includes chefs, food bloggers and diners, Assamese cuisine implies a few factors — pork, bamboo shoots and bhut jolokia. But we have a exclusive variety of cuisines as there are so lots of different cultures and communities. Our populace contains tribal as nicely as non-tribal communities. There is a blend of hill and plain tribes, so there are a ton of variances among the cooking tactics of higher and reduced Assam. Our cooking processes are distinctive from the other states. When the Nagas have their boiled dishes and chutneys, we like to stew, fry and smoke our food stuff. We use black pepper and adore our lentils. We cook dinner pigeon and duck — which the other states never — and also mutton and country rooster. Contrary to states like Nagaland and Meghalaya, we do not use fermented soybeans. But most essential, fish, and not pork, is the primary food stuff of Assam. So, there are a whole lot of variations in between the NE states.

Assam is quite loaded in wild edibles. Which is your favorite herb when cooking?

We have 101 distinct herbs in Assam. Lots of of them are in the sector in April all-around the time monsoon is approaching. We deal with quite a few health conditions and ailments with these wild herbs. We take in all our foods with environmentally friendly leafy vegetables. I like to use lai patta or local mustard leaves in my cooking. You can cook dinner everything with them, and also try to eat them refreshing.

What does Assamese delicacies present to vegetarians?

In every home in Assam, you will get a pitika or mash. Any vegetable can be smoked or boiled and made into a pitika. It is very healthy. We like to stir fry our vegetables, and not overcook them to keep nutrition and crunch. We are all about seasonality, so in just about every month we make changes to our recipes. But it’s accurate that there are quite couple of vegetarians in Assam. When there are exceptions, most are not able to take in a meal with no fish and meat.

Baked and Fried: Assamese thali served by Atul Lahkar at ITC Grand Central in Mumbai. (Picture: Atul Lahkar)

We rarely have any Assamese dining places outside of the point out. As a end result, there is quite very little publicity to Assamese cuisine. As a chef, how are you addressing this gap?

The exposure to NE cuisines is normally restricted to Kolkata. A whole lot of persons in Assam have not mingled with other Indian states. Even when they do journey, they frequently never share their recipes, most likely for the reason that they aren’t so self-assured about their own delicacies.
But I consider foodstuff can be a way for Assam to talk with other sections of India. I have been operating to appropriate the misconception that our cuisine is just about pork and ghost peppers. For the previous many decades, I’ve been organising meals festivals across India, like this hottest just one at ITC Grand Central, Mumbai, wherever I’m serving lesser-regarded dishes like Assamese rooster with damaged rice powder, banana flower fry, and yellow lentils with elephant apple. In excess of the years I have invited many Indian and global cooks to arrive to my cafe Heritage Khorika in Guwahati, to give them a flavor of our food items. I also have a village kitchen area, referred to as Domahi, near Guwahati. It is a residing museum which showcases the kitchens of distinctive tribes and their cooking types.
It will take time for the globe to know our food. But it will surely materialize as we have a terrific delicacies that is distinctive and pretty wholesome. We have so many varieties of rice, wild edibles and brilliant produce. The world requires to explore Assamese food items.

Your 1st book is thanks for release shortly. What is it about and when can we count on it to be on the shelves?

My book, A Treasure of Assamese Delicacies, is about the dropped recipes of Assam. It’s about my sentiments as a chef and my reflections on Assamese people today and cuisines — what we experienced, and what we have dropped. Via the book, I will share my culinary awareness and tricks learnt over the previous 28 yrs, and also chronicle my vacation adventures. I have incorporated recipes as perfectly as the stories at the rear of these recipes. The ebook is entire, and will be out by September or October this calendar year. I’m in talks with various people today, together with my pal Vikas Khanna, for a global launch.

What else are you fired up about in the coming times?

I’m functioning on building a museum of indigenous herbs in Assam. I have a property close to Guwahati which I intend to use for this. The thought is to showcase numerous regional herbs and diverse sorts of dry fish from our rivers and ponds. Quite a few of these are finding misplaced, so I want to doc them for posterity. The job would be completed by 2025.

Sona Bahadur is an independent meals journalist and writer dependent in Mumbai. She is the former editor of BBC Very good Food Journal India

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