By Sneha Lata Saikia
The Assamese cuisine is quite vast. The upper Assam food differs from that of lower Assam. Upper Assam food is quite bland while in lower Assam, the food is influenced by Bengali and Bihari cuisine. To enjoy all the delicacies of Assam, one must head to Guwahati, which is also known as the 'Gateway of Northeast'. There are many ethnic food outlets in the city.
Not only just big and fancy restaurants, but food served at the small roadside dhabas should not be missed out. The cuisine has strong flavours due to the use of endemic exotic fruits and vegetables that are either fresh, dried or fermented. Fish is widely used and birds like duck, pigeon etc are popular. Rice is the staple diet and khar (alkaline), tenga (tangy dish), pura (roasted), and pitika (mashed chutney) are the main methods of cooking. Fish is mostly consumed and cooked along with the green vegetables.
Joha is the most popular and favourite among the varieties of rice available in Assam. Since it is the staple food, it is also consumed as snack, for eg: as Sira, (Beaten rice), Hurum (roasted rice). Pithas, a savoury sweet (sunga pitha, tekeli Pitha, til pitha). If you are in Assam, do not miss sira –doi or beaten rice served with curd and jaggery . And tekeli pithas from the road side dhabbas near weekly haat bazaar.
Vegetables and spices
You will find a variety of green vegetables and herbs. During the festival of Bihu, Assamese people eat 101 varieties of green leaves and herbs as a ritual. You can get fresh and organic vegetables in the weekly haat bazaar. I always buy my return ticket to Delhi on Sundays so that I can shop from Beltola Haat Bojar and buy fresh greens and some exotic items like silk worms, river crabs and local fish.
Talking about the spices of Assam, bhoot jolokia or king chilly is the pride of Assam for being world’s hottest chilli. Pitikas or mashed dishes are a must in every Assamese kitchen. People make pitikas with boiled potatoes, jika or ridged gourd, karela or bittergourd , bengena or brinjal, pitika with duck eggs and many more.
Fish and Meat
Local fish is favourite among Assamese people . Going to Ujaan Bojaar fish haat to buy fish on Sundays is like a picnic for people of Guwahati. Along with fish, goat meat, duck, pigeon, and pork, silk worms and red ant’s eggs are common in Assamese cuisine. Silk worms or polu and red ant’s eggs are rare, and are only found during Bihu time. Roasted dishes are most common among Assamese cuisine. Pura Goroi maas (a type of cat fish), Pura Gahori (pork) are quite popular.
If you are a tourist in Assam and land to `Gateway of Northeast`, you can get authentic Assamese meal at the Paradise restaurant for a complete Assamese thali at Heritage Khorika near Goswami petrol pump.
Head to Maihong for tribal food and Dekachang Resort for its exotic food which is cooked in hollow bamboo (a traditional method of cooking) at Sonapur. Never miss the road side dhabas for its luchi –aloo and other local dishes.
(Image courtesy: Sneha Lata Saikia)