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Assamese cuisine (Assamese: অসমীয়া ৰন্ধন-শৈলী) is the cuisine of Assam. It is a style of cooking that is a confluence of cooking habits of the hills that favor fermentation and drying as forms of food preservation, and those from the plains that provide fresh vegetables and abundance of fish from its many rivers and ponds; both of which are centered on the main ingredient—rice. It is a mixture of different indigenous styles with considerable regional variations and some external influences. The cuisine is characterized by very little use of spices, little cooking over fire and strong flavors due mainly to the use of endemic exotic fruits and vegetables that are either fresh, dried or fermented. Fish is widely used, and birds like duck, squab etc. are very popular, which are often paired with a main vegetable or ingredient. Preparations are rarely elaborate—the practice of Bhuna, the gentle frying of spices before the addition of the main ingredients so common in Indian cooking, is absent in the cuisine of Assam.
A traditional meal in Assam begins with a khar, a class of dishes named after the main ingredient, and ends with a tenga, a sour dish. These two dishes characterize a traditional meal in Assam. The food is usually served in bell metal utensils made by an indigenous community called Mariya. Tamul (betel nut, generally raw) and paan generally concludes the meal.
Though still obscure, this cuisine has seen wider notice in recent times. The discovery of this cuisine in the popular media continues, with the presenters yet to settle on the language and the specific distinctiveness to describe it.
- 1 Ingredients
- 2 Preparations
- 3 Snacks and cakes
- 4 Tamol
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Rice is the most important ingredient in this cuisine. The large varieties of rice found in the region has led to speculation that the grain was first domesticated in the Assam- Yunnan region. Both the indica as well as the japonica varieties are grown in Assam. The most popular class of rice is the joha or scented rice. As a staple diet rice is eaten either steam boiled (ukhua) or sundried (aaroi). Some very fine quality of rice namely, Karaballam or kauribadam etc. are available in Assam only. Rice is eaten as snack in many different forms: roasted and ground (xandoh), boiled in its husk and flattened (chira), puffed (akhoi). There also grows a variety of rice that can be just soaked and eaten (kumol saul).
Rice is a part of all meals in Assam. A traditional breakfast consists of chira with yogurt and jaggery. Farmers eat cooked rice soaked overnight (poita) garnished with mustard oil, onions, etc. Snacks would be xandoh, kumol saul or bora saul, a sticky variety with milk. For other major meals, rice could be boiled, steamed or wrapped in leaves and roasted.
A special class of rice preparations, called pithas are generally made only on special occasions like the Bihu. Made usually with soaked and ground glutinous rice (bora saul), they could be fried in oil with a sesame filling (xutuli pitha), roasted in young green bamboo over a slow fire (sunga pitha) or baked and rolled over a hot plate with a filling (kholasapori pitha).
The next most important ingredient is the fish, harvested from the many rivers, ponds and lakes in the region. There is no traditional ethnic community in Assam that does not eat fish. Most traditional rural households have their own ponds for pisciculture. Some of the most popular big fishes are the rou, ilish and cital (big), khoria (medium) (Chitala chitala), maagur, Xingi, borali, bhokua, Xaal, Xol, etc. The small varieties of fish available and eaten in Assam like puthi, borolia, mua, ceniputhi, tengera, lachin, bhagun, pabho, etc. The discerning gourmet would be able to tell which region of Assam is known for which variety of fish.
The most popular dish from Assam, the tenga (fish sour), is an indispensable part of a proper meal in Assam. The most popular tenga is made with tomatoes, though ones made with kajinemu (thick skinned elongated lemon) and thekera (dried Mangosteen,) are also popular. Another favorite is small fish roasted in banana leaves (paatotdia). Hukuti is a special fish dish prepared from dried small fish (puthi maas) pounded with arum stem and dried and stored in bamboo tubes. Variations of this exist among the ethnic communities of Northeast India in general and Assam in particular, are dried and fermented small fish puthy mas (Ticto barb), three to four in numbers are roasted along with lavish amounts of green chillies, tomatoes, ginger and garlic (all roasted). The ingredients are then pounded in a mortar to make a coarse paste and served with rice.
- See also Local Fishes of Assam
The Assamese meat and fish dish are characterized by low amount of spices and oil, higher quantity of ginger, norosingho paat (Curry leaves) and lemon juice. This is quite different from Bengali dishes in taste. Pork and Beef are not taken by the majority of Assamese as they practice Hinduism however, beef is eaten by the people of Islamic faith primarily, Assamese Muslims, although a few Assamese communities such as Ahoms and to an extent Kalitas may also have pork, but that is not taken by the Assamese Muslims and Brahmins of Assam Valley (the Indo-Aryan community). The basic cooking method is boiling. Onla, of the Bodos, is made with ground rice and special herbs, and constitutes a complete meal in itself. Other meats include squab, duck, chicken, mutton, venison, and turtle although venison and turtle meat are legally prohibited. The combination of duck – white gourd and squab – papaya or banana flower is very popular. Meat is curried in spicy gravy.
The Assamese of certain areas also partake of Silkworm, Water Bugs, Grasshoppers and other insects. Insects are fried or boiled and then prepared according to the timing of the meal.
Greens and vegetables
The environs of Assam are rich in vegetation, and green leafy vegetables, called xaak, are an important part of the cuisine. Some of them are grown while others like the dhekia (fern) grows wild. There is a bewildering variety that is eaten and according to custom, one has to have a hundred different xaaks (greens) during Rongali Bihu.
Among spices there are ginger, garlic, onion, cumin seed, black cumin, black pepper, chilli, turmeric, coriander seed, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, fenugreek seed, white mustard seed, aniseed, Malabar leaf, Saffron, Cumin,etc.
Although modern cuisine of Assam has been influenced by east and north Indian cuisine, Assam is still rich in traditional dishes. Various types of dishes are prepared and served throughout the year.
The khar is a signature class of preparations made with a key ingredient, also called khar. The traditional ingredient is made by filtering water through the ashes of a banana tree, which is then called kola khar (The name derived from the locale term of Banana, "Kol" or "Kola"). A traditional meal invariably begins with a khar dish, made of raw papaya, pulses or any other main ingredient. Xôkôta: It is a severely bitter type of preparation. It is prepared with dry jute leaf, urad bean and khar. However, the combination of Khar (alkaline) and Tenga (acidic) is not recommended.
The tenga is a light and sour fish dish, another signature class of preparations. The souring ingredient could be mangosteen, lemon, etc., but the most popular is that made with tomatoes. Fish dishes made with fermented bamboo shoot are generally sour, but they are not called tengas. Fish is fried in mustard oil or curried with bottle gourd or spinach. Another tenga dish is prepared with matimah (urad bean) and outenga (elephant apple). Bottle gourd also can be added to it. Tengamora or noltenga and lentil is also a distinct tenga curry.
Assamese version of smoked or barbecue. Different types of meat and fish are often served in this form.
Poitabhat is a favourite dish in Assam during the summer season. Cooked rice is soaked overnight in order to prepare poitabhat and served the next day garnished with mustard oil, onion, chilli, pickles, pitika (smashes), etc.
The 'poitabhat' preparation is sometimes made alcoholic, according to the whims of the person for whom it be prepared and this adds a zing to the Assamese' palate.
Pitika - পিটিকা
Side dishes called pitika - পিটিকা (mashes) is a signature characteristic of this cuisine. The most popular is aloo pitika - আলু পিটিকা (mashed potatoes) garnished with raw onions, mustard oil, green chillies and sometimes boiled eggs. khorisa tenga is mashed fermented bamboo shoot, sometimes pickled in mustard oil and spices. Kharoli is fermented mashed mustard (Brassica campestris var. toria) seed to which a khar has been added, and kahudi to which an acidic agent (lemon juice, dried mangosteen) has been added. Pitikas are also made from roasted or steamed vegetables (tomatoes and eggplants being very popular). Small fishes, asiatic pennywort, matikaduri, tengamora leaves, heartleaf, dôrôn (Leucus longifolia), etc. roasted separately wrapped in banana leaves and mashed into pitika along with mustard oil, salt, chilli etc. are called patotdia (literally, 'in a leaf').
Chutney and salad
Chutney is made of coriander, spinach, tomato, heartleaf, curry leaf, chilli, lentil, chickpea etc. Xukan masor chutney (chutney made of dried fish) is popular among the tribal communities. Salad is made of carrot, radish, tomato, cucumber, beetroot, etc.
'Bor' is equivalent to 'Tikki' in Hindi. It may contain other local 'Xaak' (Shaags) within it and it is best while served with 'Teteli' (Tamarind) pickle.
Some other preparations
Some other preparations in Assamese cuisine include Kahudi, Panitenga, Khorikatdiya, Tenga sorsoriya, Posola, etc.
Rice is also the primary ingredient for the many rice beers(lao-pani - লাওপানী) and liquors made in Assam by different ethnic communities: zou (Bodo), aapong (Mishing), xaj - সাজ্ (Ahom, Tiwa), hor (Karbi), photika - ফটিকা (Kachari), etc.
In some places, the Assamese smoke pipe mix includes opium, cannabis, tobacco, betel nut extracts and others. This has got religious fervour amongst the people.
Snacks and cakes
Jolpan (snacks) in Assamese is what is breakfast although it is not always served as breakfast in Assamese cuisine. The items served in Bihu, marriage or any special occasions are called Jolpan. Some Jolpan are Bora saul, Komal Saul, Xandoh, Chira, Muri, Akhoi, Sunga saul, etc. along with curd, jaggery, and yogurt. These are probably some of the earliest form of what we called "Cereals". Assamese people have been eating them mainly as breakfast for many centuries.
Pitha (rice cake) is a special class of rice preparation generally made only on special occasions like Bihu in Assam. Made usually with soaked and ground rice, they could be fried in oil, roasted over a slow fire or baked and rolled over a hot plate. Some pithas are Til Pitha, Ghila Pitha, Xutuli Pitha, Sunga Pitha, Bhapotdiya Pitha, Lakhimi Pitha, Tora Pitha, Tekeli Pitha, Deksi Pitha, Muthiya Pitha, Kholasapori Pitha, etc. It is even made in other areas such as West Bengal,Maharashtra,Orissa(Odhisa), etc.
Some other snacks
- (Das 2012)
- Babbar, Purobi Queen Bee Of Assamese Cooking
- Krich, John (July 6, 2012). "Hot Like Fire: Asia’s 5 Spiciest Cuisines 4.Assamese". time.com. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
- Janer, Zilkia (December 2012). "Assamese food and the politics of taste". Seminar (640). Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- Fish Species of Assam
- List of fishes in Kaziranga National Park
- Barbora, Sanjay (2006) Who needs butter chicken? The search for (and the finding of) a proud Assamese tradition of food, Himal Magazine, November 2006.
- Das, A. J; Deka, S. C (2012). "Fermented foods and beverages of the North-East India". International Food Research Journal (377-392) 19 (2). Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- Goswami, Prashanta (2004) Assam: Feast Northeast, Outlook Traveller, April 2004.
- Goswami, Uddipana (2000) Baptism by Beer: Assamese Cuisine, Tehelka.
- Saleh, Wahid (2007) A few links to Assamese Cuisine, Indiawijzer
- Tamang, Buddhiman; Tamang, Jyoti Prakash (2009). "Traditional knowledge of biopreservation of perishable vegetables and bamboo shoots in Northeast India as food resources". Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge 8 (1): 89–95. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- Various (2007) Axomiya Vyanjon Assam Bangalore Coordination Forum
- Various (2008) Assamese Cuisine - feel the aromas of Assam, Assamese Cuisine website
- Various (2009) Taste of Assam - The Assamese Cuisine
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