North Eastern India consisting of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura are commonly known as the land of the Seven Sisters and a brother-Sikkim. Tribal groups of the region consisting of Nagas, Khasis, Jaintias, Mizos, Boros, Garos and Kacharis have a vivid culture, each of their own. Their fiercely retained unique lifestyle, language, art and cuisine owing to their self sufficiency and survival in remote tip of India, connected only by a thin strip of land have spared them from modern influences. 

West Bengal, as gateway into North East also has many common traits like fish and rice staples. Eating habits of North Easterners are simple with variety fish and rice. Fish is sufficiently available owing to the regions proximity to Bay of Bengal and the fresh water fish coming from mighty Brahmaputra. Assam, Tripura and Manipur are known for their fish delicacies. Neighbouring China and Burma have also influenced their cuisine. Abundance of water helps in growing variety rice. Fragrant wild red rice from Manipur is special. Locally grown rice comes in black, brown and white –regular or sticky rice. Vegetables grown in the region are diverse, fresh and many a times, organic. These have a natural, healthy taste.  Mustard oil is the favoured cooking medium. Raja mirchi or bhut jolokia (Ghost Pepper) grown in Nagaland, considered as the hottest chilli in the world, adds spice to North Eastern cuisine.

Since it is mostly local resorts and hotels along with some home stays that cater to who tourists to the region, local food will be the main stay while visiting North-East. Hence one goes by the dish specific to the region, rather than looking for specialty restaurants.

Mizoram mainly has boiled and subtle preparations rather than the fried foods. Tripura's food is cooked with spicy mixtures unlike other regions’ cuisine. evidently influenced by the mainland and is known for its masalas. Nga Atoiba Thongba from Manipur is a fish stew cooked with boiled potatoes. Meghalaya’s blend of pork and rice-based Jadoh is delicious. Tungrymbai, a spicy chutney mix of fermented soya beans goes with all meals.

Momos and noodles of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are a result of strong influence from Chinas dim sums. Hot momos with garlic, chili chutney are all day favourites, especially during cold winters. Rice pockets are suitable to stuff any vegetable, just cabbage or chicken. Steaming makes them healthy with little use of oil. Gyathuk is a steamy noodle soup from Sikkim is spiced with fresh spices. Zan is a spicy porridge eaten with green vegetables and charred meat in Arunachal Pradesh. People of Arunachal Pradesh have rice as the mainstay, along with boiled vegetables, pulses, meat or fish. They use less spices and oils. Alcoholic beverage apang, a local rice-beer enjoyed with meals. 

Assamese cuisine has tangy flavours coming from the use various citrus fruits and tomatoes. Khar prepared using raw papaya and pulses and flavoured with dried banana ashes is a regular dish in Assam with a distinctive aroma. Kumurat diya hanhor mangxo is a special duck meat curry cooked with lauki (ashgourd) and spiced with crushed black pepper. Masar tenga, light and tangy fish curry is prepared with Ou Tenga (Elephant Apple) and is flavoured with fresh spices. 

Nagaland has its bamboo and meat fare. The extreme North-east state is home to 16 major tribes and many sub-tribes. Though fiercely independent as tribes, the cuisine is quite common, with little restriction on the kind of meat they eat. Pork is a favourite meat here.  Awo kutsu is a dish made from the head of the pig. Bamboo steamed fish is a specialty from Nagaland, best enjoyed with steamed rice. Raja Mirchi enhances its flavour and tickles the taste buds. Combinations of pork with crab are served with delicious chutneys called tathus, made from bamboo shoots and beans. Pork with soya bean and crispy hot and sweet beef are other popular dishes.

Pitha, a rice-based dessert is a favourite of all. The popular breakfast or anytime snack comes in variety forms of sweet or savoury, fried, roasted or barbequed inside a hollow bamboo stem. The sweet Pitha with Doi (curd) and gur tastes yum. Til pitha (rice-flour pastries stuffed with sesame seeds), narial pitha (coconut stuffed rice-flour pastries), and larus (sweet balls of coconut and sesame) are especially enjoyed during harvest festival.

By Anand & Madhura Katti


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