Our seafood journey takes us from the East to the North East, the land of the Seven Sisters. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura – are home to India’s largest collection of tribes, most of whom trace their roots to South East Asia. The prominent tribal groups include the Nagas, Khasis, Jaintias, Mizos, Boros, Garos and Kacharis and Angamis. Each group maintains its own identity and culture be it language, art or culinary specialties. Along with their unique cultures and traditions, their food habits also typify their distinctive ethnicity. Rice and fish is a staple and is integral to their traditions. Presented here are our pick of authentic fish-based dishes from North East India. Try them. You might just fall in love.
Masor Tenga – Sour Fish Curry, AssamAssamese style of cooking 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 with a common main ingredient—rice. 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.Masor Tenga, a staple during Rongali Bihu (Assamese New Year) is a light and tangy fish curry that is prepared with OuTenga( ElephantApple).Mas meansfish and Tenga means sour in Assamese. One of Assam’s signature preparations, where the use of a special mix of five spices (cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds and onion seeds) known asPanchPhoran is what gives this fish recipe its delicious flavor. If you don’t find elephant apple to use as a souring agent you can substitute by using the commonly available lemon, tomatoes or sour spinach. Rohu(Fresh Water Carp) is the fish used in this delicacy. A quick and simple recipe to cook with subtle flavors.Recipe: Masor Tenga
Njatok – Fish Stew, Arunachal Pradesh
As far as cuisine is concerned, the Arunachalis love their rice, with some varieties that are distinctively native to their region. Rice is steamed, baked and shallow-fried to accompany curries and provide texture to dishes. The first thing you should know about Arunachal Pradesh food is that it differs from one tribe to another. Lettuce is the most common and preferred vegetable of all, prepared by boiling with ginger, coriander and green chillies. Boiled rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves is a famous snack.
This dish Ngatok is a simple fish stew with indigenous spices and herbs. It can be eaten like a soup or mixed with rice for a wholesome meal. The stew comprises leafy vegetables, Assam Skin (a souring agent, almost like a tamarind) juice, garlic-chili paste, dried red chilies, salt, fish and sugar. If you can get genuine Assam Skin, so much the better otherwise make it without the Assam Skin.
Nga Atoiba Thongba – Fish Stew, Manipur
This lifeline of Manipuri cuisine is simplicity on a plate, marked by its piquant flavours and intoxicating aroma. Manipur offers the greatest variety of dishes among the northeastern states, and its cuisine is spicier and more evolved, with elaborate cooking methods that use considerable oil. Another thing that sets Manipuri food apart is its sheer number of vegetarian options. This tongue twister is a fish curry from includes fresh bay leaves, onion, cumin, chillies and chives blend in a hot, pasty fish stew boiled with potatoes, Ideally the belly portion of Catla fish(Bengal Carp)is selected to prepare this delicacy. Ngaaatoibathongba is more a way of cooking fish than a dish itself. The name itself describes the way the fish is cooked. Ngaameans fish and atoiba means disintegrated in Manipuri. So, the fish is subtly broken down in this way of cooking.It tastes best when teamed up with steamed rice.
Misa Mach Poora- Grilled Shrimps, Mizoram
Spices such as cardamom, clove, pepper and cinnamon are almost non-existent in Mizo cooking. The primary staple food of the Mizoram people is rice while the most common non-vegetarian food item is fish. Mustard oil is the most preferred medium of cooking for most Mizoram food items. However, the dishes are cooked with the least amount of oil. Boiling, steaming and sautéing are the most preferred cooking methods followed in Mizoram cuisine. The magical aroma of this dish comes by grilling or roasting the shrimp on banana leaves placed on hot charcoals. The juice from the leaves seeps into the shrimps and endows it with a tangy earthy aroma. The shrimp is flavored with local spices and served with steamed rice.
Recipe: Misa Mach Poora
Tungtap, Fish Chutney, Meghalaya
Rice, meat and fish preparations are a staple in Meghalaya cuisine. Popular dishes among Khasis and Jaintia tribe are Jadoh, Ki Kpu, Tung-rymbai (fermented soya paste) and pickled bamboo shoots. No traditional lunch in Meghalaya is complete without a serving of the Tungtap. Immaculately charred fish is tossed with golden-fried onions, fresh greens, and fiery red chillies to create this North-Eastern delectable delicacy. Enjoyed with Jadoh (traditional flavoured rice) this dry fish paste is a rich, thick sea-food flavoured chutney prepared with an assortment of herbs and spices. You could use Anchovies in this recipe and it is sure to impart a zing to your dal chawal.
Bamboo Steamed Fish, Nagaland
Naga people are fond of non-vegetarian food and include lots of meat and fish in their diet in these forms- smoked, dried or fermented.The state is home to more than 15 tribes and each has its own style of cooking. Akhuni(fermented soy bean) is an important element for the Seema tribe, whereas the Lothas use bamboo shoot and the Aos use Anishiwhich is fermented dried yam leaves, to flavor theirdishes.Steamed bamboo fish is a specialty from Nagaland. The first bite might taste plain, but eventually you will be able to appreciate the subtle hint of bamboo flavour. Fresh spices include Raja Mirchi (Ghost Chilli), used in the dish enhances its flavour. This Naga style Steamed Fish is an authentic and simple dish that can be found on a lot of home dinner tables. It’s such an easy and delicious way to prepare fish. Just make sure you buy good quality Rohu.
Recipe: Bamboo Steamed Fish
Kosoibwtwi – Green Veans with Fermented Fish, Tripura
The Tripura, Mui Borok cuisine has been influenced both by Bengali and North Eastern culinary traditions. Denizens of this state typically don’t cook food with much of a vigor to it. But if there’s a particular ingredient that forms an integral part of it’s cuisine is Berma(dry and fermented fish). Used either as a paste or in its dry form, this is made by adding salt and mustard oil to river fish and then keeping it in a clay pot for about a week, until it reaches a certain stage of pungency. Given its strong flavour, it is an acquired taste for the non-native. For a native, though, it is a vastly popular flavoring agent and—similar to the use of shrimp paste in South East Asia—is even added to a number of vegetarian dishes.Difficult to pronounce Kosoibwtwi is a typical recipe made using Berma along with green beans, onions and garlic.
Take note to explore these fish preparations from North East in your next visit there or bring out your knives and cook them up at home. We will see you next week as we explore West India in our seafood expedition.
About the Author
She day-dreams about new recipes,
devours cook-books, writes, cooks and
takes pictures of delicious food.
devours cook-books, writes, cooks and
takes pictures of delicious food.