Aakhol Ghor, the Assamese Cuisines and Foods from Assam

Its all about Food and Food Habits from the land of blue hills and red river, Assam.

Aakhol Ghor means Kitchen in Assamese. Assamese traditional Kitchens normally has two parts. First the dining area plus a small cooking space for tea etc. And the next bigger and more functional room is the actual kitchen with at least two earthen fire places (chowka).If you are a food lover you can hope to see a lot of authentic Assamese Recipes in this place......

DISCLAIMER

Some famous Chef of India once said, " India is so unique, one can find three different recipes for the same chicken curry in the three houses lined in the same row. Every kitchen and every cook in India has it's own cook book, unlike rest of the world."
I personally feel it is so well said. Even in my case, you might find small to big differences in your known method of cooking and the ones posted here. I call them true Assamese for two main reasons, one: because of the spices used, and two: my granny knew nothing beyond her village ( she did not believe that cauliflower can be green, which is Broccoli). So whatever she cooked was passed on over generation. And my Mom finds it hard to believe anything can be cooked beyond her traditional methods( she is best at it, though she makes excellent Indo - Chinese things, invented). So please feel free to put in your comments / correction. One thing I can assure is I have cooked all these ( everything) myself with my own hands at least once. So whatever is here is tried and tested. You are always welcome to do your bit of experiment !!!!!

Before You Start - Assamese Kitchen Guide

The Assamese Cuisine

Well, Assamese cuisine is mainly rice based, less of oil and raw spices. It differers a lot from any other Indian Cuisine. It has its own flavor, taste and stand.

Assamese culture over the ages, have converted to more of a mixed culture.
For more on Assam... www.assam.org


Basic Things

There are a few basic things you require to set up an Assamese kitchen.

1. An Iron Cooking Pan ( more of an Karhai-- লোহাৰ কেৰাহী )
2. Khar ( Check for How to make it)

3. Salt, Turmeric, Sugar etc
4. Green Chilly, Garlic, Ginger, Onion, Fresh Coriander Leaves
5. Cumin, coriander, Bay Leaves, Dry Red Chilly
6. Lemon


Inside The Assamese Kitchen & eating Culture !!

I thought of giving all my reader a little inside story of a traditional Assamese Kitchen. Some essential items you are sure to spot if you ever take a peek into a Assamese kitchen
The staple food, rice, pure golden mustard oil, spices, dals and ghee. And almost all seasonal Vegetables.

Among the cooking vessels, the keraahi (iron woks) where most of the cooking and frying is done, the tawa (griddle) on which rotis and parotas are made, the handi - a special large pot for cooking rice and the handleless modification of the sauce pan - the rimmed, deep, flat-bottomed dekchi are all hallmarks of the Assamese kitchen. And of course you will also find the pressure cooker which is indispensable to any Indian kitchen.
As for the other utensils you absolutely can't do without the hetaa or Koroch (ladle), the khonti (metal spatula), the ghutni (wooden hand blender) , the wooden belona (round pastry board and rolling pin).

A FEW EXPLANATION ON THE WORDS USED IN THE RECIPES: 

KHAR : A curry mixed with the juice of banana soots. Please refer to the detailed process on how to make it.

TENGA : A sour dish, normally a curry made with various soring agents.

BHAJI : Anything dry or deep fried, either by itself or in batter.

BHAPOT DIYA : Fish or vegetables steamed with oil and spices. A classic steaming technique is to wrap the fish in banana leaf to give it a faint musky, smoky scent.

PITIKA : Pitika is a side dish made of mashed vegetables or fish (grilled, roasted or boiled; vegetables or fish) seasoned with mustard oil, salt and pepper.

SOBJI : Tiny pieces of one or more vegetable, usually flavored with panch-phoron or whole mustard seeds or kal jeera. Chopped onion and garlic can also be used, but hardly any ground spices. Not completely dry neither semi gravy.


JHOLA : Literally, hot. A great favorite in Assamese households, this is made with fish or shrimp or crab, first lightly fried and then cooked in a light sauce of ground red chilli or ground mustard and a flavoring of panch-phoron or kaal jeera.

JHOL : A light fish or vegetable stew seasoned with ground spices like ginger, cumin, corriander, chilli and turmeric with pieces of fish and longitudinal slices of vegetables floating in it. The gravy is thin yet extreamely flavorful. Whole green chillies are usually added at the end and green corriander leaves are used to season for extra taste.

Bor : Dal or Ground meat or vegetable croquettes bound together by spices and/or eggs.

PORA : Literally, burnt over charcoal. Vegetables are wrapped in banana leaves and roasted over a wood or charcoal fire. Some, like eggplants (brinjals/aubergines), are put directly over the flames. Before eating the roasted vegetable is mixed with mustard oil and spices.

TORKARI : A general term often used in Assam the way `curry' is used in English. Originally from Persian, the word first meant uncooked garden vegetables. From this it was a natural extension to mean cooked vegetables or even fish and vegetables cooked together.

PITHA : Typical Assamese snack, prepared from powdered sticky rice called Bora Saul. This snack is sweet as various sweetners like sugar, jaggery, crated coconuts are added. This snack is well accompanied with a cup of refreshing Assam tea. They are unavoidable requirement of any Assamese Festivals.


Eating and Serving Assamese Food

The Assamese people are the greatest food lovers. A leisurely meal of many items which requires long hours of labour, preparation and ingenuity in the kitchen has long been a major part of Assamese culture. The traditional way of serving food is on the floor, where individual pieces of wooden stool, called piras,, are layed on for each person to sit on. In front of this seat is placed a large platter made of bell metal/steel or on a large piece of fresh cut banana leaf. Around this platter a number of small metal or earthen bowls are arrayed in which portions of khar, dal, vegetables, fish, meat chutney and dessert are served. In the center of the platter sits a small mound of piping hot rice flanked by vegetable fritters, wedges of lime, whole green chillies and perhaps a bit of Kharoli and khorisa (a pickles made from bamboo shoots).

The approach to food is essentially tactile. As in all of India, Assamese eat everything with their fingers. What, after all, could be better to pick out treacherous bones of fish like hilsa and kaoi? Apart from this functional aspect, the fingers also provide an awareness of texture which becomes as important as that felt by the tongue. The various mashed vegetables or different rice or varieties of fish we eat are all appreciated by the fingers before they enter the mouth. The other peculiarity about the Assamese eating scene is the unashamed accululation of remnants. Since succulent vegetable stalks, fish bones and fish heads, meat and chicken bones are all meticulously chewed until not a drop of juice is left inside, heaps of chewed remnants beside each plate are an inevitable part of a meal.

Whether you have five dishes or sixty, the most important part of eating in Assam is eating each dish separately with a little bit of rice in order to savor its individual bouquet. The more delicate tastes always come first and it is only by graduating from these to stronger ones that you can accommodate the whole range of taste. Khar dishes are the first item followed by dal, perhaps accompanied by fries or fritters of fish and vegetables. After this comes any of the complex vegetable dishes like, followed by the important fish jhol as well as other fish preparations. Meat will always follow fish, and chutneys and ambals will provide the refreshing touch of tartness to make the tongue anticipate the sweet dishes.

With all these delicious flavors combined with textures to be chewed, sucked, licked and gulped with suitable chomps and slurps (the better the meal the louder the sounds of appreciation) an Assamese meal usually ends with a great fortissimo burp!Later on betal nut and betal leaves with little lime. It leaves a taste in your mouth that lingers for a long time.

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