Be it zesty pork chops from Nagaland or a subtle voksa rep chhum(smoked pork with mustard leaves) from Mizoram combined with some fragrant wild red rice from Manipur, dishes from northeastern India are ample enough to fill your stomach and give you much food for thought.
According to Muan Tonsing, the owner of the Delhi-based Rosang Café, northeastern cuisine cannot be classified into a single category.
“Most people perceive northeastern food to be momos or noodles. My aim is to change that perception. Another misconception is that our food is very spicy. Again, that varies from dish to dish and taste to taste,” Tonsing said.
While Manipur is known for its fish dishes, Nagaland is better known for its bamboo and meat fare, while Mizorami cuisine is mainly boiled rather than fried and less spicy. Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, however, are more strongly influenced by our eastern neighbours like China and thus bring in their version of momos and noodles, but again without the influx of much spice. Tripura’s cuisine is evidently influenced by the mainland and is known for its masala fare. Assamese food can vary but again is well known for its tangy flavours brought in by extensive use of tomatoes and various citrus fruits.
Another stereotype one hears of the northeast is that it is difficult to get good vegetarian food. In reality, vegetables grown in the region are not only diverse but extremely tasty.
“We get some of our vegetables all the way from there, as they are mainly organic with no pesticides added. It adds to the cost of production but when it comes to the taste, nothing beats the authentic flavour of the northeast,” Tonsing asserted.
Special ingredients and certain spices such as the world renowned raja mirchi or bhut jolokia (Ghost Pepper), which is the hottest chilli in the world according to Guinness World records, is grown mainly in Nagaland and has to be flown in from the state.
Rosang may have been one of the first private restaurants catering to northeastern food to have opened up in the capital over 10 years ago, but since then multiple eateries have sprung up, highlighting a growing demand for this cuisine.
According to Ashish Chopra, the author of NE Belly, one of the first cookbooks on northeastern cuisine, the past few years have seen a dramatic change. “I have met people who have wrongly assumed that the food is unhealthy or smelly. Lots of effort is being made to change that mindset and bring this cuisine to the mainstream.”
The cuisine was introduced into the Delhi culinary circuit thanks to the migration of continued…