The food of the Northeast is much like its landscape. Simple, pristine and memorable. The Solung festival of Arunachal Pradesh is a celebration of this beauty and a healthy harvest, especially for the Adi tribal community of the region. Celebrated in the first week of September, the Solung Festival is basically an agriculture festival where gifts of meat and local rice beer are exchanged, and offerings of crops are made to the local goddess for a good harvest and prosperity. The celebrations are marked by the performance of a local folk dance, Ponung, by the women of the tribe.
And what better way to celebrate the uniqueness of this festival than by trying out some Arunachali delicacies? A task easily accomplished by venturing into the Arunachal Pradesh Bhawan in New Delhi. Rice is a staple in the Northeast and the Arunachali thali pairs the rice with meat, fish, green vegetables and herbs. Bamboo shoots, fermented soya-bean, mutton, pork, fish, phoi hom and pickles are quite popular.
The best bet to experience Arunachali flavours in all their glory, is to order the traditional authentic chicken boil thali, fish fry and – on the recommendation from the chef, Rahul John – chicken boil with bamboo shoot.
The traditional platter includes rice, dal, boiled potato mashed and mixed with raw onion, some boiled vegetables and the quaintly named, chicken boil. The chicken gets its name from being boiled in chicken stock with no oil and very few spices and salt. When asked about the ingredients and from where they source it in the capital, Chef John said that the food in Arunachal is very low on spice and can be prepared with basic ingredients like garlic, salt, tomato and some green chilli unlike other states in the country. “The only ingredient that we source from Arunachal is the fermented bamboo shoot as it isn’t prepared here. The shoots that we bring are first dried in the sun and then we soak them in water overnight or so to use it in the canteen so that the authenticity is maintained”, he added.
While the thali was delectable and unique in its flavours, the chicken boil bamboo does take a little getting used to for someone who has never tried bamboo shoots. The taste did grow on me, though.
The menu offered at the Bhawan was a couple of pages long and had a mix of northeastern, Chinese and regular Indian dishes. When asked what people like to consume, the chef said that surprisingly people tend to try the traditional thali and not just head for the popular Indian Chinese version of fried rice and noodles.