There is no need to say afresh about the quality of the indigenous food of Assam and its wonderful unique taste. It is not necessary to say that awareness of the food items of the characteristic taste and quality of Assamese food. 'Khar Khuwa Axomia', it is as if the identity of Assamese people .Assam's food or Assamese cuisine is the food system of the permanent inhabitants of Assam. The Assamese diet has both the effects of hilly dry or pickled food habits as well as the fresh ingredients of the plains. There are variations in the food habits of this region due to the influence of different cultures. Some of the striking features of Assam's food are: minimum use of spices and fats, the use of aromatic leaf, a combination of green leafy vegetables, widespread use of sour taste ingredients, more use of fish, low consumption of red meat, liberal use of medicinal herbs and ingredients. .
The main food of Assam is rice and almost all the food is related to rice. Assamese food usually starts with "khar" or “shaak” (leafy vegetable) and ends with 'sour' dish. The use of khar is one of the features of Assamese food. Khar is a famous ingredient in Assamese cuisine. It was earlier used by the Assamese people instead of salt, as salt was not readily available in Assam at that time. Rice is the main ingredient in Assamese food. Assam produces a wide variety of rice, both Indian and Japanese. Joha (a fragrant rice) is the most famous rice in Assam. Some of the most important varieties of rice are available only in Assam. Various new-age varieties of rice such as joha, bara, misiri, pyjam, ranjit, gamiri, shali, swarnamachuri etc. are used in Assamese food.
Apart from rice, various snacks made from rice are a notable ingredient in Assamese food. Different varieties of rice are used as per the requirement for rice and for different snacks. Assamese people see rice being used in almost every cuisine . In the festival, pitha-pana, mainly made of rice powder, is an important asset of the Assamese society. Pitha is a traditional Assamese sweet made mainly from pithaguri. There are different types of pitha and have special significance in Assamese . In Assamese Rangali and Bhogali Bihu, different types of pithas are prepared and served to guests as well as in various other festivals or domestic occasions. It has a prominent role to play in Assamese society and social customs. Many people nowadays use to buy pithas from the market rather than making them at home. In view of this, the preparation of pithas and sweets like sesame and coconut ladoos has taken the form of a business .Some of the different Assamese snacks made from rice are:Chira, Sandah , Akhai, Soft rice, etc.
Poita rice is a kind of boiled rice soaked in water at night, the next day becomes a little sour. It is a favourite food of the Assamese people especially on hot days
Another major use of rice in Assam's society is 'traditional brewing'. Such liquor, which is mainly made from rice fermentation, is an essential gift to the tribal community of Assam. This liquor is used in various festivals, religious ceremonies. Among different tribes, alcohol made from rice is known by various names, e.g., laopani, saj paani, rahi, apong, etc., and each of them differs in the preparation method.
All indigenous communities in Assam eat fish. Fish, both small and large, belong to the Assamese food system. The small fish include Puthi, Baralia, Moa, Khalihana, Shingra, Shingi, Lachan, Bhangan, Pavo, Magur, Shoal, Kavai, Darikana, Veseli, Gedgedi, Tura, Batia etc. and among the medium or large fishes, rau, barali, bahu, chital, khoriya, kunhi, mirika, etc. There is a unique recipe for each fish. Assamese food process uses very little oil when cooking fish, usually only mustard oil is used. Except for onions, ginger, garlic and mustard seeds, other spices are rare to be used. The various processes of cooking fish in Assamese food are as follows: Curries with different vegetables, curries with various citrus fruits, Fried fish, The fish on the leaf, barbeque fish, Boiled fish, Dry Fish, Fish petu (intestine) etc.
Meat is also an important in the indigenous Assamese food system. The meat of birds is generally eaten by most people. There are variations among the populations in terms of meat consumption. Not everyone eats all kinds of meat. Pork, for example, is eaten by some people, but is considered untouchable by others. Similarly, cow meat is also consumed only by people of Islam and Christianity. The meats that are commonly eaten by everyone are:
Assam's popular meat, duck meat along with a number of indigenous servings are made. Almost all people eat poultry meat even if some people have some religious obligations. Mutton is popular meat in Assam. But goat meat is believed to be the influence of other food habits in Assamese. Pigeon meat is cooked with various ingredients such as banana flower, pepper etc. Along with wild birds such as Dauk (White-breasted Waterhen), Sharali (Lesser whistling duck), migratory birds, meat of deer, tortoise, river dolphin, etc., were also included in Assamese food, but these animals are now in the category of protected organisms, so these meat-eating laws are prohibited under the law.
The production of green leafy vegetables in Assam is very high and that is why the Assamese food is rich in vegetables. These vegetables are found from both agricultural and wild sources. Apart from being flavoured as a food, vegetables are full of many medicinal properties, which is why Assamese food is considered a healthy food. Some of the popular vegetables that are grown in the wild are Matikaduri(Brazilian spinach), Manimuni (Indian pennywort), Vedai Lata (stinkvine), Khutra, Banjaluk, Masandari (fish mint) , Brahmi, spinach, coriander, etc. are also cultivated in Assam. On the other hand, most of the vegetables are produced by farming. Some of the affordable vegetables of Assam are Elephant Ear, brinjal, Teasle Gourd, White gourd ,Bottle gourd, pumpkin, banana flower etc.Vegetables are usually eaten as curry or fry. Spinach is often used to cook curry with fish. There is a tradition of cooking and eating one hundred vegetables together in Assamese society on Bohag Bihu.
The use of commonly available spices in the Assamese food system is very low. Of course almost all the spices are used in modern cooking today. The common spices used in the preparation of Assamese indigenous food are ginger, Onions, garlic, Pepper, Raw chilli etc.
However, spices such as cumin seeds, coriander seeds, Cardamom, Cinnamon, black cumin seed, etc. are also used in Assamese cuisines under the influence of modernity.
The spice plants do not grow indigenously in Assam. So these spices are not used in assamese traditional food. In the past, it was customary to use leaves, thords, etc. of fragrant trees instead of spices. A mixture called 'topola bhaat' is cooked by wrapping it in a tarpaulin or a banana leaf, so the scent of the raw leaves is also found in the rice.
One of the unavoidable ingredients of modern Assamese cuisine is dal (lentils). The use of lentils is relatively new in Assamese food processing. Pulses are cooked and fried with some spices to make a dal. Some of the most widely used pulses today are Masoor, Magu, Rhor, boot etc.Most of these lentils or Pulses are contributions of neighboring food processes to Assam.
The method of preserving pickles or vegetables, fruits by drying them, adding spices and oils is also relatively new in Assamese cuisine. Earlier such a method was not much needed as plenty of fresh vegetables were available at all times of the year. But pickles occupy an important place in modern Assamese cuisine. fruits such as mango, hog plum , lemon, olive, mangosteen , etc.; Spices like chillies, ginger, garlic, etc. and pickles can be seen made from vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, brinjal etc. It can also be seen to be used in stomach ailments by mixing round lemon salt and keeping it as a pickle.
The use of chilly as a spice in Assamese food is low, except for some special grains like pepper. But there are frequent uses of raw chilies as an additional ingredient. Raw chilies are often eaten with rice. Assam produces a wide variety of chilies in abundance. Assam's ghost-chilly is the world's most watery natural chilly. Raw chilies are also believed to have several medicinal properties. Raw chilly is sometimes given as a spice while making fries or curries. Chilies are also used in salads or chutneys. The widespread use of chilly raw (dry) is rare in other Indian food systems.
Assamese people use almost every part of the banana tree as food. Apart from being the main fruit of Assam, the rest of the tree is eaten as a variety of dishes. Banana flower and the soft part between the banana trees is taken out and cooked with different ingredients. Banana peel, a characteristic ingredient in Assamese food used in maimg khar by drying raw Bhim banana peel and burning it.
Insect food is also a tradition cuisine in some parts of Assam. Amroli ant, silk worm, water bug, grasshopper, etc. are insects used as food in Assam.The eggs of amroli ants are collected and served folded with onions in oil. According to popular belief, by eating amrali ants on the day of Garu (cow) Bihu, people get good health during the year as well as immunity to other diseases, including measles.
House Crickets(scientific name: Acheta domestica): The pits of the House Crickets in the ground are identified and dug out. The feathers of the collected cricket are removed and baked in the fire or folded in oil are served.
Giant water bug (scientific name: Lethocerus grandis): This insect is very popular among the tribal communities of Assam. They are served in a fire by baking them or folded in oil.
Honey Bees (scientific name: Apis indica) and Asian Hornet (Vespa sp.) hive can be collected and served both raw or ripened. According to popular belief, honey have some medicinal properties. They are important as spleen disinfectants, rheumatic pain killers and vision boosters. Grasshopper (scientific name: Heiroglyphus banian) and (scientific name: Neoconocephalus paustris): The wings of the grasshopper are removed and served in a fire by baking or folded in oil. . Grasshopper is widely acclaimed among the Tiwa community.
Eri Polu or silkworm (scientific name: Philosomia ricini) are widely regarded as food among many communities in Assam, including the Ahoms and Misings. The worms are served raw, cooked, or folded in oil.
The bamboo husk is called bamboo shoot. Various bamboo shoot of bamboo plant like jati bamboo, kaak bamboo, mokal bamboo, voluka bamboo etc. are consumed as food in Assam. Bamboo shoot taste a little bitter. Among the bamboo shoot, crow bamboo and voluka bamboo shoot are good to eat. Bamboo shoots are finely chopped and dried and use this in cooking fish, meat, pickles, etc.
Salt oil Rice and aloo pitika are a favourite dish of assamese people. It is usually consumed as a breakfast. To make it, the potato peel is peeled and cooked together with the rice. Potatoes also boil until the rice is cooked. The potatoes are taken out of the rice separately and refined and prepared to eat salt and sweet oil as per taste. Similarly, rice is also mixed with salt and mustard oil. It is accompanied by raw chillies and onions.
It is a popular practice among the Assamese people to purify their mouth with beetel nuts after eating a meal. In addition to the presence of paan with nut, lime, tobacco, etc. are eaten together. Apart from this, guamori (fennel seed), cloves, dried Haritaki Fruit, dried amla(Indian Gooseberry) , dried ginger, are also be seen used as mouth refresher after food.
Assamese food resources are so widely distributed that it is not possible to describe it in a single article. Therefore an attempt has been made capture a brief stock of Assamese food habit and cuisine. For Assamese people food is an important part of their life and culture. The Assamese food tradition is being same for a long time. The food consumed by Assamese people may be considered to be healthy. And now globalization has marked a radical changes in Assamese food habits . The influence of foreign food in the place of traditional food can also be seen and this is not a positive sign for the culture. So, every Assamese people needs to be aware for it and makes effort to maintain its traditional food as it is. Any way the Assamese food indicates the taste of Assamese people