Foods in North-East Region appeals to every individual’s taste-buds, be it boiled, roasted, smoked, sautéed or just raw. It is uncommon to find thick and rich spicy flavored food in traditional household cooking, however chili, turmeric, onion, garlic, ginger, sesame and bamboo shoots are the admired condiments used in food preparation with diverse flavours. In North-East, each tribe and community has their unique way in twisting the ingredients which has an insatiable food-appeal.
A very widely tasted ingredient but mostly confined to this region is fermented soybean with peculiarly powerful flavour. It favours the indigenous taste-buds and first timers may find it difficult to explain the taste of it. Although fermentation is a common way of preparing food all over the world, the fermentation of soybeans is close to the heart of the people in this region. The practice of fermentation is largely practiced in Meghalaya, Nagaland,Manipur,Sikkim, arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. The origin of such preparation is mostly likely to have been seeped in through the Indo- Mynamar border and largely remains confined within these states of Seven Sisters. It is known as Hawaijar among the Meitei in Manipur, Aakhone among Sema Naga in Nagaland, Tungrymbai in Meghalaya, Peruyyan among the Apatani in Arunachal Pradesh, Bekantha in Mizoram, Kinema inSikkim. They are similar to Natto of Japan, Chungkok-jang ofKoreaand Thua-nao ofThailand.
Unharvested Soybean Seeds
The fermented soybeans undergoes more or less the same rudimentary technique in making but its colours, flavours and textures depend on the local weather conditions and local varieties of soybeans used, types of pots or baskets used for preserving, the type of leaves that are used for packing the boiled soybeans for undergoing fermentation or even the water used for boiling and lastly the action of micro-organism during the fermentation process. The colours of the fermented soybean varies from light to dark brown. The product is not sold commercially but found in petty shops or sold by local rural sellers who themselves are producers of these fermented soybeans
In Meghalaya, the fermented soyabean, tungrymbai is prepared by using the local soybean. Before boiling, they are soaked in water for about half a day and their outer skins are removed by rubbing gently. Then they are cooled down and packed in leaves and kept in closely matted bamboo baskets near fireplace for fermentation to 3-4 days. The product formed after fermentation is known as Tungrymbai. It is a local delicacy and the dish is prepared by boiling the lump of fermented soybean and stirring continuously till it turns into a thick semi-solid gravy. Onions, ginger, sesame, garlic, and pork pieces are added and are served as side dish. In Manipur, hawaijar preparation involves soybean soaking for a day and cooked for an hour after which the excess water is drained out and wrapped with fresh ficus hispida leaves. The packed soybean is then kept in a bamboo basket lined with clean banana leaves. Thereafter, the basket is kept under the sun for fermentation.
In Nagaland, akhuni preparation undergoes the whole process of cleaning and boiling them until they are soft and after draining out the water, they are placed into a pot and put either out in the sun or next to the fire for warmth and expediate the fermentation process. The soybeans are then placed in a wooden pestle and smashed with a mortar and further, the dish is prepared according to the taste and other ingredients preferred. Fermented soybean lumps are used as a condiment to flavor foods such as stir-fries, curries. It blends well with pork, and other normal vegetables. Surprisingly, the odour disappears after cooking and a different type of feeling sinks in while having the curry with fermented soybean.
Pork Curry with Vegetable and Akhuni: Nagaland Stall, Dilli Haat
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