by Akanksha Kakati.
Keili Chana (yellow peas fried snack). Photo Credit: pinterest.com
Manipur boasts to have one of the most extensive collections of dishes in its cuisine. From the most basic Chamthong (seasonal vegetable soup) to the confounding Paaknam (pancakes made out of a mixture of pea flour, herbs such as maroi napaakpi [hooker chives], laphu tharo [banana flower], awa phadigom [Mexican coriander] and ngari [fermented fish] that are wrapped in banana and turmeric leaves, first steamed and then roasted), Manipuri food is both exotic and delicious.
The main dish is rice and is accompanied by fish and a variety of leafy vegetables with very little to no oil and is spicier than the average northeastern food. Manipur enjoys a seasonal cuisine as people there use fresh seasonal vegetables in their food. Most people have a small kitchen garden where they grow their own organic vegetables. Accordingly many different recipes are used for these revolving greens. Many unusual herbs can be found in the forests of Manipur used for their medicinal qualities and to add flavor to the dishes. Chillies and bamboo shoots are often used to add flavor to the dishes too. In addition to rice Tan (puri/ Indian bread) is regularly consumed in many households.
Tharoi Thongba (river snails cooked in spicy sauce) Photo Credit: openchallenge.tumblr.com
Fish is incredibly popular and many households have small ponds around their houses that they rear fish in. Ngari (fermented fish) is a favored ingredient in many dishes. River snails are a delicacy and frequently cooked in a spicy sauce called Thorai Thongba. The Meiteis only eat fish and chicken. The hill tribes however, enjoy their pork with rice. Although the food is mostly scrumptious there are certain foods like Ngari, Suktani (bitter leaves of a bush in the forests) and Hwaichar (a pickle made with fermented soya beans cooked with sodium bicarbonate) that have an acquired taste.
The flavor of the dish is very important and this is owed to the local herbs. Whether rich or poor the food on the table is always delicious. During festivals Brahmins cook the food for the Meiteis. They are reputed to be the best chefs who cook the food with great precision and follow certain rituals while cooking and serving the food. For example, at meals guests are invited to sit down by an announcement in Sanskrit by a Brahmin and a spoonful of salt is served on the side of the plate. Another announcement in is made in Sanskrit once the guests are seated. The guests wait for the eldest member of the family to eat before they themselves start eating. Similarly, the last course of the meal is followed by spoonful of salt and the guests wait for the eldest member before rising themselves. Many such rituals are followed during the preparation and serving of food and the recipes for these delicious meals is a well-guarded secret among the Brahmins.
The people are very hospitable and it is considered impolite not to offer their guests at least a cup of tea. When someone visits during a meal it is assumed that they will join the family for the meal. During the festivals people come together to enjoy these many mouth-watering delights cooked with fresh seasonal vegetables and mysterious herbs.