by Akanksha Kakati.
Nakham. Photo Credit: istockphoto.com/leekhoailang
Meghalaya (translated from Sanskrit as the abode of clouds) is known as the ‘Scotland of the East’ due its rolling hills and picturesque beauty. It is home to three major tribal communities namely Garo, Khasi and Jaintia. Aside from these there are many other tribal communities such as the Koch, Boro, Dimasa, Hajong, Lakhar, Hmar, Mikir, Rabha, Nepali, etc.
A typical diet is non-vegetarian and consists of rice with a well-prepared dish of pork and fish. Nathok Brenga (fish cooked in bamboo shoots) and Nakham (dried fish cooked with chillies) are common dishes. Although people here prefer pork to beef dishes, beef is eaten in some parts.
The cuisine is divided into three distinct ways of culinary preparation i.e. Garo, Khasi and Jaintia. For example, the Khasis prepare their food with no oil or spices and pork is often cooked with soya beans, the Garo cooking is marked by the use of Katchi (potash) in their cooking as it makes the meat tender and adds flavour to the dishes and the Jaintias cook their pork with black sesame seeds known as Dohneiiong.
Dohneiiong. Photo credit: thenortheasttoday.com
The oldest church in the northeast is found in Cherrapunji. This is the place of origin for Christianity in northeast India. Now, almost seventy per cent of the population follows Christianity. This influence appears in the cuisine as well in the form of dishes such as Jadoh (a dish prepared with pork pieces, pigs blood and rice similar to the scottish black pudding), Doh Snam or blood sausage (a form of sausage prepared by mincing pork bits and local spices, soaking the mixture in pigs blood and wrapping it in a thin layer of pork fat) and Doh Thad (smoked meat similar to jerky) that are widely enjoyed throughout Meghalaya.
Jadoh. Photo Credit: thequint.com
Animals such as duck, pigs, fowls and goats are reared domestically as a source of food. However, people do eat wild animals such as wild pigs, deer, prawns, fish, crabs and eel. Much like most of northeast food is cooked with very little oil and spices. Bamboo shoots are an important source of flavour along with dried fish chutney called Tungtap. A form of indigenous soda called Katchi is obtained by filtering water through the ash of dried and burnt young bamboo plants and is often used in Garo dishes.
Tungtap. Photo Credit: fishvish.blogspot.in
One can always find Kwai (a preparation of betel nut, betel leaves, lime and tobacco) in every household. Betel nut is a chief agricultural product and frequently chewed by the people. It is often referred to as the secret to their energy.
Meghalaya is one of the last few surviving matrilineal society where the inheritance of the family is not only passed onto a woman in the family but to the youngest woman. Women in this society work and earn an income. The kitchen is their domain too.
Kyat. Photo Credit: thenortheasttoday.com
Food is an integral part of the community and of the many festivals like Ka shad Suk Mynsiem, Umsan Nongkharai and Shad Beh Sier, where Kyat (rice beer) is often enjoyed. The purpose of festivals in this community is to celebrate the harmony between man, his culture and his natural environment.