NE Belly - The Basic North East Cook Book

Author: Ashish Chopra
Publisher: IEMSD
164 pages
8 States (including Sikkim)
Nonveg & veg recipes
Rs.295

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THUS SPAKE SABINA SEHGAL SAIKIA...

Not so long ago, on one of my frequent trips to Assam, I received a dinner invitation inside the precincts of the Raj Bhawan. Now the Raj Bhawan, perched just across the hill from where my husband's family lives in Kharguli, has always intrigued me. With the best possible view of the mighty Brahmaputra, with manicured lawns like none other in Guwahati, this citadel in maroon was an address that was as interesting as it was inaccessible. So when the call came, I wasn't exactly hesitant. To put it simply; I accepted the invitation instantly - no Sire, I wasn't abouf to turn this one down!

My host, the indefatigable Ashish Chopra, who occupies the Sangpu House situated alongside the sprawling estate, had me riveted all evening with his tales of the Northeast. The various hats he dons -Hon. Advisor to a State Governor, Executive Director of a Development Organization working in the region etc. - had given him a rare and holistic view of the region. Clearly, like me, he was a"new convert" and hence a rabid one. Though ostensibly an "outsider", he knew more about the culture and people of this charming, often neglected, outpost of Bharat desh than, I daresay, many inhabitants themsetves.

And then came the piece de resistance - the meal, served impeccably on his impeccable table. Needless to add, it was the best the Northeast has to offer. In a flush of hyperbole, I would go as far as saying it was among the best meals I've had. Periad. Bamboo Shoots and Pork (specially carted from Meghalaya, mind you), a Mizo Khao Suey adaptation with endless little bowls of seasoning, chutney of various hues of chilli red.... The food spoke to me as eloquently as the man himself. His insight into the eating habits of the "seven sisters" was quite apparent.

When Ashish requested that I write the Preface to his Northeast cookbook, I accepted readily. Besides taking pride in being an Asomiya buari, I have always been fascinated by the cuisine of this region, It isn't for nothing that the staple in my own home is Bilahi Massor Tenga, Amita Khar and Joha Saol! All accompanied by Khut Jolokia, Khorisa pickle and some of that wonderful Elaichi Nimboo!

My own trips to the other states of the Northeast over the years have made me value the underexposed richness of culinary wealth that the region has to offer. How can I ever forget that unforgettable meal served to me in Kohima at my college friend Asenla Jamir's house that remains etched in my memory forever? Those Raja Mirchas still bring a sting to my palate and tears to my eyes.

Or that Manipuri meal I had in Imphal with friends, complete with fermented fish chutney, fiery fish curry and oodles of love. The Mizos, the Khasis and Garos, the Arunachalis, the people of Tripura - each have a distinct style and logic to their cooking, variations which are as similar as they are distinct. Of course, like the sambhar in Tamil Nadu that changes with complexity every few kilometers, the cuisine varies within the state itself - from community to community, from family to family, from home to home. The beauty lies in the diversity of creativity.

This compendium of recipes put together by the redoubtable Ashish Chopra deserves credit for the passion and integrity with which he has represented the region. I, for one, can foretell that this book will occupy primary position in my kitchen shelf of cookbooks and will, over time, be dog-eared and oil-stained from being much-used. I would recommend that you try out the recipes and let them speak for themselves.

As they say ever so warmly in these parts, Log Paam....