Cuisine of a land reflects the culture of a specific society and is primarily influenced by the local ingredients and its climatic conditions. Religious food laws also exercise strong influences on its food habits. In Assam food is sacred and eating is almost a ritual but the cooking process is fuss-free and in sync with nature, a trait that reflects the simple lifestyle of the inhabitants. You can almost smell the aroma of the earth in Assamese cuisine.
A rice eaters paradise, there are several varieties of rice to choose from- the aromatic joha, the sticky saul bora, to the japonica. The Bodos are known to have so many varieties of rice that they have a special kind attached to every meal. Rice is the centrepoint of not just the main-course at lunch or dinner, but also a part of snacks and breakfast dishes. The Assamese eat a huge variety of rice-based breakfast cereals with milk or yoghurt. Puffed rice, flattened or beaten rice (chira or chura), komal chaul (a specially processed rice which doesn’t require cooking but just an hour’s soak in cold water) and hurum (made from pounded and dehusked rice) to name but a few.These are eaten with either dollops of jaggery or a spoonful of sugar or salt is added for those who prefer savoury. The Assamese also make special pancakes called pithas from rice powder. These form an integral part of their festive food spread.
Assam is also a state where olives grow naturally and have been a part of the local cuisine since time immemorial. Homemade olive pickles grace many local dining tables. Then there are the exotic lemons and lime, preserved, pickled or eaten fresh. A few drop of these into salads or dal (lentil soups) gives them the unusual aromatic tanginess.
The Assamese unique food preparation is distinguished by its distinct flavour of exotic herbs and the sweet smell of joha rice. They also have our own share of exotic delicacies like the Eri polu (pupa of Eri silk worm), the tangy eggs of the Amroli paruwa (a species of red ant), fermented bamboo shoot and herb chutneys. The biodiversity of Assam makes it a biological hotspot with many rare and endemic plants and herbs. There are more than 3000 species of medicinal plants and herbs. Xaak (local leafy vegetables) forms an indispensable part of Assamese cooking. It is a common practice for a typical Assamese kitchen to have fermented and dried bamboo shoot, dried cocum, rice powder, powered lentils, fermented mashed mustard and chilly pickle.
Assamese cooking is a mixture of different indigenous style and varies from region to region. The food of upper Assam is more simple and bland compared to that of lower Assam. They enjoy meat dishes with fresh green chillies whereas in many places of lower Assam dry red chilly paste or pepper paste is used. The cuisine of upper Assam has the oriental influence whereas lower Assam has the influence of near west places like Bengal and Bihar.
Lao pani is a locally brewed rice beer fermented in the shell of a bottle gourd. They add a variety of substances like pepper and different kinds of herbs to produce lao-panis with varying nuances of taste and colour. Lao-pani is also made of ripe jack fruits and varieties of banana at times.
Overtime external influences have seeped in, but the essence of Assamese cuisine is fundamentally indigenous with an extensive use of local produce. Assam beckons you to come and sample the unique flavours of its distinct cuisine.