A Look At Northeast Indian Cuisine & Its Indigenous Ingredients
Image Credit: Representational image.

NORTHEAST INDIA is renowned for its rich cultural diversity and unique cuisine. Home to seven states collectively known as the Seven Sisters and Sikkim, this picturesque region boasts a bounty of indigenous ingredients that lend its dishes distinctive and complex flavours. As you delve deeper into the culinary heritage of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim you will discover hidden gems that make Northeast Indian food truly special.

Exotic Spices and Aromatic Herbs 

The diverse landscape of Northeast India supports a wide variety of native spices and aromatic herbs. From the fiery chillies of Nagaland to the tangy lemons of Manipur, these ingredients impart vibrant flavours to local dishes. In Meghalaya, herbs like tangy lime leaf and lemongrass are commonly used to season curries and stews. Mizoram is known for its use of wild ginger and turmeric varieties. Arunachal Pradesh cuisine stands out for its unique blend of Sichuan peppercorns, long pepper, and native herbs. The region is also a major producer of aromatic herbs like lemongrass, mint, and basil.

Freshwater Delicacies 

As the waters of the Brahmaputra, Barak, and other rivers flow through the region, they nurture an abundance of freshwater fish. From the mild-flavoured rohu and catla to the rich-tasting murrel and hilsa, these fish are beloved ingredients in Northeast Indian cooking. Fish like the nutritious chital and parrot fish feature prominently in Manipuri cuisine. In Mizoram, fermented fish preparations like salted dried fish and fish sauce add umami depth to curries and soups. Nagaland is renowned for its smoked and dried fish specialities.

Root Vegetables and Wild Edibles

The hilly terrain of Northeast India supports a variety of root vegetables, tubers, and wild edibles. In Meghalaya, starchy tubers like yams, colocasia, and elephant foot yam are staple ingredients. These are often used to thicken curries or turn them into fritters. Bamboo shoots harvested from the forests add texture to dishes from Arunachal Pradesh. Wild ferns, mushrooms, and leafy greens foraged from the hills also feature in local cuisines. Bamboo shoot rice is a speciality of Manipur, while Mizoram is known for its unique preparation of bamboo shoot curry.

Indigenous Grains and Legumes

Rice is the predominant cereal crop of Northeast India, with native varieties like joha rice prized for their aroma and texture. However, millets and pseudo-cereals also have a strong presence. Finger millet, foxtail millet and barnyard millet are commonly used ingredients. Buckwheat, popularly known as kutki, is a staple crop in higher altitude areas. Indigenous legumes like black soybean, green gram and lentils are also integral to the local diet. Black soybean features in delicacies like black soybean curry from Nagaland.

Regional Specialties

A culinary journey across Northeast India would be incomplete without sampling its regional specialities. In Manipur, popular dishes include kangshoi - fermented soybean curd with chilli and black sesame. The state is also renowned for eromba, a delicious leaf-wrapped parcel steamed with fish, meat or vegetables. 

Meghalaya is proud of its diverse pork delicacies. Dishes like jadoh, a smoked pork preparation, and nongkrem, a spicy pork curry, are must-tries. The region is also known for unique preparations using ingredients like fermented soya beans, pickled bamboo shoots and tangy local chutneys.

In Mizoram, smoked meats and vegetables are a speciality. Preparations like the smoked pork dish saitawi and smoked bamboo shoot curry tantalize taste buds. The state also excels in unique fermented soybean preparations and tangy salads featuring wild herbs.

Nagaland is renowned for its smoked and dried meats as well as fermented soybean delicacies. Dishes like axone, a tangy fermented soybean curry, and smoked pork with bamboo shoots are perennial favourites. The region also produces exotic smoked chilli varieties. 

Arunachal Pradesh delights with preparations showcasing native herbs, mushrooms and meats. Specialities include smoked pork with long pepper and bamboo shoot rice. Sichuan peppercorns also lend unique aromas to curries and stews.

Tripura is renowned for its use of local herbs, fruits and vegetables in curries, stews and street snacks. Look out for dishes like khoai which features tender bamboo shoots cooked with mustard oil, dried fish and local herbs.

Sikkim's culinary specialities include thukpas or noodle soups, momos or dumplings and thenthuk along with some rice beer. Look out for indigenous ingredients like naupakha or fiddlehead ferns, kimbu or Sikkimese radish and local herbs in dishes. 

Distinct Cooking Techniques

The diverse ingredients of Northeast India are brought together using unique cooking methods. In Arunachal Pradesh, bamboo steam cooking and smoked chilli drying are specialities. Nagaland is renowned for its smoked preparations and fermented soybean dishes. Manipur is known for steamed and fermented preparations as well as the innovative use of leafy wrappers. Meghalaya cuisine stands out for its use of net bags for steaming ingredients over wood fires. Mizoram cooks many dishes within hollow bamboo stems. These distinct techniques impart truly memorable flavours and aromas to Northeast Indian cuisine.

Northeast India offers a treasure trove of indigenous ingredients, distinctive cooking styles and memorable culinary experiences. From aromatic herbs and freshwater delights to native grains and fermented specialities, the Seven Sisters and one brother have established a cuisine truly unique in India.