Discover The Unique Flavours Of Assam's Bodo Cuisine
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Bodos are part of the larger Bodo-Kachari group, believed to be one of the earliest settlers in Assam. They are one of the largest and most prominent ethnic groups in Assam. Their history can be traced back several centuries. References to them have been found in ancient Indian texts and records. They are considered to be of Tibeto-Burman origin and made their home in the Brahmaputra Valley.

Bodo cuisine is quite unique and makes full use of the indigenous vegetables, herbs and fruits abundant in the fertile plains of Assam. Food is quite central to Bodo culture. One factor that sets Bodo cuisine apart is that the food is cooked with minimal spices but the flavours are still bold thanks to the fresh ingredients. The flavours of the ingredients are allowed to shine. 

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Pork, fish and rice are cooked in various forms and are considered staples in the community. Chicken and duck are prepared in different ways, too. In these parts, dried fish, snails and silkworms are also considered delicacies.

The Bodo people cultivate different varieties of rice, each with its own unique texture and flavour. Simplicity and freshness are of great importance in Bodo cooking. For example, freshwater fish is readily available in Assam and used extensively in food. It is often smoked, dried, or fermented to create a range of flavourful dishes. Pork is the most loved meat here and is typically cooked with bamboo shoots, jute leaves and roselle leaves. 

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Cooking Techniques

The cuisine uses a variety of cooking techniques that help bring out the natural flavours of ingredients. Smoking and fermenting are some of the methods used most often here to preserve meat and fish and increase their shelf life. The process of fermenting dishes is one of the main things that makes Bodo cuisine distinct.

Fresh herbs and spices with intense flavours are used sparingly, to keep the taste delicate and balance the flavours. The dishes are also nutritious.

Some Community Favourites

Bodos love their rice. They eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They boil it, hand-pound it, powder it and ferment it too. In fact, the Bodo heritage drink, without which the Bodo cuisine is incomplete, is Zumai, a traditional rice beer. The beverage is mildly alcoholic when it is freshly prepared. It’s often brewed at home and served to guests who come home, as well as during festivals and celebrations.

The meat—pork, chicken, duck and fish—is usually paid for with seasonal vegetables. Fish, for example, is cooked with sponge gourd, colocasia leaves and roselle leaves to make different dishes; pork is cooked with jute leaves; and chicken is cooked with parijat flowers.

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Narzi:  Narzi, a pork dish cooked with dried yam leaves and seasoned with traditional spices, is one of the most popular dishes in the community. Pork and yam leaves almost make for a hearty meal on their own. The dish is both nourishing and flavourful and it has a slightly bitter aftertaste. 

Oma Bedor: This is another pork dish where the pork is cooked with bamboo shoots and simple spices. The flavours are savoury and tangy. Bamboo shoot is eaten in many North Eastern states; it complements the texture of pork beautifully.

Napham: This dish is made from dry fish. The dry fish and roselle leaves or colocasia, are pounded using a local set of tools basically used for pounding substances. Post that the pounded mix is kept in an empty glass jar or inserted in a bamboo stick for a month or two. The flavours and aromas of this dish are strong.

Onla Jwng Mewai: This is a traditional Bodo dish, which is a thick gravy made from ground rice, often cooked with chicken or fish. It’s another example of how much Bodo people love their rice. In this dish, they use it to give the dish a completely different texture and flavour. 

Oma Mwita: This is another pork dish. The pork is cooked with roselle leaves. It is cooked quite often in Bodo homes. There are hardly any spices used in the dish and the flavours are clean and delicious. Roselle leaves have a sweet-tangy flavour and are commonly used in Bodo cuisine. This dish is usually eaten in the summer. 

Sobai Jwng Dau: In this dish, chicken is cooked with roasted split black gram. Its unique flavour comes from khardwi, a liquid made from the peel of a banana called Bhim Kol, grown locally in Assam.

Sobai Samo: In this dish, freshwater snails are cooked with black lentils. Freshwater snails can also be prepared with a simple onion-chilli curry.