Northeastern Cuisine is just an umbrella term to describe hundreds of dishes and culinary practices followed in the eastern part of the country. Despite the diverse flavours and ingredients, one common ingredient that unites Northeastern cuisine is the use of bamboo.
Bamboo is the backbone of Northeastern Cuisine and cooking techniques. Its significance among the tribes and communities of the Northeast goes back centuries. Also, it is a multipurpose ingredient that is not only used in cooking but also for medical purposes and agricultural implements. Due to the scarcity of resources in the Northeast, people have made bamboo an important part of their lives and employ it in multiple ways to carry out their daily chores.
The shoots of bamboo are edible and abundantly available in the eight northeastern states, especially during the monsoon season. These shoots are used in a variety of Northeastern dishes and used to cook meat, fish, pickles, salads, broth and stir-fries. Bamboo shoots are also used in the process of fermentation and extraction.
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The Seasons Of Bamboo Shoots In The Northeast
During the monsoon season, tender shoots of bamboo sprout from the ground and most of it is harvested by people. Although it is a seasonal product, people try to store it in large quantities for the whole year because of its multipurpose uses. The fresh bamboo shoot is a popular ingredient in many states of the Northeast because of its crunchy texture and woody undertones. Also, it has a lot of natural toxins that give it such a woody and fresh flavour. In the preparation of most bamboo-based recipes, it is necessary to boil the bamboo shoots before cooking to remove any kind of toxins from the bamboo sticks.
Bamboo also has multiple health benefits, which is why there are such popular ingredients in the preparation of so many northeastern delicacies. They are scientifically proven to improve the metabolism of the body and also are very fibrous. The presence of so much fibre leads to a lowering in the amount of fat and cholesterol in the blood.
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The Types Of Bamboo Shoot
Multiple species of bamboo are found in northeastern states like Mizoram and Manipur. In Mizoram, mautak tuai, a variety of bamboo, is used to make many dishes. One way of eating is to boil it in water with some spices and the other is a very popular dish prepared by making a chutney out of the boiled bamboo shoots. The mashed bamboo shoots are mixed with lots of salt and a coarse chilli powder that is prepared with the help of sun-dried Mizo bird’s eye chillies.
Many parts of Manipur are famous for making special pickle varieties from bamboo shoots. Manipur’s Meitei community makes a special type of bamboo pickle that is famous around the country and is exported to different parts. Fermented bamboo shoots are also consumed by various ethnic communities. They also have a very long shelf life and antibacterial properties. Karbi Anglong tribes use bamboo shoots to control the early stages of cancer. Usoi ooti is another delicacy, which is made after combining many vegetables like maize, cucumber, and milk along with boiled bamboo shoots. It is typically served as a sabji with Chapati or Paratha.
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How Bamboo Shoots Are Used In Northeastern Cuisine
The dried bamboo shoots are also used as seasonings for a variety of meat and vegetable dishes. In states like Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh, young bamboo shoots are fermented. Several fermenting techniques are used by local tribes to carry out the fermenting process. Meghalaya and tribes like Khasi, Garo and Jaintia use bamboo shoots for fermentation by cutting the shoots and putting them in containers filled with water. These fermented shoots always retain their crunchiness and acquire the sour flavours of the vinegar and salt that is added to the water. For this technique, most people of Meghalaya prefer using the shoots of Dendrocalamus hamiltonii.
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Another common way of fermenting bamboo shoots in Arunachal Pradesh by the Adii tribe is by preparing a bamboo basket covered with ekkam leaves. The nutritional value of bamboo shoots is increased with the help of the fermentation process as it is linked to the growth of certain bacteria that are beneficial for our health. The proteins, vitamins, amino acids and other beneficial substances are increased through the fermentation process.
Bamboo shoots are consumed by northeastern people throughout the year either fresh or dried. Some people like the population of Mizoram like eating fresh bamboo shoots, while others like the people of Manipur and Tripura enjoy it in the fermented form. Meitei people of Manipur make a dish called Soijin Eromba from bamboo shoots that are partly fermented before being used in the dish. These fermented bamboo shoots are combined with fermented fish, chillies and potatoes. Various tribes from Tripura like Uchoi, Jamatia and Chakma use fermented bamboo shoots to make chutneys and other dishes made from fish.
Northeastern food is a different world altogether. If you carefully observe the food pattern and preferences of people from each food you will find that it will take eternity for you to just learn the name of the dishes. Bamboo as we have seen is of multiple uses to the people of the Northeast and contributes in various forms to the northeastern cuisine.