The name of a much-discussed feature film, Axone or fermented soybean is a popular dish among many tribal groups in Northeast India and beyond. Here is a brief description of the ingredient, its widespread use, unique aroma, and cultural and tribal significance.
Kinema, or akhuni as we know it from the movie that made it really popular (Axone), is nothing more than fermented soybeans. And for the people who assume it to be impure, it is strictly vegetarian! The word "kinema," as we refer to it in the Nepali language has a strong intense smell. When someone prepares kinema at home other households around it will also get the smell and know that someone is cooking kinema.
Kinema emerged in the Nepali diaspora among the Limbu Rai group. This ethnic group enjoys this meal a lot. Complex flavors like those found in kinema and other similar dishes are deeply ingrained in their culture. It is considered impolite to mention anything such as "it's stinking" in these homes because, to them, it is just "aroma." The deeper the flavor of the kincha, the stronger it smells. Saying anything like "the dish stinks" is genuinely offensive to the food that is consumed in these households.
Video Source: Youtube/Eat Your Kappa
What Is The History Of Kinema?
People from outside of the Kirat community find it enjoyable due to the bothersome qualities of the dish as per someone who has been newly introduced to it. For many people, kinema evokes pure nostalgia. Usually, in most houses, children are not permitted to consume kinema before they reach adolescence. This was due to the belief that kids couldn't handle the dish's strong flavor, nutrients, and scent.
For the Limbu community kinema is a classic dish and it is also their staple item. However, many Southeast Asian nations serve dishes that can be compared with kinema. Perhaps you've heard of Indonesian tempeh or Japanese natto and miso, which are fermented soybean paste variations that not many people, especially in the Northeast, have ever heard of.
Food cultures that ferment beans, or bhatamas, have their roots in Eastern Nepal. Historical evidence indicates that the black soybean was first grown as a crop by the Kirats and Limbus (this information was gleaned from the Mundhum, a sacred Kirat scripture). It took a while before the other nearby communities who coexisted with the Kirats learned about the fermentation of kinema. Notably since then numerous other items, such as radish, spinach, radish leaves, and mustard leaves, have been successfully fermented by others.
Migration Of Kinema
Although the exact date when the fermentation procedure was introduced to eastern Nepal is unknown, Indian microbiologist Mr. J.P. Tamang suggested that kinema may have developed during the Kirat era in Eastern Nepal, between 600 BC and 100 AD. In the seventh century, a select group of people from the South Chinese province of Yunan founded their kingdom in East Nepal, naming themselves Yakthumba or Limbu. They appear to have brought the process of fermenting soybeans with them to present-day Nepal, from where it spread to northeastern India. The other tribes and cultures picked up the skill of fermenting soybeans and using the resultant medicine from them.
Following the introduction of Buddhism to these areas, individuals were urged to embrace vegetarianism, and by the third and fourth centuries, fermenting various foods was becoming a common practice.
How To Prepare Kinema?
In the Kirat community, Kinema goes by a variety of names, including Chembihik and Hokuma. Similar to differences in names, there are differences in the ways that kinema is prepared. However, the procedure begins with soaking soybeans in water for two nights, or until the water's surface is lightly covered in foam. After that, the soybeans are boiled until they are nearly cooked. After that, the beans are beaten till they split in half, and filtered to remove any remaining water.
The soybeans are then placed within the leaf lining, which is made of fern, banana, and other widely available leaves, and covered and wrapped. The bamboo basket, called a "moktu," is used for this purpose. After that, the preparation is kept in a warm, dark corner of the house so that fermentation can start.
Other methods of making kinema involve beating the beans into a texture that resembles a very gritty paste. This is because the beans will be able to cover a larger surface area after being beaten, which will promote even more microbial activity. In other forms, people additionally dust fireplace ash on soybeans, which raises their alkaline content and helps create the ideal environment for successful fermentation.
After that, the beans are allowed to fully ferment for a good five to six days. This is when the soybeans begin to smell strong, like ammonia; the greater the stench, the more flavorful the kinema will be. When the soybeans begin to appear stringy and sticky, they are removed from the basket. In this manner, kinema can be consumed immediately, giving it a flavor similar to fresh kinema. However, to make it easier to store and extend its shelf life, people also dry kinema in the sun for four to five days until the moisture evaporates.
Some individuals are shocked by the dish's aroma since they are unfamiliar with the idea of kinema. The aroma has already negatively impacted their opinion of the meal long before they hear about all of its positive aspects. But for the brave hearts you can use akhuni or kinema to make pickles or chutneys and even use it in curries of beef, pork, fish, and many more.