Indian cuisine is so incredibly varied that Rocky and Mayur have been able to make a successful career of eating their way across the country. In fact, any gourmand will wax eloquent on the flavour profiles and methods of preparation of Indian food.
However, the one part of the country that has remained a relative mystery to us is the north east of India. Sure, we’ve had momos by the kilo before, but there’s so much more to try that it would be a disservice to think that one dish represents the best of this vibrant region.
That’s where Kabya Borgohain steps in. While studying at the National Institute of Design, she realised that there was a need to bring food from the North East into the mainstream, so armed with the knowledge of traditional techniques and recipes picked up during a decade living in the North East, she co-founded a café – the home of her venture Project Otenga – with former journalist Dayananda Meitei.
With Project Otenga, they have found a way to combine their love of food with their passion for multidisciplinary collaboration. The café offers a safe space for people from all walks of life to come together and discuss the goings-on in their fields, meet like-minded people that they could collaborate with, or just learn something new – all while feasting on traditional dishes from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. This unique café is currently hosted at Ahmedabad University and is frequented by thinkers and students from across the city.
Background to the Feast
So, what is it about the food from this region that makes it so different from that found everywhere else? Borgohain believes the answer lies in their traditions, “The region’s unique biodiversity, philosophy and practice of life; a love for simplicity, traditional practices and integration with nature is what influences the region’s food. North eastern food is accentuated by the type of preparation, its inherent flavours, and, of course, the lack of influences from the western food practices. The secret to this food is the harmony and synchronicity in how we eat and what we eat.”
Embracing your roots is key to making honest and tasty food and this is true in the case of Project Otenga as well, which takes its name from the Otenga, aka Elephant Apple, an herb unique to the region and one that is traditionally used in many of their delicacies.
Open Your Mind and Your Palate
What is so intriguing about this region of the country is the fact that it is still relatively unknown. However, with increased migration, and thanks to the internet, people have become increasingly open to visiting some of the wonderful tourist destinations there and trying out their delicious cuisine.
And such change is a welcome one, because food truly is something that has the power to bring us all together. And the food there is something else according to Borgohain, “Our ingredients are very different as compared to what is used in other regions of the country. From a variety of mushrooms to differently cured herbs to the variety of vegetables – everything allows for an exploration in taste. This is teamed with a fantastic range of aromatic herbs like Lomba (a lemon-flavoured herb) to bamboo shoots and other aromatic herbs.”
Recipe: Mashed Potato and Sun-dried Bamboo Shoots
Here’s one of Borgohain’s favourite recipes that you can make at home.
3 Potatoes, boiled and peeled
1 Onion, finely diced
2 Green chillies, chopped finely
½ cup Sun-dried Bamboo Shoots
1 Teaspoon mustard oil
Salt to taste
Sauté onions in oil till golden. Add chillies and bamboo shoots, sauté for a minute.
Add Salt and mash potatoes into the dish. Mix all of this together.
Coarsely chop coriander and aromatic herbs and garnish the dish.
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