Traditional foods and beverages of the Zeliangrong of Northeast – Part 2


Dr Budha Kamei

From previous issue
These are delicious traditional items of food of the Zeliangrong.

Ten: Ten, bread is prepared in festivals and other social functions. Rice is soaked in clean water for 2-3 hours and then dried on a Pantanglu, winnowing fan or in a bamboo basket, Khoupak. After that, it is made into powder by grinding in a mortar. The rice flour is now mixed with sugar syrup for good taste and bread is prepared. There are two methods of preparing bread: boiled and fried methods. In boiled method, the mixture is made hard in any shape, which is then wrapped with banana leaves and tied properly. In an earthen pot, the same is put in boiling water and cooked for about one hour; this kind of bread is called Koutianji and it can be kept for about a week. In second method, the mixture is made softer by adding some water and made to round form. Then, in the hearth (Mhaimang) some charcoal is taken out just close by and the same is put on it. When it becomes black, it is turned upside down in order to that the other side also becomes black. After removing the upper black portion, the remaining can be used for consumption. Takin, salted Chapatti is prepared only in the feast of merit like Maku Banru.

Langchiphon: Langchiphon is prepared from rice powder in important social occasion. For preparation of Langchiphon, the rice powder is mixed with a small amount of sugar liquid for flavour and the mixture is poured in an earthen pot called Tanganlai. No water is added in it. Tanganlai is specially designed for cooking of Langchiphon, which has a hole at the bottom. The gap or hole is closed by banana leaves before putting the mixture. It is covered with a tight lid. After that, the pot is placed on a boiling water pot to cook by the steam of water. The boiling of water continues with high flame for about one hour, after one hour, Langchiphon is ready to use.

Ganang Tamdui: Ganang Tamdui, liquid of fermented mustard leaves is mainly used in preparation of Tam. The process of fermentation of Ganang, mustard leaves is simple; in winter season, mustard leaves are collected from jhum field and put on a platform for some days until the colour of leaves turn into yellow. The leaves are put in the sun again and the weathered leaves are put pressed in a bamboo basket called Khoupak. The same Khoupak is placed on a dish for collection of fermented liquid. After some days, a pungent smell is released, that time these leaves are removed and pressed with both hands in order to extract the liquid from the leaves. Next, the liquid is boiled in a pot to become thicker/condensed liquid. This liquid is called Ganang Tamdui. It can be preserved for about one year. In second method, the mustard leaves are boiled and spread in the sun. After that the leaves are placed in a pot covered with plantain leaves for fermentation.

Ganang Kang: The mustard leaves which are collected from jhum field in winter season are boiled in a pot with small amount of water and spread in the sun until the leaves become completely dry. The leaves are made into pieces for quick dry. They are usually preserved placing on the Keikang, above the fire place for use in rainy season/off season.

Khui: Khui is a traditional fermented soyabean with characteristic flavor and stickiness. It is commonly consumed in local diet as a source of protein. In the traditional method of Khui preparation, soybean seeds which are cleaned and sorted are dipped in water for about 10 hours. Then, the seeds are washed in plain water two or three times and cooked by boiling. The boiled soyabeans are then put in a Khoupak after draining off the water portion. It is then wrapped in banana leaves and put above the fire place for about three days in summer/ five days in winter so as to let the process of fermentation complete properly and also to keep away from insects’ damage. Within five days, the Khui is used in Tam, chutney preparation along with chilly and salt. However, for long-term storage and depending on choice of taste, the fermented Khui are kept in cake form above the fireplace called Kaikang or individual beans are separated, dried in the sun and stored in containers. The dried beans or cakes are cooked with meat or are used for the preparation of Tam. The traditional Khui is characterized by its stickiness, alkalinity, and pungent odour. The preparation of Khui is alike to that of Japanese Itohiki-Natto. Kinema, soyabean based fermented food generally consumed by indigenous people of eastern Himalayan regions of Darjeeling hills and Sikkim as a cheap source of protein. It does contain (per 100 gm of dry matter) protein 48 gm, fat 17gm, carbohydrates 28 gm and 478 Kilocalories. Among the Khasis of Meghalaya, Tungrymbai is a popular fermented soybean based sticky food which serves as a cheap source of high protein food. Not only Khui, the Rongmei people prepare fermented seed of Rossella called GankhengKhui locally. The process of preparation of Gankhengkhui is same to that of Khui and it is used in making Tam along with chili and salt.

Thun: Bamboo shoot is also a popular item of food. It is taken flesh by boiling or roasting in the hot ashes of the fire or preserved dried or fermented to get sour bamboo shoot preservation. Thunkheng, fermented bamboo shoot is produced exclusively from succulent bamboo shoots of the species Dendrocalamus hamiltonii, D. sikkimensis, D. giganteus, Melocana bambusoide, Bambusa tulda and B. balcona. Fermentation process of Thun, bamboo shoot is carried out during May to June when new shoots sprout. Tender bamboo shoots after removing the scales are sliced into thin small pieces and put in an earthen pot or a Khoupak, bamboo basket with the inner wall lined with banana leaves to keep in air tight condition. A hole is made at the bottom of the basket/pot for draining the liquid. The upper portion of the basket or pot is covered with banana leaves and stones are put on it as weight. Large scale fermentation is done in a pit. The bamboo shoots get fermented within five days and they are now ready for use in cooking. The fermented bamboo shoot is locally known as Thunkheng. For longer storage, the fermented bamboo shoots are also dried in the sun. Thunkhengkang, the dried bamboo shoots are graded according to size for preparing different dishes. Thus, two products of fermented bamboo shoots, wet and dry are obtained. The products are used in cooking meat or vegetable dishes. There is another method in preparation of dry bamboo shoots. For this purpose, any edible bamboo shoot variety is used. All the bamboo shoots are cut into pieces and boiled with water and then the shoots are exposed to the sun for drying. These dried bamboo shoots are kept in a basket covered with Luikhum to use in off season. The bamboo shoots are rich in potassium, carbohydrates, dietary fibres, vitamins and various antioxidants. The people of Himalayan regions of Darjeeling hills and Sikkim feed on a bamboo shoot derived fermented dish called Mesu. Its chief producers are the Limboo women belonging to Nepali community. The months of June to September are suitable for the preparation of Mesu. Local species of bamboo which are defoliated, chopped and pressed tightly into a green bamboo hollow stem, the tip of stem is covered tightly with leaves and left to ferment for 7-15 days. Mesu is mostly consumed as pickle.

Jan Ningmei: Usually, fat of internal portion of the pig or cow is preserved in a bamboo tube covered tightly with a lid. After 20 days of fermentation, it can be used in preparation of curry to soften the vegetables and it also imparts nice taste to the curry. The tube is placed above the fire place.

Zou: The Zeliangrong use different types of alcoholic beverages prepared from rice. It is commonly known as Zou. In the alcoholic beverages yeast, Khai is needed for fermentation.
Preparation of Khai: For preparation of Khai, rice is soaked in water for about 1-2 hrs and collected in a Khoupak. Thereafter, it is made into powder by grinding in a mortar. The rice powder is properly mixed with the bark powders of Khaipuroi. The mixture is added water slowly till the mixture made into paste with the requisite consistency. The paste is then made into small rounded cakes and the same cakes are placed on the Pheika, paddy husk. It is required to cover by a cloth to accelerate the fermentation process. After 6-7 days, the cake is ready to use and for preservation.

Zoungao: For preparation of Zoungao, rice beer, rice is soaked for about 1-2 hrs in water along with some Napok, germinated paddy. Without Napok, it is not possible to prepare rice beer. Then, the mixture is made into powder with the help of mortar and pestle. In a wooden barrel called Bu or earthen pot, the crushed rice is poured watchfully and then hot water is added in it. The mixture is well churned with a Ballatai, wooden stirrer until it becomes completely cool down. Some water is added again to the desired level and the Bu or pot is covered with banana leaves and kept 3-4 days in a place without any disturbance. Within these days, form started coming out and a typical flavor is released. This is an indication that the Zoungao is now ready to use. In the Nanu, ear-piercing festival or feast of charity, black rice beer called Napnang Zoungao is prepared in abundance in addition to normal rice beer. Consumption of rice beer is not only good for health, but also good for fair complexion, if it is used within 3-4 days, it is compared to drinking of milk, but in a limited quantity i. e. 500 ml at the maximum. The Rongmei people drink it instead of tea. It is also used in ritual ceremony as Joupan Keimei, libation of holy wine.

Timpui: Timpui, a kind of alcoholic beverage is prepared from fermented cooked rice. Rice is cooked and spread in Gou, round basket made of bamboo. Khai is mixed thoroughly with the cooked rice and then the mixture is put in an earthen pot already cleaned and dried in the sun. A little amount of water is poured just to dip it and then the pot is placed in a proper place for fermentation. In winter, the pot is covered with a leaf of the Khonghoo for fermentation. Heat along with a pungent smell is released after 3 or 4 days, after which, water is poured an approximate ratio of 4:3. After 8-10 hrs, the liquid called Timpui is ready to use. In summer, it takes 3-4 days and in winter 6-7 days in fermentation. The Zeliangrong elders drink it before and after meal.

Zouju: Zouju, a strong alcoholic beverage is prepared from Timpui. Preparation of Zouju is same with that of Timpui up to the stage of the fermentation of cooked rice. This Timpui is poured in a suitable pot called Zoulai and boiled in low flame. The pot is covered with an aluminum funnel and from this a pipe is connected to the outer part of the pot, this pipe is for collection of distilled liquid, Zouju. On the funnel, a pot containing cold water is placed just to restrict the evaporation outside and to condense the vapour into liquid. Between the pot and funnel, a plate having holes is placed. All the connecting points are sealed with mud. Distillation will continue until the alcohol present in the Timpui is completely out. The residual content is used as Guaktak, pig feed. Zouju is stronger than Zoungao, Pheijou, Haojou and Timpui.

Pheijou: It is like the preparation for Timpui, but the only different is, it is mixed with Phei, husk. So the taste also is different from Timpui. After 4-5 days of fermentation, water is added, it is ready to drink. One has to drink its liquid by using a pipe.

Haojou: There is another type of alcoholic beverage prepared from Hao, ripened banana. This is locally called Haojou. It is prepared by fermenting the Hao in a closed pot with or without water. Khai is added for fermentation. After 3-4 days, it is ready to use.

Conclusion: In traditional Zeliangrong society, culture, traditions, ethics and food habit can’t be separated or looked separately as they are all interrelated. Nowadays, their approaches to life have changed totally. Traditional foods are still a favourite item in the food preparation. The advent of modern civilization has adversely affected the age-old tradition and thus the younger generations of Zeliangrong are not exposed to traditional practices. It is well known that traditional foods have rich nutritional values and healing properties. So, there should be purposeful efforts to revive and promote the traditional food habit systems within villagers. The nutritional and microbiological aspects of traditional foods are required to be looked into in future. (Concluded)

Source: The Sangai Express


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