In this, the third part of our north-east foodie trail series, we bring to you food from the majestic state of Mizoram.
The history of the Mizo people has one too many layers. Some believe they ended up in India as a result of the Mongoloid migration wave in China, while others trace out Tibetan-Burmese origins. Folklore even narrates the legend of a God sending them out from the nether world. Just as many mysteries surround the cuisine of Mizoram which comes with its own delectable layers waiting to be explored.
As is the case of most states in the North-Eastern belt, the state of Mizoram too sees regular feeding on rice, bamboo and a range of meats. The state named after its native Mizo inhabitants sees their roots and their embedded presence in the nation both play a role upon their cooking which is said to have both Chinese as well as North Indian influences. From the green corridors of the state, we bring to you the delicacies you wouldn’t want to miss.
Mizo Vawksa Rep
In the constellation of ingredients that come together to cook this dish, the central star is the meat of pork. Pork is popularly eaten across all of North East India. Yet the real sense of joy for a foodie lies in the fact that each state gives the meat their own signature spin, making tasting each a unique experience. The vawksa rep is cooked to such perfection that the meat literally falls off from the bone in its tenderness. The oyster mushroom grown in the “ram”, as land is referred to in the local dialect, is stir fried along with spinach until they make a slow sizzling sound together. Then the meat makes a grand entrance with chillies and herbs, all resulting in the state’s ever favourite, vawksa rep served as delicately diced chunks of flavoured meat.
Are you really in India unless you get your hands on some street food that you can effortlessly gobble up as you rush through the lanes or even to lounge lazily in a cosy corner? Mizoram’s most popular street food is the koat pitha which are essentially fritters composed of rice flour, bananas and jaggery, eventually deep fried to bring about their golden glaze. The crunchy exterior coating makes way for the soft interiors, making it a perfect companion to the local tea, Zu. A number of locals however even prepare it with a stuffing of fish to consume it as a part of their staple diet. Another snack to indulge in is again found on the streets, the sanpiau made with rice porridge, fish sauce and vegetables. Back to the belle of the ball, the koat pitha is often even devoured as a desert, while it doesn’t have an overwhelmingly sweet taste, the bananas certainly lend it a slight sweet tinge that tickles your tongue in just the desired manner.
Misa Mach Poora
The mention of snacks also leads us to Mizoram’s mastered appetizer, the misa mach poora. The shrimp-based dish is cooked in mustard oil with an assortment of spices such as peppercorns and coriander powder. The compellingly marinated shrimp acquires its bold flavours from the pinch of lemon juice and orange zest that together add to the taste created by the spices. Put your regular shrimp cocktail to rest for a while because there’s a new style of stellar shrimp for you to relish and one that comes to treat you from the stoves of North East India. Today this shrimp dish is gorgeously grilled in the modern-day kitchen but traditionally it would be roasted after being placed upon banana leaves atop the charry charcoal. The twist of tang upon spiced shrimp ensures that this one has quite the appetizing effect!
Panch Phoran Tarkari
“Paanch phoran” means “five spices” comprising of the seeds of fenugreek, nigella, cumin, fennel and mustard. This fiery combination of spices is popular amidst Eastern cuisines and is witnessed as an ingredient in many Bengali, Oriya and Assamese dishes. The tarkari, leisurely cooked in the luscious blend of spices is extremely popular in Mizoram. The Mizo culture greatly revels the different stages of the agricultural cycle. Festivals such as mim kut, pawl kut amd chapchar kut are celebrated to signify the commencement and conclusion of the harvest season. Music, dance and food are all instrumental to any festivity and the popularity of panch phoran tarkari guarantees that it makes its aromatic presence felt in both, day to day life and at such elaborate affairs. The state’s distinctive gravy allows for its preparation to be in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian styles. While the vegetarian version contains brinjal, pumpkins and potatoes, its non-vegetarian counterpart is made with chicken. This dish is a slice of spice that you will merrily succumb to.
What visit to the mountains would ever be complete without a soupy meal? These are the regions where India’s trademark curries find themselves replaced for the boiling hot broths. Mizoram is naturally no exception. Meet Bai, the most easily available dish through the course of the entire state. Customarily it is prepared with pork but today there are variants for the non-meat-eater friends too. Spinach, bamboo and various other fresh vegetables, depending upon their seasonal availability, are tossed in a hint of mustard sauce, spoons full of spice and garnished to perfection with the local herbs. Just as the woks and noodle bowls from swanky restaurants have made themselves available with different options, similarly the bai has matched up and is a dish found donning many avatars. Maian bai consists of leaves from the rosella plant along with pumpkin. Behlwai bai uses string bean leaves in pork stock. The bai is thus modified as per preferences but the consistency is in presenting the palate with a nourishing, warm and wholesome meal.
Fun fact, Labrusca grape varieties are speculated to have been the earliest variety of grapes used to make wine in ancient Roman. And guess which state in India also grows these grapes and ferments this wine? Mizoram for the win(e)!
The cuisine of Mizoram thus is complete in its manifold layers encompassing starters, beverages to hearty prime time meals. While the traditional practice of eating on banana leaves may have started to fade, the land of the rugged hills and its people still make meals merry with the magic of subtle, nutritious and all the while delicious dishes which remain authentic and true to their roots.