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Monday, November 14, 2016

Chp 633. Mizo Sesame seed delicacies

"Open Sesame", and the gate to the way Mizos prepare sesame dishes is opened. In this post, I would like to talk about how we Mizos consume sesame seeds.

Sesame seeds are an intrinsic part of our Mizo cuisine, but the way it is prepared has not been adapted in any of our mainstream Indian cuisines because of its gory history. In the year 1659, when emperor Aurangzeb sent his general Abdul Khan to conquer the Ahom Kingdom and Twipra dynasty of present day "North East India", Mizo warriors unified under the great Sailo chieftain Khumliana ambushed a scouting regiment. They beheaded all the soldiers and sent them back to Aurangzeb with sesame plants growing on their heads to indicate that Mizo headhunters will multiply in numbers just like the sesame seeds.

Ok fine, I just made all that up. But I got your attention now, didn't I? :D It's kinda easy to BS to people who may not know much about our history, but in this post, I would like to talk about the awesomeness of the way we Mizos prepare sesame seeds, no BS I promise, and hope I continue catching your attention :)

In our language, we call sesame seeds as "chhawhchhi". Now as I was discussing with my friends about this, many were of the opinion that chhawhchhi and sesame should be termed differently. Because in other parts of India, sesame seeds are usually just added to a dish as condiments, or sprinkled over bread, muffins etc. But in our Mizo society, that is not how we consume sesame seeds.

First of all, we have different types of chhawhchhi, like chhipui, chhitak, chhibung, chhiriat, chhitunglung etc depending on the variety of the plant. They all have slightly different taste and smell, except for chhibung which stands out. It is more whitish in color when compared to the others, and it does not taste very good when grounded like the others, so instead, chhibung is prepared differently.

To make chhibung, the sesame seeds are usually grinded for a long time and after this, hot water is added until it becomes quite semi-solid in state. Then it is kept in a wide bottle or container and sealed shut and placed under sunlight for around 4-5 days (fermentation). After that, this paste is consumed as chutney or mixed with other side dishes. This is known as "chhawhchhi um" where um means fermentation or the act of preservation.

As for the other sesame seeds, they are first roasted until they turn golden black, and then grounded like hell until they become this chunk of awesome tasting and smelling dish.

The above grounded sesame seed is chhitak, and my girlfriend got them for me from Mizoram. Because it is grounded, we call it "chhawhchhi den" where den means grounded.

In most typical Mizo households, you'll find a "suk" and a "sum". A suk (pronounced "sook") is a large wooden pestle, and a sum (pronounced "soom") is a large wooden mortar. Thanks to my blogger friend Muantea who posed with his suk and sum just for this blog post.

The suk and sum are used not just to ground sesame seeds but other edibles like rice, wheat etc as well.

After the sesame seeds are roasted, they are grounded (with occasional salt added to it for taste) until they become chunks like in the first pic above. They stick to each other in chunks because of the oil present in them. The process of grounding it is quite tiring and rigorous, you gotta keep pounding and pounding with your suk for a really long time, but the final outcome is totally worth the trouble.

This dish is a part of our tribal heritage, and it is very popular among us Mizos. You can also just eat it with boiled rice by mixing the two together, making a ball with your fist (rice cake) and munching it. Yummm.

In fact chhawhchhi is so popular in my community that the name has become a part of our idioms and phrases!

For comparison, if people say "chhawhchhi ang" (translation: they are like chhawhchhi) then they are implying that all the things they have to select from are all very similar (considering there is no tastier part in a grounded chhawhchhi plate as they all taste similar because of the hours of grounding) and so it is not possible to choose what they actually want (for example, in terms of scandals, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are like chhawhchhi).

If somebody say "Min be chhawhchhi" (translation: you speak to me like chhawhchhi) then they mean to say that you are speaking to them like a commoner, like you don't treat them any differently (usage can be a girlfriend telling her boyfriend that he was speaking to her as if she was just his friend and not his special someone). However, some of my friends also argued that the phrase "Min be chhawhchhi" is nowadays used to imply that "somebody's talking to them in a very simpleton manner, as if to undermine their intelligence" and they say this is a wrong usage of the phrase.

"Chhawhchhi hlo den" (translation: to do something like you’re grounding chhawhchhi) - This is used to imply a reckless and careless action, since the act of grounding chhawhchhi involves something rough and brute (for example, be careful while carrying that vessel of milk, don’t chhawhchhi hlo den, otherwise you’ll spill it). "Chhawhchhi buh kalh ang" is another usage of the name chhawhchhi to imply how two different entities are mixed up really densely. "Chhawhchhi buh pawlh" is used to denote a specific color that is a mixture of white and black, kinda greyish but not mixed in a uniform fashion.

Another use of the word chhawhchhi is "i hmai a chhawhchhi" (translation: your face is like chhawhchhi) which means that you have a lot of pimples on your face :D And of course as Muantea pointed out, there is another usage where if a woman is said to "chhawhchhi a ei hnem" (translation: she eats a lot of chhawhchhi) it apparently means "she has a… chubby vagina". Lolzzz, I swear I did not make that one up, and I fail to see the relationship between vagina and sesame seeds (maybe except for the "open sesame" part :P ) but I did ask other friends around, and this is apparently true it seems! Whoah! :D

Anyhoo, forget all that and let us come back to the topic :)

Chhawhchhi den. Grounded sesame seeds. So delicious. The ones that DP got for me from Mizoram didn't last long, but I did enjoy them, trying them out with different Mizo dishes.

They went really well with my smoked pork dish boiled with cabbages…

For ingredients of the above dish, if you want to know how to make Mizo style smoked pork dish, you can find your answer here - Chp 390. Mizo Smoked Pork and if you want to know how to make the above potato dish you can read this post - Chp 582. The Bachelor's Potato.

Sometimes I would mix it up a little bit by combining our Mizo dish "bai" with non-Mizo dish like sausages and salamis, and the chhawhchhi den went well with the combination too.

And of course chhawhchhi den was perfect with our "bekang", known to us as fermented soybean but known to my non-Mizo friends as "that stinky stinky beans" :D

If you're new to my blog, you probably won't know that I'm sort of an amateur foodie who loves mixing up different cuisines, especially our Mizo delicacies with other Indian dishes. You can read some of my old blog posts like Food Fusion I, Food Fusion II, Food Porn, My Spiral Sausages etc etc.

One of the first things I tried out was having chhawhchhi den with Upma. OMG they tasted so well together!!!

I regularly eat these "instant" upmas for breakfast, where I just have to pour in hot water and the upma is ready in 2 minutes. The chhawhchhi den really spiced it up!

Here’s another food fusion I tried – North Indian dal khichdi, South Indian chettinad chicken, slices of fresh Bauwens ham from Nature’s Basket, my own egg fry concoction, and chhawhchhi den. It was amaaazing!

Chhawhchhi den too went perfectly with Hyderabadi chicken dum biryani! It was as if this was the perfect match that had been missing all this time :)

Earlier, I mentioned that people in Mizoram sometimes mix just rice and chhawhchhi den alone, and eat them like rice cake. Well I tried it too, but with Kerala rice!

For those unaware, Kerala matta rice is an indigenous rice that is grown mainly in Palakkad district of Kerala, where a lot of my Malayalee friends from School and College are from. As you can see from the photo above (click on all pics to enlarge), the rice is much thicker than normal rice and considered to be extremely nutritious. It also has a smoky and earthy flavor that blends so well with chhawhchhi den!

Speaking of Kerala dishes, I also tried chhawhchhi den with appam and puttu! It was perfect. The gravy dish you see below is Chicken Varutharachathu, made from spicy coconut gravy, and it truly complemented the chhawhchhi den flavor.

Chhawhchhi den went really well with Masala dosa too. Most of you who have only eaten in South Indian restaurants outside Tamil Nadu will not know this, but in TN, whenever you order dosa or idli or even "meals", you will be served this powdery side-dish called "podi". You take that powder, make a hole in the center and pour sesame oil in that and mix it yourself. It is so yumm. Chhawhchhi den perfectly plays that part, especially since it is sesame based too.

A simple bachelor dish like Malabar parathas, dal and egg can also be made tastier with the addition of chhawhchhi den.

Puri bhaji is another dish that truly went well with chhawhchhi den. Roll that soft puri into the yummy gravy and dip it on chhawhchhi den to have a truly fantastic taste.

And hey, I’m not talking about just gravy and dishes, chhawhchhi den was awesome with a couple of other type of food as well.

For example, here is my home-made egg cheese sandwich. Once the bread had been toasted, apply butter on them, add a layer of cheese slice, sprinkle chhawhchhi den on top of the cheese, top it up with egg and voila!

I made a mistake in the above sandwich because I also added Thai bird chilly (which I think is what we Mizos call vai hmarcha). It was so bloody spicy that I didn’t feel the taste of chhawhchhi at all. In the next sandwich, I avoided the chilly and finally got to enjoy the great fusion of cheese and sesame.

I even tried chhawhchhi den with Pork ribs! :D

I ordered Spicy Honey-Mustard Glazed Pork Ribs from Effingut Brewerkz. And man it was bloody expensive. This is why I miss Mumbai. Back in Mumbai, I could order good pork ribs for around 300-400. Here in Pune, hardly a few restaurants serve pork ribs, and the few that do price it above 600 bucks! :(

So, how well did the chhawhchhi den fare with Pork Ribs?

AMAAAAAZZZING :) It went well with the fatty pork, it went well with the mashed potatoes, it went well with the boiled veggies, it went well with everything!

And if you think I’m going overboard with this whole chhawhchhi den thing, check out the next combo I tried :D

Yup that’s right. Pizza baby! :D

Just add some chhawhchhi den on top of the hot steamy cheesy pizza like how you would add oregano and chilly flakes, and then devour it like you’ve never eaten in a thousand years! Sooooo good! So so good!

I wanted to try so many other combos, but unfortunately, I ran out of chhawhchhi den.

So I hope I was able to entertain and inform you about the Mizo delicacy that we call chhawhchhi den. I sincerely believe it should be more popular in mainstream Indian cuisines.

Special thanks to DP Colney who not only got me the chhawhchhi den but also explained how it is made, along with my friends from and Mizo bloggers whatsapp group who explained different phrases and history of chhawhchhi to me. And of course Muantea for sending me his suk and sum photo, along with explaining the meaning of "women who eat too much chhawhchhi den" which was totally unnecessary :D



Janet Lalmawipuii Ralte said...

Wow, you sure seem to love 'chhawhchhi den' and eggs. :)

Great to know that chhawhchhi goes well with so many dishes.

Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal said...

Thank you for sharing! So cool to learn the importance of sesame and its uses in Miso food. Rushina

Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal said...

Thank you for sharing! So cool to learn the importance of sesame and its uses in Miso food. Rushina

Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal said...

Thank you for sharing! So cool to learn the importance of sesame and its uses in Miso food. Rushina

Mizohican said...

@ Janet: Yup it definitely does Janet. You too should try it out with non-Mizo dish sometimes :)

@ Rushina: Thanx for reading and commenting on my blog Rushina. Its an honor to have a Foodie celebrity blogger comment on my food related post :)