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Monday, November 10, 2014

Chp 535. North East cuisine in Mumbai

So yesterday was a very fruitful and stomachful day!

Four days ago, I received a mail from Rushina, a very prominent food blogger, reviewer, consultant and owner of APB Cook Studio here in Mumbai. We met at a couple of those Coral Networking dinners I used to take part in, as we all shared the same passion for food, though of course she’s a much more professional cook and foodie than me while I’m just a self-proclaimed amateur foodie. Back then, she was also the consultant for Godrej Nature’s Basket while I was the creative lead at an Ad agency handling their account.

This time, she invited me to this new (and experimental) event called “Demo & Dine: Cuisines of the North East” that she was organizing at her Cook Studio. It was too good an offer to decline, and I was really curious to know what actually goes on at such “cook studios”.

So my RSVP was an immediate yes.

I reached the venue right on time, in spite of being delayed due to the “Equal Streets movement (though I admit it was indeed a glorious sight watching all the kids and artists play and perform right on the entire stretch of Linking Road, Bandra). 

I reached the venue with the help of Google Maps. Shrishti Plaza. Being a Sunday, the commercial building was deserted.

The studio was located on the third floor…

Just a few people had reached when I walked in, and they were just starting to set up the place

The introductions started and I quickly blended in. Some of the other invitees were food bloggers, so I had to keep introducing myself as, “I’m also a blogger, but I don’t write about food” :D

The event was conducted by renowned Assamese cook Gitika Saikia, who changed into her traditional Mekhele Chador before kick-starting the program.

She got right into it, starting with the Dau Jwang Sobai Jwang, a Bodo community dish where chicken is cooked with black dal.

As she demonstrated and taught us how to make this dish, she kept us enthralled and entertained with the history and folk tales of Assamese culture.

For those of you interested, here is the recipe of this dish. 

Dau Jwang Sobai Jwang - Chicken with Black Dal

For 4-6 people

Preparation time: 30 minutes


500 gms chicken, skinless, curry cut.
100 gms black dal
Pinch of soda bi-carb
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tbsp ginger - garlic paste
1 bhut jolokia or 2-3 green chillies, chopped
Salt to taste
1 tbsp turmeric powder
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp coriander leaves
1 tbsp black pepper, freshly powdered
2 tbsp mustard oil


1. Boil black dal with pinch of soda bi-carb till cooked
2. In a kadhai, heat mustard oil
3. Add onion, ginger and garlic paste and sauté 
4. Next add bay leaves
5. Add chicken pieces salt and turmeric powder
6. Let it cook till its juices are released
7. Add chillies and cover with lid for 5 minutes
8. Add boiled dal and mix it well
9. Cover with lid and let it simmer for 5-7 minutes
10. Sprinkle black pepper powder and chopped coriander leaves
11. Stir to mix and the dish is ready
12. Serve it hot with rice

Note: Assamese food is characterized by the use of an alkaline filtrate of ash obtained from burning dried fiber of plantain tree. This is used in place of soda while cooking and adds a distinct flavor to the cuisine.

And here is how the dish looked like once it was ready [Pic source: Rhea Mitra Dalal’s food blog]

After that, we moved on to the next item – Dohnaiiong, a special pork dish made in black sesame gravy, a delicacy from Meghalaya. Again Gitika made the dish from scratch, while occasionally pointing out how pork is one of the favorite food of most Northeasterners. Here’s the recipe:

Dohnaiiong - Pork with Black Sesame

For 4-6 people

Preparation time: 30 minutes


500 gms pork belly, boiled and cubed
100 gms black sesame, roasted and powdered
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
3 green chillies, chopped
1 tbsp red chilli paste
Salt to taste
1 tbsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp mustard oil


1. Heat oil in a kadhai
2. Add onion and fry well
3. Add ginger-galric paste and sauté 
4. Add boiled pork, chillies, salt and turmeric
5. Leave to cook for 10-15 minutes till fragrant
6. Add mixture of black sesame powder and water
7. Cover with lid and cook on low flame for 2-5 minutes
8. Occasionally stir in between
9. Dish is ready to be served with plain or sticky rice

And here is how the dish looked like once it was ready - 

After that, we were ready to dine feast!

The rest of the menu had been prepared in advance because you can’t expect someone to make everything right on the spot as that would have taken a lot of time. Here is the entire menu:

Pasa from Arunachal Pradesh: A thin, fish soup with herbs
Mosdeng Serma from Tripura: Chutney made of fermented fish, tomatoes and herbs
Eromba from Manipur: Vegetable with fermented dry fish
Akhuni or Axone from Nagaland: Fermented soya bean chutney
Bai from Mizoram: Dish made by mixing veggies, bamboo shoots and rice
Dohneiiong from Meghalaya: Pork cooked with black sesame in light gravy
Dau Jwng Sobai Jwng from the Bodo community of Assam: Chicken cooked with black dal

For the base, we had sticky rice which is also popular in the North East. This is how it was served -

For appetizers, we were served this delicious drink made from amlakhi (amla) and hilikha (haritaki). 

A very refreshing drink indeed. After that, we all sat together across the table.

First up, was the Pasa, a thin, fish soup with herbs from Arunachal Pradesh.

The taste was divine. The side-serves were also placed in front of us. These include the Mosdeng Serma and Akhuni.

As you can see below, Mosdeng Serma is a fermented dried fish popular in Tripura, and Akhuni is a fermented soya bean chutney popular in Nagaland. We Mizos too have side dishes very similar to these two, with slight variations in taste and method of preparation.

One thing is certain, the preparation of such fermented dishes can be quite… how do I say it… a pungent experience for the untrained nose :) Maybe that was also one of the reasons why Gitika prepared these two dishes well in advance? :D

Soon, the table was filled. Below is Bai from Mizoram. I proudly exclaimed, “Yayyy that’s from my state”, and everybody applauded :P

Yummy food all around…

A POV look of my plate (by the way, click on all photos to enlarge at a new tab).

The white chutney paste you can see is the Eromba from Manipur. There are different types of Eromba, and the one we had yesterday consisted of mashed vegetables, bamboo shoots and fermented fish known as Ngari

After many more servings and spoonfuls of scrumptious delicacies, I was stuffed. And once everybody had their full, dessert was served.

Dessert consisted of puffed rice and small portions of Gitika’s own home-made jaggery. This was mixed with Amul fresh cream, and oh the taste was heavenly. Subtle sweetness went down smoothly and settled down with the spicy pork and chutneys I just had.

The ambience at APB Studio was awesome, and there were a lot of sample containers all around the studio, making it a true foodie’s haven.

Rushina also mentioned that APB Cook Studio conducts corporate cooking programs, cooking competitions, and various other cooking related events.

Once we were all done eating, we spent a lot of time sharing and chatting, mostly about the North East, so I definitely had a field day telling the others about our different cultures and practices. The digestion of food also became a cultural digestion as well. (did I just say that? :D )

The discussion topic also turned to some of the ingredients used in preparing the food that we just ate.

The above leaves are called “bahkhawr” in Mizo, but unfortunately I didn’t know the English name. It is a popular veggie dish or veg condiment in our Mizo society.

Gitika too bought her own bottles of pickles to sell.

I bought a bottle each of Pork pickle and Bhut jolokia, aka Naga chilli aka Raja mirchi aka Ghost pepper among many other names. It was the world’s hottest chilli for many years, but recently moved down to third place [source]

Nevertheless, it is still SPICY as hell! To give you an example of how hot this chilli is, here is a real life experience - I was once travelling from Aizawl to Delhi with my friend Michael Pautu. There was no incident on our Aizawl to Kolkata flight. But on our connecting flight from Kolkata to Delhi, the security guard detected a bottle of Bhut jolokia pickle in Michael’s hand baggage. Even though it was properly sealed, they immediately confiscated it. When we protested, they told us that extremely spicy chillis like Bhut jolokias are banned from carry-on baggage in flight because they can be weaponized and made into a bomb!!!! 

And all this time, I though the only explosion Bhut jolokia can cause is in the loo :D

Here is me having this awesome chilli for breakfast today along with home-made dosas and coconut chutney. Ahhhh the flavor blend was amazingggg!

Hoping to see such activities again soon. I had a truly awesome time. Thank you Rushina and Gitika!

Ps. I’d just like to quickly point out here that when I shared about this event on Facebook, a few people, mostly Northeasterners, criticized me because the entry for this event was priced at Rs. 2500 per head. First of all I’d like to say that I am not a part of the organizers and I had nothing to do with the cost :) Secondly, I can see from a Northeasterner’s point of view that spending 2500 for food they can easily make at home is atrocious. However, let me point out that the target audience for this event was actually non-Northeasterners who had never tasted Northeastern food, somebody who likes to experience different cultures, learn new cuisines and explore a less taken path. Apart from that, the cook not only prepared the dishes but taught the participants how to make them and personally interacted with everyone, explaining in detail about what to add and why. It’s not a typical restaurant model. And then there was the cost of infrastructure, manpower, electricity etc etc. I think 2500 is a reasonable cost if you take all that into consideration.