Gitika Saikia’s Na-Khuwa Bhooj and discovering Assamese food

Trying Assamese tribal food would be my biggest adventure this year. I had two traditionally festive meals, learnt about the local xaak – saag and vegetables, ate my first bug – yes, a very crunchy and very nutty silkworm, and popped a spoonful of bhut jolokia pickle in my mouth – accidentally of course (I got few extra servings of rice beer to wash it down).

Na-Khuwa Bhooj at Gitika's Pakghor

Na-Khuwa Bhooj at Gitika’s Pakghor Image Courtesy – Junisha Dama

It’s been tremendously gratifying to attend Gitika’s pop-up sessions peppered with her stories about her food and culture. While the last one was a Rongali Bihu meal in April-May to celebrate the new year and the harvest, this time I went for her winter special – the Na-Khuwa Bhooj which marks the winter harvest of paddy. The festival is celebrated by the tribes in Assam during the November-December harvest. Rice being the most important crop in a rural home, relatives and neighbours are invited over for a meal; they believe that the first harvest shouldn’t be eaten alone. Continue reading

Tribal Assamese Cuisine and Gitika’s Pakghor

Assamese cuisine is not all about momos or pork.

““A tribal Assamese bride is served rice beer 9 times by nine relatives””, Gitika Saikia tells us while we drink the sweet beer. ““Imagine a tipsy bride at the end of the ceremony””, she chuckles. Xaj or rice beer is made specifically during Bihu and offered to priests in a pooja conducted for departed souls. The catch here is that the ceremony should be conducted secretly and the neighbours shouldn’t know about it. However, the beer is served to everyone (including neighbours) once the rituals are over.

Silkworm Pupae Stirfry Photo Credits: Gitika's Pakghor

Silkworm Pupae Stirfry
Photo Credits: Gitika’s Pakghor

Like their traditions, Axomiya (tribal Assamese) food too is unconventional. It’s more rustic than the food eaten in the urban region of Assam. A regular tribal meal – which differs from tribe to tribe and geographic location – consists of rice, spicy chutney, vegetable, smoked fish or meat cooked with vegetables.

Mumbai got a taste of tribal Assamese food last year when Gitika Saikia of Gitika’’s Pakghor quit her corporate job to host pop-up meals at her house. You might have seen pictures of her Polu Leta (silkworm pupae stir fry) and Amlori (red ant eggs with hen eggs) doing rounds on Facebook food groups. Saikia belongs to Sonowal Kachari tribe but her food has a strong influence from the Bodo tribe, thanks to her in-laws. Continue reading

Recipe – Makhane Ki Sabzi

You guys know how much I am influenced by my mom’s cooking. Her ability to consistently churn out the same recipe with same precision year after year is what blows me over. One of such recipes is this Makhane ki Sabzi. Makhana or Lotus Nut is one of the most beautiful yet underused ingredients according to me. Usually it’s fried and eaten as an evening snack or added in panjiri and kheer. While there are various regional recipes, I have rarely seen restaurant menus using it creatively. Coming back to the recipe, this sabzi was a hit among my parents’ friends and we’d host special dinners and lunches where she made makhane ki sabzi and naan. Trust me, no one even cared for chicken and mutton. Yup, it’s that good.You can also check out this recipe on Local Banya‘s blog and if you intend to cook it go buy the ingredients from their aisle right away.

Ingredients:
100 gms makhana (chopped)
25 raisins (chopped)
10 cashew nuts (chopped)
10 almonds (chopped)
4 chuhara (chopped)
50 gms green peas
2 dry red chillies
2 green cardamom
1 clove
1/2 inch piece of cinnamon
2 tbsp ghee
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp pepper powder
Salt to taste

Method:

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Holi Recipe – Nutella Stuffed Coconut Laddoo

I am back with another Holi recipe and this time it’s in association with Local Banya. I am the #BloggerBanya of the month on their blog and will create two recipes for them with the ingredients bought from their aisles. You can read more about me as #BloggerBanya here and can also checkout the recipe here.There’s so much fun in making colourful food especially during Holi. My mom used to make these saffron, white and green coconut laddoos every year and even though I don’t like coconut sweets much, I would eat the laddoos happily. I’ve added a little twist to that recipe with a surprise ingredient – yup, It’s Nutella. Imagine what would life be if Michel Ferrero wouldn’t have created this magic spread. Yeah, yeah! We would’ve still been thinner but also so-so unhappy. So this recipe is revisiting my childhood Holi and a little tribute to the chocolate genius.

Ingredients:
250 gms dry coconut powder
200 gms Nestle Milkmaid100 gms Nutella (you won’t use it all)1 tsp each of saffron and green food colours (use natural colours if you’re allergic to synthetic stuff)50 gms dry coconut powder (to coat the laddoos)

Method:

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Exploring Lucknow’s Vegetarian Side

Lucknow, like any other small Indian town, is a slow city. A city which runs at its own pace, lazily. There are few things that’ll get the city folks up and running. But mention Netram Ajay Kumar’s jalebi and you’ll find them dressed, out of the house, on their two wheelers in a flash, that too early in the morning. The more than 100 year old shop (it’s been there since 1854) in the middle of Aminabad has been a favourite of many generations. A huge

crowd waiting for golden jalebis and khasta in the morning boasts of its popularity. It’s one thing to eat the thick, crisp, sugar syrup loaded jalebis at Netram and another thing to watch them being made. The old halwai, sitting with a composure that’ll shame the trained chefs, drops batter from a brass tumbler into hot oil with quick flicks of his wrist. Ask him to pose for a pick and he’ll do it with an ease of a filmstar, while still doing his job at the same speed. To balance out the sweetness of jalebis there’s khasta – deep fried flaky pastry stuffed with urad dal paste, served with spicy chhole, chutneys and onions. The khasta-jalebi breakfast is what Lucknow wakes up to, almost every day.


While Netram holds the reigns where jalebi is concerned, there are multiple favourites for khasta. Some for quality and other for pure nostalgia. Durga Khasta Corner in Hussainganj is another popular khasta joint where you’ll find a huddle of guys getting their morning fix or getting khastas packed for the whole family. The USP here is the pasty chhole scooped over hot khastas. 

At Netram, breakfast gets over by 10 and the shop gets ready for lunch. Puffed kachoris

stuffed with urad dal bobbing in hot oil, practiced hands making imartis and constant orders of kachori thali is what an afternoon looks like here. The thali has four crisp, double fried kachoris, potato curry, dry pumpkin sabzi, dry potato and cauliflower sabzi, bottle gourd raita and sweet chutney – the last one is so good it’ll make you take some home. Ask nicely and the waiter will happily pack some for you. Wrap up this meal with imarti or ras malai.

Want to make the Kachori Thali at Home? Check out recipe here.

As the Sun sets the city gets ready to take on the varity of chaat sold at every nook and corner. A hop, skip and jump away from Netram there’s a small shop at the corner of the street, Shree Kalika Chaat House. They’re making chaat since the days of my grandfather and great grandfather and the size of the shop and quality of food is still intact. Try the pani ke batashe here with spicy and tangy pani. The papdi chaat is a package of flavours – flat and crisp puris topped with potato, boiled white peas, red chutney, green chutney and a special masala sprinkled on top. The matar ki tikki, a Lucknow speciality is a simple preparation of pan fried boiled white peas garnished with chaat masala, green coriander and a spritz of lime. Don’t leave without eating their gulab jamuns – small, bite sized and full of sugar syrup. Walk exactly 10 steps to Prakash Kulfi for one of the best kulfis in Lucknow. The shop has been there since ages and serves just one flavour – kesar pista


If you loved Kalika’s chaat, wait till you go to Pt. Ramnarayan Tiwari Chaat Wala in Ganeshganj. The old shop is divided between two brothers so make sure you go to the one on the right. The chaat at Tiwari needs your complete attention so be suffeciently hungry and not in a rush. Start from pani ke batashe right outside the shop. The crisp batashas are filled with boiled white pea and spicy-tangy water in four different flavours – hing (asafoetida), lime, sweet with tamarind and a spicy one. Try the hing one and you’ll go for the second plate. All the waters have right amount of tang and spice. Once you’ve laid the geoundwork for the evening with batashas, move on to matar ki tikki – the one served here is better, crispier and spicier than Kalika. Aloo ki  tikki with whisked yogurt, sweet chutney garnished with thin potato wafers, green coriander and chaat masala is a burst of flavours. The dahi wadas are good too but the curd is tad too sweet sometimes. If you manage to save some stomach space after the tikki have a grand finish with tokri chaat – it’s a basket of deep fried potatoes stuffed with aloo tikki, wada, papdi, dahi, chutney and garnished with pomegranate, chopped coriander and chaat masala. Lucknow takes immense pride in its tokri chaat so yes, go for it. 

Another famous chaat place here is Royal Cafe in Hazratganj. It’s said that in the good old

days ordering food from Royal Cafe was the sign of being wealthy. You can try the chaat if you’re in the area. However, I’d still suggest that you go to Tiwari. But while you are Ganjing (roaming around in Hazratganj is called that) go and eat the dahi wadas at Gupta – a small wagon which is parked right outside Vallabhbhai Park in the evening. His dahi wadas are chilled, soft with creamy dahi.

Want to take a break from the chaat? Go to Burma Bakery in Ganj and buy their butter biscuits, cake rusk and jeera biscuit. 

One of the best things about eating in North India is the dhaba experience, and no I don’t mean a fancy restaurant dressed up as dhaba. I mean the real experience where you get in, eat and get out. Pappu Da Dhaba near Lucknow University is one such place; famous among students and working bachelors for its cheap and homely food. It’s a small eatery on the road side with rickety wooden tables and benches where strangers share tables. The menu rotates and has dal, a dry sabzi, a paneer dish, egg curry, kadhi on some days and soft tandoori roti. The food is simple, not very spicy and unlike regular dhabas low on oil. You also get ande ki bhujiya with bread and parathas for breakfast. 

Lucknow is definitely a city rich with non-vegetarian food – kebabs, biryani, curries and kormas. But for every non-vegetarian dish there’s an equally good vegetarian dish which I am trying to explore. More when I visit my hometown next.