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Mangalsingh Rongphar
Date of Publish: 2016-02-16

TRADITIONAL CUISINE OF THE KARBIS

For the foodies, spice and oil free Indian recipes are the latest fad. The Karbis, a colourful tribe of Assam have been traditionally cooking their food without oil and spice.

In the traditional Karbi dishes sesame seed powder replaces oil and naturally grown herbs like Lopong Leaves are used instead of spice while Jirlang- a kind of garlic, tihaso- a wild turmeric available in the hills, are used for flavour and taste.

There are six methods which the Karbis follow mainly to prepare their food and dishes. These different methods of cooking are Kalangdang or Ki-up, Kangmoi, Kiphi, Kangthu, Kimung and Karnu Pakrengsoi. Both sour and bitter dishes are included in their food system. Meat and dry fish are much favoured by them. Small fish mixed with wine and fermented in bamboo tube is a delicacy. Instead of cooking fresh, raw fish they prefer to dry the fish to make tuman. In the same way some meat, specially venison and the meat of  wild mithun called chai are either dried in the sun or above the fire and preferred to cook with variety of vegetable in alkali solution. Pork is also dried in the same way and when cooked after two-three days, it becomes tastier – which the Karbis like to relish. Different kinds of leaves, herbs, flowers and seeds are also dried and persevered for off season use.

 The method of cooking of the Karbi Traditional food and dishes are as follows:

  1. Kalangdang : To cook fish – Meat and vegetable without any oil is called Kalangdang. In this method, vegetable, Meat etc are cooked in measured amount of water with ginger, garlic, sesame seed powder, turmeric and salt. Pork, chicken, fish are often cooked in this process by the Karbi people.

Pork cooked with sour bamboo shoots is a special dish relished by them. Pork is cooked with the bamboo shoots in a small amount of water with ginger-garlic, jirlang, Chilli, Salt and lastly with lopong leaves. In place of turmeric and lopong leaves, sesame seed powder is used to cook pork with sour bamboo shoot.

In the same way chicken dish is also prepared as Kalangdang with the usual ingredients of ginger- garlic, salt etc. Vegetables like pumpkin, gourd etc are added with chicken. Fish is also prepared with sour bamboo shoots with the ingredient of kalangdang as ginger, garlic, lopong leaves, salt etc.

  1. Kangmoi: The method of cooking, using water and alkali solution is called kangmoi. The karbis cook yams, papaya, brinjal, pumpkin along with other food grains in alkali. Small dried fishes are often added to it along with sesame powder, in kangmoi dishes. Dried venison with brinjal cooked in alkali is a special dish of the karbis. Block gram and pork cooked in alkali is another favourite of the people.
  2.  Kimung : Cooking vegetable , fish or meat properly mixed with ginger, garlic, and raw turmeric paste, chili, salt in a bamboo  tube is  called kimung. The Karbi cook pork, chicken and fish in this process. Banana leaves or loru leaves are used to roll up the meat or fish along with other seasoning ingredients and put into a raw- soft bamboo tube with the mouth closed loosely with banana leave, then heated on the fire. Rice is also cooked in this process with the rice rolled up in banana leaves with a little water. Dal and tea can also be prepared in this process.
  3. Kangthu:- In this process meat , fish , vegetables and all the seasoning ingredients with lopong leaves mixed properly and wrapped in banana leaves, and then cooked directly on hot charcoals. The Karbi people like to prepare small fish in this process. A kind of small mushroom called musi is also prepared in this method and considered very special.
  4. Kiphi :- To cook meat or fish on hot charcoals in called Kiphi . The big fishes found in the hill-streams and pork are cooked this way and much loved by the Karbi people.
  5. Karnu Pakrengsoi :- it is the process of cooking without using oil and by stirring dry on the pans. Especially herbs are cooked in this process. Salt and smashed garlic cloves are stirred dry before cooking the herbs. It gives a unique flavour to the dishes.  The inclusion of sour and bitter dishes in the meal is common among the Karbis. The sour dishes of hanserong and hanche are favourites to the people. Hanserong is cooked with either dry fish or pork . Hanche leaves are cooked with dry fish and stems of tara plants. Pork, Fish are also cooked with hanche . From the bitter dishes mention may be made of jok-an flowers, small fruits of riho , theso – keho and theso- rongman cooked with other vegetables or boiled and mashed to eat as chutney. The bitter theso – rongman, hanserong with onion, salt, chilies and brinjal are cooked together as kalangdang and eaten by the people as a special dish. . The Karbis collect and use different leaves, herbs; roots found in the hills and use them in their traditional cooking.  Dungkek , tara , hanthu , mehek , phi kangnek , phi langdung , wosopiban , han  wo –ok , chosot , han sangbi , han risang , han thai , han bipo , therklung are few to name which they collect from the wild . But now some of these plants and herbs are planted in the kitchen gardens like the jok -an plant, riho, hanche etc. The Karbi people love mushrooms and since ancient times they have identified the edible types of mushrooms found in the forest and named them according to their varieties. So casualty relating to wild mushroom consumption is rarely heard among the Karbi people. Mu- sokpung, Mu plong , Mulokso , Murik , Mu Arnam , Mu phlak phlak , Musi and mufang are the kinds of mushroom eaten by the Karbis people. They cook mushroom either as kangmoi or kangthu . The Karbis eat different kinds of yam and potatoes as curry and also eat them boild or roasted to serve with red tea. Rui pharkong , rui dok , rui chelong , rui sudo , rui loru , rui patom , rui lobong etc , are cultivated in the jhum fields. Hentong , hen dongdar, hensek, hen mek-ang, hensek meklok, hen keme , hen pongsi , hen kove and  thamenai -ahen are kinds of yam cultivated by the Karbis in the hills. Over and above these, the Karbis also eat eddi larva, ingket – a kind of insect found in dead tree stems, larva of bees and ants. Other special food items of the Karbis include chicken cooked with rice powder, which is prepared during religious ceremonies when chickens are used as offering to the gods. Pork cooked with yam and sour bamboo shoot, pork  with yam leaves, chicken cooked with ripe pumkin , gourds , fish with a kind of long yam called hendongdar and bamboo shoot, pork with black grams, hanthu, mehek leaves with yam and dry fish in alkali , are some of the special dishes. Rice powder cooked with the fats of sacrificed swine mixed with raw turmeric paste in a delicacy prepared during chojun festival which is called Sirja. Sangfer, sangduk , sangbob , him are prepared from rice to be taken as light meals . They are also an essential part of marriage and other religious ceremonies. Tamir is a kind of food grain which is cultivated in the hills to be taken with tea after drying and turning them  into puffs over a slow fire . Wine is also a part and parcel of Karbi society, which is consumed at every social event as a tradition. Wine is brewed by the womenfolk at home in their traditional method. They prepare three types of wine called Horpo, Horlang and arrak. Horpo, Horlang in traditional container made from dried wild gourd is used in ceremonies, and is considered an honoured gift and offered to special guests. 

Mangalsingh Rongphar

( Mangalsingh Rongphar is a freelance writer and an Extension Officer in the Panchayat and Rural Development Department, Assam )

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