In our pursuit to be familiar with the diverse canvas of the traditional Assamese cuisine, especially the local and rustic dishes, we were joined by a person who is an authority on the Assamese cuisine. He is none other than Chef Atul Lahkar who has travelled for years through the length and breadth of the state to document the traditional recipes of different tribes and communities.
Our food explorations began with the visit to the Narangi bazaar, the local vegetable and fish market from where Chef Atul loves to procure his ingredients for cooking. We were there to buy some fresh ingredients which would then be transformed into some delectable dishes by the magical touch of the chef. On Sundays, this market gets a special stock from the local communities including the small-time vegetable growers who grow them in their backyards.
After buying the essentials we went to his house for cooking a few of the traditional dishes. It was a lovely house interspersed with green spots. The open kitchen area was a beautiful space. In no time Chef Atul got the ingredients ready and began cooking. He prepared three rustic dishes for us that he had collected from different communities. These included the pabho masor logot khorisha (pabho fish cooked with bamboo shoots), lai xaakor logot kukuda mankho (country chicken cooked with mustard greens) and dhekiya xaakor alu bhaji (Potato and fiddlehead fern fry). He also gave us insightful details about the less popular side of Assamese cuisine as found in different tribes and communities across the state.
Before sitting down for lunch we tasted the rice wine, a strong and concentrated alcoholic drink that was made from rice and herbs. With 70% alcohol content, it was very intense. The lunch spread included steamed rice, dal, and the dishes that we had cooked. Everything was simple, subtle yet lip-smacking. We are immensely grateful to Chef Atul for treating us to such a soul-satisfying meal. This nuanced culinary sojourn of Assam’s food scenario was indeed a pleasant revelation. We would also like to thank Sishir for his inputs.