The Himalayan belt has been the birthplace of many exciting dishes. Gundruk and sinki are two fermented foods that have originated in this region. Gundruk is made from leafy vegetables like cauliflower, mustard leaves, etc. Sinki, on the other hand, is prepared from radish tap root. The fermentation process of these veggies is quite unique. Wilted leaves and radishes are first shredded and buried in a sunny place which is later lined with bamboo and straw. The fermented veggies have a sour-acidic taste and are great sources of minerals. Soup made of gundruk and sinki mixed with other fresh vegetables is one of the most popular dishes in Sikkim. The lactic nature of this delicious soup makes it an excellent appetiser.
This flat pancake is one of the most popular breakfast dishes in Odisha. All you need to prepare this is a batter of rice and black gram fermented for 7-8 hours. It won’t be completely wrong to call it a variation of dosa. However, the difference lies in the proportion of ingredients used. This is the secret that makes chakuli pitha healthier, softer and thicker than the conventional dosa. You can also add ingredients like cottage cheese or coconut and make different versions of the same dish. Chakuli pitha is usually enjoyed with spicy potato curry or a sweet accompaniment like jaggery.
The practice of consuming fermented food by people in the Northeast is a reflection of their traditional wisdom. Naturally fermented soybean, known as akhuni or axone, is consumed round-the-year in Nagaland and its neighbouring regions. Farther east (in Nepal), akhuni is known as kinema. Its preparation involves great technique and of course, a lot of patience! Boiled soybeans are wrapped in banana leaves and placed in a bamboo basket such that they receive sufficient smoke and heat from the fireplace. The smoked soybeans are then mashed and wrapped again in leaves to complete the proteolysis process. Akhuni is popular for its ‘smoky’ flavour. Add it to any meat dish or make a pickle out of it – you’ll certainly relish it!
Pazhaya soru kanji or neeragaram is, simply, porridge made with fermented rice. In earlier days, when there were no refrigerators, leftover rice was soaked in water and stored in an earthen clay pot. The idea was to make the most of limited resources and not waste even an ounce of food. This way, fermented rice can be transformed into a brand-new dish in no time. Add some curd and salt along with chopped onions and coriander – and relish every sip of the simple and filling neeragaram! This humble drink is very refreshing and serves as a great coolant in summers. It’s also an excellent source of Vitamin B and potassium which help reduce blood pressure, cure ulcers, and prevent fatigue.
Try adding these dishes to bring variety to your daily menu. Can you recall any other traditional fermented dishes? Please share with us below.