Asom, as the catch line goes, is virtually a paradise unexplored; a land of diverse cultures, traditions and unparalleled beauty and grandeur. The very place, the people and the flora and cuisine combine to make the State an art connoisseur’s paradise in the truest sense of the term. Not only nature has been bountiful to Asom but the people themselves are beautiful. Their natural grace, love for beauty, song and dance is renowned all over the world. And when we are talking about the richness of Asomiya culture, how can we possible leave out the mouth-watering yet nutritious fares that the Asomiyas lay out on their dining tables?
It would not be wrong to say that every cuisine, barring Chinese and Indian that is, in this world has an acquired taste. Asomiya cuisine is different though. The simplicity of Asomiya cuisine and the charming rusticity surrounding its preparation definitely adds to it a primitive charm, which is typical and distinctively Asomiya. Despite its singular traits and manifold benefits which elevate Asomiya cuisine to an altogether different league, it is indeed sad to note that our rich fares have not been properly showcased in front of the global food aficionados, unlike other Indian cuisine which enjoy tremendous popularity all across the world. All this is set to change with Jyoti Das’s latest book on ethnic Asomiya cuisine, Ambrosia…from the Assamese kitchen.
The first comprehensive cookbook on Asomiya cuisine, Ambrosia…from the Assamese kitchen presents an array of delectable dishes that reflects the variegated hues of Asom. Jyoti’s knowledge of Assamese dishes stems from her profound understanding of Asomiya culture and tradition, which come to life in the pages of the book. With this book, Jyoti has compiled the story of her entire life as an Asomiya housewife, a daughter and a mother. The remarkable clarity with which she has listed the different types of food by relating them to events in her life is worth mentioning.
Right from the evergreen Kholoasapori Pithas (Rice pancake) and Posolar Khar (Banana Stem Alkali) to the more discernible Baahor Chungat Khorisa Diya Bhaat (Fermented bamboo shoot rice in a bamboo hollow); from the customary Outengar Machor Tenga to the more exclusive Pithagurir logot gahori manxo (Pork with rice powder), Ambrosia… from the Assamese kitchen has it all. As I said before, this is not just a cook book for one can discern the very flavour of the State in each and every page of this compilation. Besides making important historical references in the evolution of the State’s cuisine, Jyoti has also listed down some highly useful tips which she garnered over her long stint in the Asomiya kitchen.
Jyoti Das is a very familiar name in the field of Northeastern gastronomies. Her culinary skills and efforts at popularising regional fare in the global arena have earned her a place in the list of eminent personalities of Shillong. She recounts, “It was only after my marriage that I took a serious interest in cooking.” It was her husband Ashok Das’s second posting in the oil colony of Moran that prompted Jyoti to take a keener interest in the lives of the people in and around the oil township. It was there that she got acquainted with traditional ethnic cuisine of the various communities of the State which is evident as she says, “Being brought up in urban environs, we seldom got the chance to get acquainted with our rich traditional fare. I still remember learning the method of preparing Poka Mithoi (Rice powder and Jaggery Balls) from a sweeper in the oil colony of Moran. Though his method of preparation was very crude, I still regard him as my teacher.” And therein started Jyoti’s tryst with Asomiya cuisine, learning and relearning, improvising and making value additions, till she was satisfied that she had prepared the real ambrosia.
Besides being a connoisseur of good food, Jyoti also draws a lot of inspiration from her social work. Her social activities took her to different pockets of Assam; sometimes to the interiors of the State. She has been associated with a blind school in Moran for the last nine years apart from running a school for tiny tots there for eight long years. At present she works as a volunteer teacher at Sishu Sarathi, a school for spastic students at Guwahati. It was her forays that gave her the opportunity to experience the varied tastes of the different communities and pick up the finer nuances from each of them. “Living in an oil township helped me to enhance my culinary skills. I got exposed to the culture of various communities and I learnt a lot that way.”
Jyoti’s love for her children is the only thing that overrides her love for cooking though cooking runs a common chord with all the family members. And as her daughter Rakhi says, “Good food is a tradition in our family.” Both her children are avid lovers of their mother’s recipe and it would not be wrong to say that they were primarily responsible for inspiring their mother to write a book on Asomiya cuisine. Her son Ravi who is a professional in Delhi says, “There are a lot of professionals and students like us who are staying out of the State. I’m sure that each and every Asomiya misses the food of their land and I personally felt the need for a book which lists down the method of preparation of our various food items. Also due to the change in the food trends of the people and the preference for simple and nutritional food, Asomiya food is definitely in. This book is bound to project Asomiya cuisine in front of the world in a positive manner.”
Jyoti’s other works on Assamese culinary include Aponar Akhilot Chinese Byanjon (into its second edition) and Manxhar Vividh Byanjon, which have been very well received by the readers of the State. She also regularly writes food-columns, short stories and articles for various newspapers and periodicals. Jyoti is presently working on her website www.assamcuisine.com besides experimenting on a fusion of traditional Asomiya cuisine with the fare of the western world. Ambrosia…from the Assamese kitchen has been published by Rupa publications and the foreward has been written by Victor Banerjee. Besides her family members, the author says that she is indebted to litterateur Dr. Birendra Nath Dutta for his constant guidance and encouragement.