With over 25 known tribes, and several sub-tribes, locals say Arunachal Pradesh is a treasure trove for any food and travel enthusiast.
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Junu Elapra will witness many tourists visit Ziro Valley later this week, as the Arunachal Pradesh local, who currently works as a teacher there along with many others welcome music festival attendees who will flock to the region for the Ziro Music Festival. She expresses, "The village comes alive with music, art, and cultural performances during this time." While she isn't a native of the area, as she hails from Roing, Elapra has been living in the Ziro for close to six years now, and her experience is one of many people who have been welcoming tourists since the festival came to life in 2012.
Every year, the Ziro Music Festival has been taking place in the Arunachal Pradesh village for the last 11 years. This year, it is all set to begin from September 28 and will go on till October 1. As people have booked their tickets and are set to stay there for the next week and more, they may want to indulge in local food and drink. Yes, the internet has many guides, but what is better than mid-day.com getting locals from Arunachal Pradesh to share their food and travel guide for visitors?
These include dishes from the local cuisines and sight-seeing spots that you can enjoy while you visit the northeastern state, and Elapra is one of the locals. Interestingly, Arunachal Pradesh boasts of many dishes that change from tribe to tribe, like many other regions in India, and that is what makes their food unique. With over 25 known tribes, and several sub-tribes, locals say it is a treasure trove for any food and travel enthusiast.
Eating in the Ziro Valley
For those who absolutely love some of the more popular dishes from the entire region, the 30-year-old says travellers can start with momos, chowmein, chicken lollipops, or even pani puri, along with fritters made from onions, capsicum and potato, or plain besan, respectively; there are also potato, bread, and egg-based cutlets, along with a dish made from spicy puffed rice with boiled peas, gram, lemon, and spices. "Most of the dishes in the local cuisine are from rice and millets, and dried, fermented or fresh bamboo, along with local herbs. We also make use of pork, chicken, mithun (local water buffalo) and beef during the preparation of local cuisines," she explains.
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Like Elapra, Takhe Yami is another native who is going to be closest to the festival. Yami is from the Apatani tribe, which calls the Ziro Valley its home. The 37-year-old, who hails from the Hong village and got married into the Hija village, says there is a lot to explore within the cuisine, especially for people who love experiencing different dishes. She explains, "We eat locally available plain rice with boiled green vegetables, some of the other dishes primarily include pikke-pila (pork/beef), bacon (pork), and roasted beef too. We also enjoy eating kaji, which is rice cooked in pork broth, and sudu, which has different ingredients like chicken, eggs, chicken mixed with egg, which is cooked with bamboo. We also enjoy different fried versions of fish, which are available locally, boiled or cooked in sudu, and millet cake too."
Yami says people who are visiting should definitely get their hands on some Tanii Yatan, which is rice flour cooked in bamboo, steamed or fried, to become a local biscuit. As far as local spirits are concerned, then one must definitely taste the local wine that is made from different ingredients including millet, kiwi, plum, pear, peach, as well as âO', the local rice beer or the local vodka.
Exploring Nocte cuisine
Elsewhere, Warian Aboh, a student from the Pasighat region is from the Nocte community in Arunachal Pradesh, travellers coming to the state any time now should definitely try out dishes with yam or kochu, locally called âbang' and âtoh doh', as they are easily available in local restaurants.
The 21-year-old shares, "People can look for dishes made of yam, which are made in two different ways - either by boiling or roasting it." Aboh relishes the boiled version of the dish, which is mixed with black pepper, local salt (sum nyak), nam(local powder), and chillies. "Toh doh is a favourite snack of the people in my community. We eat it till the limit of our appetite," he says gleefully, continuing, "There are actually two types of Toh called Toh Nyong (mother toh), and tu cha, which is smaller in size. While we usually roast Toh nyong, eat it as a snack, we boil Tu cha and have it with local masalas, just like yam."
While Aboh is a local even though Aabhishek Bedi Varma is from Assam, Arunachal Pradesh will always be close to his heart. A few years ago, he had the opportunity to work in the state for close to three years, and during that time learned a lot about the local cuisines from locals. Having worked with a project in the west Kameng hills in Tenga Valley, he shares, "Arunachali cuisine consists of a lot of fresh greens, foraged jungle herbs, smoked meat, fermented food and a lot of bamboo shoot. In the state of Arunachal, the food is mostly always preferred boiled, smoked, poached or fried."
Celebrating Arunachal Pradesh's cuisine
The Assam-based chef-restaurateur, who is the co-owner of âLush' in Guwahati, highlights that some of the most important ingredients in the cuisine from all his conversations with locals over the years are bamboo shoots, which are fermented and used extensively across the state; the pikke pille chutney is consumed almost every other day. He explains, "Pilla is the main ingredient, which is water distilled through the ashes of plants, usually banana peel or wild grass. It is labelled pilla when it's not cooked, and then it is additionally flavoured with fresh chillies, tomatoes, fermented pork belly fat. The fermented pork belly fat is roasted and mixed with pilla. Pikke is the cooked version, where bamboo shoot slivers, smoked meat is cooked with the Pilla."
Bringing together the best of both worlds, Varma, who is also a visiting faculty member at IHM Guwahati says the bamboo rice is also another popular dish that people can indulge in while they are there; the Khamti La is another type of rice popular eaten in the region and has even received a Geographical Identification (GI) tag. The rice, which is cooked inside the hollow of the bamboo shoot, has a delightful smoky and sweet flavour. Along with the rice, the state also boasts of lukter, which is basically cooked dried cuts of meat with king chilli (bhut jolokia) flakes. When one gets an opportunity, they should definitely try these dishes out along with pehak, which is made from fermented soya beans and chillies. He further adds, "While you are there, you must also try the Chura Sabji. It is a beloved dish in Arunachal Pradesh, which features fermented cheese crafted from either yak milk or cow's milk. Its unique and delicious flavour is enhanced by the addition of king chilli flakes, imparting a spicy kick to this regional delicacy."
Even as they celebrate the vegetarian dishes, locals love their meat preparations too. Most importantly, Varma highlights how mithun is revered in the state and actually a status symbol, with that being said, the curry made out of it is extremely tasty. "It is cooked with local spices and herbs, and the curry is typically served with rice," he shares, continuing, "People also eat another dish called Smoked Mithun meat with boiled bamboo shoots. Cooked with ginger, garlic, chillies, smoked mithun meat and bamboo shoots is a wholesome broth that is one of a kind."
While chicken is widely consumed, even pork is much loved, and among many dishes that change from region to region, Varma says he does know that locals consume smoked pork meat with bamboo shoots and foraged local greens that are added to a pot and made into a stew. The Pork Lukter, which has smoked strips of pork, and is cooked with King Chilli (bhut jholokia) is a must-try. On the other hand, he believes the chicken-based Wungwut Naam depicts the culinary artistry of Arunachal Pradesh and should definitely be on your list of dishes to eat while in the state. "This delicacy showcases a time-honoured technique, wherein rice undergoes a meticulous process of roasting and transformation into a finely powdered form. It serves as a delectable and exotic escape for those yearning for a chicken-based culinary adventure. The piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance lies in the roasted rice flour, enveloping the chicken to bestow a delightful texture.
It is not only the red meats but also the white meats that are enjoyed to the fullest in Arunachal Pradesh. He says seafood lovers should definitely try out Pasa, a greenish fish soup that is a combination of many ingredients but more importantly is full of flavour. "To impart a distinctive greenish hue to this soup, the secret lies in the infusion of the juice derived from a local leaf known as 'ooriam' (Khumpatt)," he adds. If you are adventurous, the state also boasts of delicacies made from rats, wild boar and deer meat.
As always, it is impossible to end a meal without desserts, and even though, his knowledge of desserts is quite limited, Varma says locals recommend trying out the Koat Pitha, which is a version of the fritters made from ripe bananas, rice flour and jaggery; and is enjoyed widely as a snack in the northeast state.
For those who like to indulge in local liquor, Arunachal Pradesh has quite a few options that include apong, chhang and rice beer, more popularly called 'O' that one can enjoy, while they are there. He explains, "While Apong is made from fermented rice and enjoyed during the festivals and social gatherings, chhang is traditional beverage crafted from rice, barley and millets and has a refreshing coolness and tantalising pungency. The rice beer is made from local rice cooked then mixed with millets and the yeast then made from the rice itself is introduced into the mix and stored in a dark place to ferment for months."
Being a responsible tourist
While there is a lot of food to relish in the state and in the Ziro Valley, Elapra reminds that tourists have to remember to be respectful towards everything around them. She explains, "When visiting Arunachal Pradesh, it is crucial to respect the surroundings and local culture. Some tips include seeking permission before taking photos of people, not disturbing wildlife, and disposing of trash responsibly. Also, be mindful of local customs and traditions, such as dressing modestly and removing your shoes before entering homes or temples, and avoid taking so-called ânatural souvenirs'."
At the same time, the 30-year-old says supporting the local economy is always encouraged and that would mean indulging in many different kinds of experiences along the way. As most people will be spending quite a few days in the state, beyond food, Elapra also recommends some local sight-seeing spots. "While in Ziro, you should visit Siikhe and Seeh Lake, Kasa Viewpoint, Taw Tiibe, Ziro Puto (a high vantage point for scenic views), and the Talley Valley Wildlife Sanctuary for its lush greenery. You can also explore the local villages and their unique architecture," she concludes.