If you are from India then you are no stranger to Chutneys and Pickles but India being a diverse country the types or varieties of chutneys and pickles can also be mind boggling. My in laws are from the state of Jharkhand thus right after my marriage I kept hearing about chutneys being prepared with Red Ants. Myself being a Bengali I have obviously tasted fish pickle, meat pickle and of course the varieties of vegetable and fruit pickles/chutney but red ants are something which is out of my comfort zone.
But being an avid traveller all these years I have learnt one thing that unless you taste the local food when you visit a place till then you have actually not visited the place in reality. So I have always wanted to taste Red Ant Chutney of Jharkhand, something similar is also prepared by the tribal of Bastar and is known as Chaprah. In the state of Jharkhand especially in Chaibasa is known as Demta, the words demta means ant in the local Mundari language.
Chaibasa also happens to be the place where my father in law actually grew up and his mother still resides there along with my aunt’s in law. I have visited Chaibasa several times after my marriage but unfortunately always been there at the wrong time when the little red ants were not being sold in the local village market. This year however I had made it a point that I will definitely taste demta chutney and thus planned my vacation to Chaibasa accordingly.
This time I had done my homework and already knew that the illusive red ants were already being sold in the market for the last couple of days, these are mainly sold by the villagers who collect them from the forests around Chaibasa. They also happen to speak Mundari which is one of the tribal language from this part of Chotanagpur Plateau and my father in law speaks this language fluently so this time I dragged him in the mid-day heat to search the market for the red ant seller.
Along with me my wife Smita and our daughter Rianna was also with me in this adventure. Initially we could not find any one selling demta and I had almost given up when my wife asked a local vegetable seller in the market and she in turn pointed us to the fish and meat section of the market where these red ants are usually sold.
We go to the designated section and its then Smita spots an old lady selling these red creatures. She was selling demta on leaf for Rs. 10, we decided to buy all the four leaf that was there for sale, its then I realised that she has a metal pitcher where she has more of these. I try to ask her the way to prepare them but she could not understand me, it’s then my father in law steps in and asks her in Mundari about the way its prepared. She informs us that the ants, larva & eggs can be eaten raw directly but the preferred choice of the villagers is with salt and lots of chillies.
Seeing my curiosity the old lady gives me some raw ants and larva to taste, since I had already made up my mind to taste these I had no inhibition and tried a mouth full. It was extremely sour, may be a hundred times more than a raw tamarind. This sourness is due to the presence of Formic Acid, something which the locals claim to have medicinal properties.
We decided to head back home with the red ants and make a chutney out of it, luckily my grandmother in law is somewhat and expert in this and on seeing our catch her eyes lit up. She is well above ninety and can hardly hear properly still her excitement could not be controlled, she took the onus on herself and cleaned the red ants by separating unwanted particles from the red ants and larva. She knew the full recipe which she dictated to Smita and accordingly the chutney was prepared.
The steps are as follows:-
- Clean the ants, eggs and larva by separating them from any unwanted particles
- Wash them and drain out the water
- Add fresh tomato, garlic and chillies to the mix and make a paste with mortar and pestle (Use a Mixer/Grinder alternatively)
- Heat little oil in a pan and add chopped onions, once brown in colour add the mix and give it a light toss, dry the mix in the heat and you are done
Alternately you can just make a paste of ants, salt and chillies to have something much quicker if you want to avoid the above process. The local as mentioned earlier eat them only with salt which I would suggest you must try to get the real feel.
So next time you are in the tribal villages of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh or Odisha remember to try this unique red ant chutney. In my next blog I will tell you through visuals an exotic tribal lunch, so keep reading my blog and bon appétit.