I have asked many Chinese friends whether the Chinese that we eat is actually Chinese. Many of them have smiled and replied that it’s not that real Chinese-Chinese. Similarly, when it comes to Tribal Food there are a lot of misconception. Most think that the tribal food is dominated by pork or other meat items. It’s actually not, on the contrary, the majority of the tribal population especially in the central and eastern part of India consume more of vegetables, rice, and pulses.
So this blog is dedicated to my wife who after marriage always thought that we Bengalis have extremely spiced up food with lots of masalas and oil. Last year when I went to meet my grandmother in law my wife ensured that I get the taste of real Tribal Chota Nagpuri food.
To start with the main component of the diet is rice, not the white polished rice that we are used to seeing but Red Rice, these have more fibres and contains the best that rice can offer. To be more specific the husk has been removed from the rice using the thresher (Dheki) that most houses will have in their back yard. Earthen pots are used to boil the rice and wood fire is used to heat them. Needless to say that firewood is quite in abundance thus it’s the most common source of fuel.
With red rice, the most staple side dish is Arhar Daal/Toor Daal (Pigeon Pea). Most of the families do not have the luxury to have another side dish thus rice and daal are the most common food that is consumed.
Chota Nagpur region is mostly covered in forest with some patches of cultivating the land. Though vegetables are grown in these cultivating land but the produce is usually sold in the wholesale or local markets. Thus, the locals do not usually get to eat what we eat. The best example would be that of Munga Saag (Drumstick – Moringa Oleifera), we are used to eating the fruit (seeds) in curry but this was for the first time I had the opportunity to eat the leaves.
The leaves of the tree are washed and smashed with hand to make them even smaller, after this it’s just boiled and some potatoes are added to it along with salt. This becomes like a saag with quite a bitter taste. These are eaten along with red rice and daal.
Not only the left but the flower of Drumstick tree are also eaten. These can be eaten fried or can be mixed in a batter and deep-fried.
There is also the Koinar Saag (Phanera Variegate), similarly like drumstick both the leaves and flowers are eaten.
The next item was something I had no clue about, it is Sanai Flower, and these are also fried and eaten along with rice. These tasted wonderful but I was completely taken aback when I learnt that these are actually flowers of Jute (Corchorus) plant.
Another interesting side dish was the Bamboo Shoot Pickle. I had the misconception that bamboo shoot was only popular in the northeastern part of the country but it seems the locals love the bamboo shoot pickle which has been marinated in various spices and then left in the sun to dry. This pickle can also be eaten with roti (flat bread).
Talking about pickled I cannot forget the Red Ant Chutney, I have earlier written a detailed blog about it. During the season the locals like a good dollop of this chutney with their rice.
Nenua (Sponge Gourd) is another common item which is eaten both as fired as well as a curry. This vegetable is popular in several states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh so it cannot be exactly limited to this region.
The next item would be something new to most of you, it’s a potato that grows on the tree, locally knows as the Aru (Dioscorea Bulbifera) is from the yam family and grows in quite an abundance in some regions. These are boiled and made a curry and eaten along with rice.
Next, there is Marwa which most of us know by the name of Ragi or Finger Millet (Eleusine Coracana). These are used in making flat bread as well as used in baking also. I have tasted wonderful Marwa Christmas Cake wish tastes quite good.
In terms of snack, Dhuska is the most common snack, these are made of a wet grind mix of ground Rice and Chana Daal (Chickpea). The wet mix is then deep fried and eaten along with a potato curry or meat curry.
Finally coming to the non-veg part, we all know Pork is the favourite meat and when cooked with the right masalas it’s a real killer. Other than this fish is also quite popular and the best is when I am served Puti (Puntius Sophore) with rice.
Finishing the post with some fruits and the first thing that comes to my mind are Lychee, Mango & Custard Apple. I remember during one of my long drive from Ranchi to Chaibasa I came to a point where there were rows of custard apple trees on both the sides. These grow in abundance and can be easily plucked by hand.
Finishing this blog on a sweet note and if you are in Jharkhand you must try Arsa, this snack is more prominent in the villages of eastern India, made with rice flour, coconut, fennel seeds etc. these come in two varieties, one made with white sugar and the other made with jaggery. The mixed concussion is deep-fried in oil and served to the guests. My introduction to these came from my in law’s place.
What I have mentioned above is not an exhaustive list but a list of few preparations which I have managed to taste during my visit. There are numerous other food preparations also which I will keep adding to this list as and when I get the opportunity to taste them personally. Hope you have enjoyed my blog and do remember to visit Jharkhand and taste the real authentic tribal food.