Northeastern Indian Cuisine - From Bhut Jolokia to Butter Tea


By: Soumya Jain Agarwal

Posted on: April 26, 2019

Northeastern Indian cuisine Bhutanese style asparagus and thai chili datchiIf there is one thing I have learnt to love about India after living in the United States, it is India’s diversity. Whether it is in terms of festivals, languages, landscapes or food. You don’t find that much multiplicity in America. 

Within India also, probably, the most diverse region is the Northeastern region, about which we all perhaps know the least. 

Composed of the Seven Sister states – Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura, Assam, Manipur, and Mizoram – the Northeastern region is house to hundreds of tribes, each preserving their own dialect and dishes. So imagine then the richness of culture and cuisines that can be found here!

Giving a small, but rare glimpse of that is The Trident hotel in Mumbai. Chef Kezang Kirat Rai, currently heading the kitchen of threesixtythreeo at The Oberoi Grand in Kolkata, has travelled to Mumbai to recreate and serve some authentic Northeastern Indian dishes at India Jones. And we are simply intrigued.

Chef Kezand Kirat Rai Oberoi Grand Kolkata

Northeastern secrets

Food from this quaint, lush and bright green region of India has gone through many misconceptions. One of the biggest misunderstandings is that food from Northeast India is bland due to use of fewer spices. But it can’t be denied either that ‘bhut jolokia’, or Ghost Pepper, one of the hottest chilies in the world, comes from Nagaland, and is used frequently in the local cuisine. In fact, as a part of the special menu, Chef Kezang is serving ‘Kalhang pork’, or the Naga pork curry, made with these very famous Bhut Jolokia chilies. It is a signature dish served with Axonhe vegetables mosedeng (a fermented soyabean vegetable stew) and dry fish chutney. Bhut Jolokia makes a beautiful garnish as well!

Northeastern Indian cuisine Assam Fish CurryWhich brings us to fermentation – a widely used process in Northeastern cooking. Fermenting doesn’t only help in digesting the food, but it also creates ‘bio-preservatives’ which help retain nutrients of the food for a longer time, while reducing spoilage. Eating fermented foods increases your body’s natural supply of probiotics, which, in turn, helps you fight signs of ageing. Healthy bacteria helps immune cells fight diseases and maintain a healthy weight. Now you know why Northeasterners always look lean and young with a glowing skin!

Using fresh, organic ingredients, vegetables and herbs, foods from the Northeast of India are pretty much a guilt-free treat. The philosophy is to allow the natural flavors of ingredients to take over the dish, instead of peppering it with extra seasoning. Take, for example, Lengphar leh tumthang chum, a Mizo fish stew with fresh herbs, served with boiled vegetables and ripchi-lun (a fresh bamboo shoot and a garlic chives relish). It will fill you up, lift your spirits, and simply warm the cockles of your heart. 

Coming to the table

Available from April 26 to May 1, 2019 for lunch and dinner, the special Northeastern menu has many more culinary secrets to explore. Meghalaya is represented by Chicken Neiiong – where the chicken is made with black sesame, served with a Ja doh tomato salad and Khasi pulao. Nga taoba thongba, a Manipuri style fried fish curry with green peas, served with potato and lentil nuggets curry and lotus stem salad called Bodi thongba, thombou shingju is also part of the menu.

Tuck in Sungat diya misa maas, an Assamese style prawns steamed in a green bamboo tube with Jackfruit and olive pickle, and gondhoraj lime; relish that Perok ekung Arunachali, a style of chicken steamed with fermented bamboo shoot and spices, served with Chhurpi vegetables, radish and sesame pickle that comprises of a vegetable and yak cheese stew; and round it up with the delicious Butter Tea, a Tibetan beverage served with the quintessential Marie biscuit.

Northeastern Indian cuisine Mizoram style spicy chicken stew

All ingredients used for the menu - from Bhut Jolokia to bamboo shoots - have specially been flown in from the Northeast, to ensure that the dishes retain the original zests that many locals and travelers have simply fallen in love with. Accompanying all these dishes are stories, legends and folklores about the cuisine, which the servers are eagerly waiting to disclose to their guests. 

Now, where is my thukpa?

Coordinates: Trident hotel, Nariman Point, Mumbai, India