Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bilahi Tenga :A Sour Dish in Assamese Cuisine

This post was previously published in N-zine  ( Food and Beverages issue ).
In the pic:Fish and Tomato Tenga )
Assamese cuisine is characterized by very little use of spices but strong flavors mainly due to the use of endemic exotic herbs, fruits and vegetable.One of the most popular dish from Assam, the Tenga , is an indispensable part of a proper meal in Assam.Meal is served in courses here.A traditional meal in Assam begins with a Khar an alkali dish and ends with a Tenga, a sour dish. These two dishes characterize a traditional meal in Assam.Now let me tell you what does the term Tenga-Anja means :It is a sour dish, normally a curry made with various soring agents like Tomatoes , Lemon(kazi nemu ..a local variety), Thekera(Mangosteen), AouTenga(Elephant Apple). A tenga dish can have various versions .Many of these souring agents are not easily available outside Assam.Keeping this fact in mind and focusing on the easy availability of the ingredients I am going to share here two very simple recipes one a non veg i.e.with fish and another a veg version i.e.with Masoor Daal(red lentil) with Tomatoes being the basic souring agent.Tenga is making its presence felt internationally too,recently British Celebrity Chef included fish tenga among one of his hundred favorite recipes(though his recipe is nowhere near the original tenga ,that's another story).Check for the links on some interesting news related to tenga and assamese cuisine
3.Aromas Of Assam( on news on 12.09.10).
Belahi-Macchor Tenga Anja:
ingredients: 5-6 tomatoes (preferably ripe)
5-6 pieces of rohu fish(any carp)
: pinch of mustard seeds/fenugreek seeds
:mustard oil :turmeric powder
:lemon juice 1-2 tbsp(optional,i use it only if the tomatoes are not sour enough)
Method : Cut tomatoes into small pieces like shown above.Apply turmeric powder and salt to the fish pieces and after keeping them aside for 5-10 mins . Light fry them . Heat very little mustard oil(you can use any refined oil too but it tastes better with mustard oil) on a pan . Add mustard seeds , as soon as they splutter add tomatoes .(If you choose to use fenugreek seeds ,remove the seeds as soon as they are done spluttering).Cover the pan and let the tomatoes soften upon a moderate heat. Once tomatoes soften add turmeric powder and salt to it-mix well and cook covered for another 2-3 mins..

Now add a cup and a half of hot boiling water to the tomatoes and let it simmer for 2-3 mins.Add fried fish to the mix and simmer it for another 5 mins.Your delicious Fish Tenga is ready.Many add chopped coriander and slit green chillies to it as garnish-i don't use it as my folks love it just like this.Serve it with plain boiled rice (please ,please don't eat it with fried rice of any kind).

Masoor-daal Boror Bilahi Tenga
Ingredients: Masoor daal (red lentil) 1 cup
:5-6 Tomatoes finely chopped
:mustard oil /refined oil for frying
:Turmeric powder
:lemon juice 1-2 tbsp (optional)
:saltMethod: Soak the daal in a bowl.Masoor daal needs very little soaking time (about an hour ), once you notice the splits in daal ,consider it ready for grinding.

You can grind it in a mixer/blender by adding little water at a time,if the paste has too much water ,boras will not turn out well.I use a stone grinder most of the time and occasionally a blender if i am in hurry.The reason for using a stone grinder is to keep the texture little coarse ,i feel that the boras taste better this way.

The preferable texture of the masoor daal mix is shown here in the picture.Now add 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder and salt to taste .Mix well.Heat oil in a pan -add the mix to the oil with the help of a spoon ,one at a time.Fry them upon moderate heat to avoid fast cooking as high heat results in a burnt exterior and an undercooked inside.

Fry them on both the sides until they turn light golden.Remove boras from the heat ,keep aside.Add some fresh oil(little) to the pan,once heated splutter mustard seeds on it.Throw in the finely chopped tomatoes to the it.Cook it covered till the tomatoes soften.Remove the cover and add turmeric powder and salt to the tomatoes.Mix it well .Add two cups of boiling water here (we need more water here because once we add boras,the water is sucked up by them),simmer it again for 2-3 mins.Now its time to add boras -do it gently.

After boras are added ,let it simmer uncovered for another 3-4 minutes .If you want you can add lemon juice to it after removing the pan from the heat.If you like garnish it with coriander leaves.Serve it with plain boiled/steamed rice.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jayanta Bhattacharya :Creatively 'Art'rageous

( In the picture -Coin And Building )
Jayanta Bhattacharya is a well known name in the field of art in Noth East of India.Being immediate neighbors Jayanta and I usually bump into each other .I mostly see him working on his canvas or taking an evening stroll .Whenever we meet we talk a lot about his ongoing exhibitions,future tours and his latest work . Time to time he invites me to have a look at his work.He even shares some of the finest books related to art . On one such meeting last week he invited me again .Next day as i was about to leave my house i saw the crew members of the most popular regional TV channel making their way to his house and i remembered that he had mentioned that he is going to be interviewd by famous art critic and writer Mousumi Kandali.I decided to wait for a day and visited him the next day . By his permission i am going to share with you some of his art work and the conversation we had that day.

(Black Goat - he is presently working on this painting)
Born in Tuichindrai ,a small tribal village of Tripura,Jayanta grew up in a lower middle class joint family.He grew up at a time (80s) when the state was passing through turbulent times due to the community clashes between the Tribals and Bengalis of Tripura.The continuous riots,curfew and violence had a profound affect on Jayanta who was then only a child.Later in 2002 he passed out from the Govt College of Art &Craft .During college he started writing for local newspapers ,published magazine like Muktodhara and also initiated workshops and street exhibitions.His restless mind made him travel the country like a vagabond.He visited Shantiniketan and many other places.Not having found what his mind knew not ,he spent time with in the interior tribal villages of Tripura ,isolating himself from the rest of the world.He kept no contact with anyone .He lived amongst them and was deeply affected by their lives and their art forms.In 2004 he came to Assam and took an art teaching job in a very prestigious educational institute of Guwahati .Seven months back he left his job so that he can devote more time to his only passion-painting !

(The Road -Black Pitch &Metal)
This is how Mousumi Kandali speaks about his work . Moushumi is a renowned writer,art-critic and translator.
'Abstracted thoughts.Innate lyricism.Minimalistic rendering with layered sparks of sensuousness and eroticism hidden beneath. And reflexive gestures about the socio-political implications of our space and time overwhelmed by violence, turmoil and hostile social systems. These are the underlying artistic currents and undercurrents I experience whenever I see the works of Jayanta Bhattacharya. For my curatorial exhibition of the North-Eastern artists for the Octave Festival organised by Rastriya Lalit Kala Akademy and Govt. of India ( Trivundum,2008) young turks Jayanta Bhattacharya and Mrinmoy Debbarma were my choice of artist alongwith the senior artist Dipika Saha from Tripura. I included Jayanta's "The Road ",an experimental sculpture-installation.This work ( Black Pitch & Metal) has captured the uncertainty and terror of our time very meaningfully with certain motifs like the manhole, impressions of bare feet and boots and strains of bullet marks'.....

(Untitled Painting)
In Jayanta's own words-- "There is nothing much to say about myself.Compared to the endless spectrum of ever changing human civilization,my quantum of experience is minuscule.By birth i have been naturally acquainted with certain words - certain sensations were within me ever since birth and now they are a part of me.I feel myself bound and tied down by the troubled and restless mental state created by today's world.

(Titled :Dragonflies over a smoked city)

Through these turbulent times ,i walk across the busy footpath,the over bridge above ,the railway track,shopping malls,playgrounds and parade grounds.I watch the setting sun through the small window of the city bus.As i walk along the road in the scorching sun ,my eyes fall on the cut pieces of watermelon ,sparkling a bright red.

(Titled :Mahishasurmardini)
Sometimes the sounds of shots ringing in the night air jolt me out of my dreams.I remember ....years ago ,i had gone with grandma to cast my vote for the first time.Some elderly people had thrust chocolates into my hand then.Grandma ,me and an endless road....

(Mural by Jayanta)
The road to dad's office would be strewn with the yellow flowers of the Golden shower trees.On that yellow road,i had ,at times walked with my ,the golden yellow flowers,the road and me .The rat-a-tat-a tat of bullets wake me up and through the haze i see a road ,shells of spent cartridges,boot marks and some dry leaves....rustling."

                                                         (Untitled )

Later he talked a lot about Tracey Amin ,he suggested me reading more about her .Further he told me  about the works of Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor .He gave me two books to read from his personal collection one is A World History Of Art and the other  The Contemporary Art Book.He is into short movie making too .What i really like about him is that despite being so good in his work,he does not give himself any airs.I wish there was someone better than I to tell you his story.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Narayanan Krishnan ...CNN Heroes Awards

Narayanan Krishnan
Image Courtesy...Google images
Received this mail few minutes back from my dearest friend Romita Laishram  --- i found this story very inspiring so thought of sharing here 

New Delhi:  If you had not heard of Narayanan Krishnan, as I had not, it is a collective failure. This is one of the most incredible stories of personal commitment.

Narayanan Krishnan, all of 29 years old now, does what he was professionally trained to do as a chef. Feed people. Only Krishnan does not do this in the swanky confines of a 5-star hotel. Every day, he wakes up at 4 am, cooks a simple hot meal and then, along with his team, loads it in a van and travels about 200 km feeding the homeless in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

Krishnan feeds, often with his hands, almost 400 destitute people every day. And for those who need it, he provides a free haircut too.

According to CNN, eight years ago, this award-winning chef with a five-star hotel chain was all set to go to Switzerland for a high-profile posting. On a visit to a Madurai temple, he came across a homeless, old man eating his own human waste. That stark sight changed Krishnan's life.

Much to the dismay of his parents, CNN says, Krishnan abandoned his career plans and decided to spend his life and his professional training in looking after those who could not care for themselves. He has provided more than 1.2 million hot meals through his nonprofit organisation Akshaya Trust, and now hopes to extend this to shelter for the homeless too.
Krishnan is the only Indian in a list of 10 heroes that CNN has picked worldwide to honour. One of them will be chosen CNN Hero of the Year, selected by the public through an online poll. If many Indians get together to vote for this inspiring man, he can win by a long mile.
If Krishnan wins he will get $100,000 in addition to the $25,000 that he gets for being shortlisted for the Top 10. Akshaya Trust needs all the monetary support it can get to build on Krishnan's dream. Let's help him get there.

To see his story..

Please vote and send to all friends and family .. This is truly a remarkable initiative ans we can help this do better by garnering more votes for him


Vote for Krishnan here.   ( poll continues through November 18 at 6 a.m. ET. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Theme Titanic And Lotus Temple - Durga Puja Guwahati 2010

A Durga Puja Committee (Shantipur) in Guwahati paid a special tribute to the ocean liner Titanic on the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the ship.It took nearly four months to make this  pandal.Not only it let out the smoke but also hooted at times.The inside of the pandal was centrally air conditioned for the comfort of the devotees.
Have a look at Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet ) and Jack Dawson (Leonardo DeCaprio) .Heat and dust of Guwahati made them look and dress little(lot) different . Rose was dressed in a pink top and white knee length skirt while Jack chose a dark cotton full sleeves shirt and stone washed denim .
Have a closer look .They look little uncomfortable and surprised  - thanks to the huge crowd of pandal hoppers .
A crew member .
Ship anchor .
Here is another pandal(Latasil area) themed as Bahai Lotus Temple of Delhi .This pandal had a mela (fair) like feel.
Kids enjoyed a ride on this manually operated merry go round .My six year old daughter had a tough time fitting into that small sized plastic cars but was happy anyway.
There were many stalls selling toys and snacks too.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Twenty Eight Handed Goddess Durga Of Bishnupur--Guwahati 2010

In the North East part of India Sharadiya Navaratri is celebrated as Durga -Puja.The dates of Durga Puja celebrations are set according to the traditional Hindu Calendar in the month of Ashwin which is the beginning of the winters.It falls in the months of Sep -Oct.As Durga Puja represents celebration of the Goddess as Shakti ,all her nine different forms are worshiped during these nine days.With its religious significance this festival has turned into a huge socio cultural event here.People participate in this celebration irrespective of their religion,backgrounds and beliefs.Beautiful pandals are build in different areas of the city(pandals are temporary structure made with bamboo and cloth ,these pandals are used as temporary temple to worship the goddess).While some of the pandals are simple structures, others are often elaborate works of art with themes that are based on history, current affairs and sometimes pure imagination.Pujas are mainly financed by the local people and communities and as it is in trend many corporate houses too sponsor this event.

Right now my city Guwahati is celebrating puja like never before .There are elaborate puja pandals and glittering lights all around.To avoid the traffic jams and overcrowd me and my family  chose to visit pandals in  morning hours only .Today is Mahasaptami (7th day of navratri),we started our round by visiting this puja pandal which has made a 30ft high idol of Ma Durga.Bishnupur Durga Puja Committee is celebrating its Diamond Jubilee this year.Making of the idols started right here at the same spot since the month of May this year.A huge crowd is flocking the pandal to have a look at this amazing idol .... at least i have never seen such a huge and beautiful idol of Goddess Durga ever before.

In this pandal Goddess Durga is shown in Mayatara form.She has got 28 hands here.After killing and destroying all the demons and evil forces when Ma Durga was still very angry ,28 sadhakas (devotees) approached her for eternal calm ,peace and prosperity.Ma Durga then rose with 28 hands to fulfill the wishes of the sadhakas with 28 lotuses in her hand.We asked the volunteers there that how are they going to immerse the idol on the day of Dashami(tenth day of the festival)....they said that fire brigade will help them here by splashing water on the idols using several trucks at the same time.Very clever !The committee also displayed Navdurga i.e.nine forms of the Goddess Durga 
               Navadurga : nine forms of Goddess Durga

.Shailputri :she is the daughter of the mountain Himalaya
.Bhramhacharini : that who observes penance and good conduct.
.Chandraghanta :There is a half circular moon on the forehead of this form of Durga.
Kusumnanda :this form creates universe by mere laughing.She resides in solar system.
Katyayani :she took birth as the daughter of one rishi named Katyan who had observed penance with a desire to get Ma Durga as a daughter.

.Skandamata :After getting married to Lord Shiva ,the daughter of Himalaya had a son named Skanda-hence Skandamata.
Kaalratri: she is black like night.
Mahagauri and Siddhidhatri : Mahagauri is as fair as conch ,Moon or jasmine.There are eight siddhis :this form is worshiped by yogis and also devotees to attain best religious fruits.
There are more posts to come... i will try to post the pictures of a pandal whose theme is Titanic.
  I WISH ALL MY FRIENDS A VERY HAPPY DURGA PUJA - i wish for you blessings of joy,prosperity and good fortune .

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Trip To Sualkuchi -- Manchester Of The East

(In the picture :the entrance gate of Sualkuchi )
A week back we took a trip to Sualkuchi ,the silk village of Assam.It is one of the world's largest weaving village often called the Manchester Of The East. It is situated on the north banks of the river Brahmaputra and is approx. 35 kms from my city Guwahati.It is a thickly populated village.Weaving is the major occupation of the people of this village.In Assam weaving comes next only to agriculture in terms of employment generation.The purpose of my visit was to buy few Mekhela Sadors ( Assamese traditional attire for women) and also to show my kids what weaving is all about.We have a fly shuttle loom at our house ,it is my mom-in-law's.Presently it is disassembled as the weaving room is still under construction.
(In the picture-our regular shop from where we buy our stuff)
One can easily find a vast range of silk in Guwahati itself ,but buying from the shops in Sualkuchi is all together a different experience ,you can even order a saree /mekhela sador in colors and designs of your own choice.One more important thing is that the stuff is cheaper here than the other places.
(In the picture : display of shop-owner's favorite designs )
The golden muga,white paat and warm eri are three unique varieties of silks that Assam produces .The aesthetic and artistic sense of the weavers here is remarkable.On Jan 9 1946 ,Mahatma Gandhi visited this village.One artist presented him a piece of pat cloth where his face was woven-the weaving was so fine that his smiling face showed even his two broken front teeth .Mahatma Gandhi remarked that weavers could weave dreams in their cloth.Mr.A.P.J. Kalam is the first President of India to have visited this place on 17th Oct 2006.
(In the picture - Dipu the salesman showing me a 100% pure paat -muga mekhela sador)
I wanted to buy a 100% pure pat-muga mekhela sador .Dipu showed me this one -i really loved the design and the texture but wanted few color changes .I ordered them one as per my choice .This particular piece is expensive because of its purity of the silk yarn used.Unlike other silk it can be hand washed and has got a muted glaze.I was surprised to find a very high rise in prices this time.I was told that it is due to the price rise in the silk yarn at Bangalore (silk exchange) from where the mulberry silk is supplied to Sualkuchi.The tassar yarn comes from Bhagalpur (Bihar)and Chattisgarh (Jharkhand).
Here are few colored paat-silk sets. 
My daughter was not happy with my color choice ,she wanted me to buy one of the pinks and dark blues.

(Here are few more mekhela-sador sets )
The lack of a government policy of supplying raw silk yarn to weavers here through a controlled market network has pushed the local weavers into the grip of both middlemen and the business men who control the entire raw silk yarn market.It is very sad that many loom less weavers are now loosing their job. Because of a sudden decrease in purchasing capacity,master weavers have decreased the numbers of loom they keep .
(One of the set that i bought that day.)
After good one and half hour we finished shopping.Later we requested the shop- owner to take us to their factory .Dipu ,the salesman wanted us to wait for one more hour as all the weavers were on their lunch break. He said that kids would enjoy the trip more if they see weavers in action .It was already too late so we decided not to wait for the weavers.We all followed Dipu-a narrow lane took us to the factory which was almost 100 mts away from the shop.
After 10-15 minutes walk we reached there - it was a three storey building.We climbed  the first floor and reached this room where there were 15 nos of looms.The second floor had another room containing 20 looms.

This sight welcomes you through the main door.Honestly,the room was cramped and extremely hot.Dipu gave us a guided tour of the room. This is a traditional fly shuttle loom.
Silk thread spools (mohura is the assamese word for it) were spread all over the floor .
Some more colored silk yarns ...
Look how closely packed are all the looms ...
Thees are shuttles(maku is the assamese word) made of buffalo horn .
Paat silk thread basic spread ,on which designs are created.
These are hard paper cards on which different patterns are marked - these are used as guides for weaving the designs on cloth.
This is a bridal wear ordered by an NRI  couple for their  son's wedding .

Finally Dipu explained and demonstrated how weaving is done on the loom - my kids looked very attentive while my son was excited by the sound of the loom my daughter asked Dipu few questions .The trip had made kids tired and hungry.I always carry home made lunch packs, Dipu took us to this food-joint and left for work.We invited him for lunch but he was in rush .We all thanked him for giving us his time.

(Park Fast Food Joint .... the board looked pretty interesting )
This is Hotel is a small fast food joint ,we had  our lunch and also some rolls  from the joint .The place was clean and the snack we ordered was good too. The joint doesn't serve any tea or coffee but  we had a flask full of home made tea and disposable cups with  us. After an hour we left for Guwahati.We bought some local vegetables on our way back.If you ever visit Assam, i highly recommend a visit  to this silk village .