Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Assamese G Spot - Part II - Socials

Assamese wedding
Courtesy Assam online

   If you survived the G talk in my last post, let me pick up the thread and lead you through the rest of the scene. Our food talk is an everyday affair  and not reserved merely as a Bihu extravaganza, that comes twice a year. Thrice to be precise. The second one that gets sandwiched between Bohag and Magh, is the quiet one when farmers are praying for a good crop as the cycle moves to the finishing line. But then weddings are a festivity that are annual affairs  and provide the gluttonous excuses, except for that inauspicious bracket between mid December to mid January. The invitation cards pile up, diminish and pile up in a continuous cycle. As do the strips of antacids, laxatives or the ofloxins trying to keep pace with the various modes of gastrointestinal motility. Come to think of it weddings and gastronomy are uttered in the same breath. Just when one is ready to leave, rustling in the silks, perfumed and powdered, a neighbour happening to be at the gate, would inquire, " Biya khabole neki?" A literal translation of this social small talk would be, " Off to eat in a wedding?" Not to attend, mind you.

 In addition to generating conversations that would go down to next generations, weddings also induce sartorial blocks that could spiral into major crises and melodrama.The common refrain being the lack of an attire that has not been seen in the circuit for some time. But that's a different cue altogether. Let's get back on the G track. So when you are dying to loosen that petticoat string after attending a juroon or a biya, and remove the  first safety pin from the neatly pleated resplendent mekhela sador, the catechism needs to be attended, initiated by the ones who could not attend.
" So what did they arrange for?"
" The usual..."
" Meaning?"
" The fish,meat, and all that..."
" What of fish and meat?"
Take a deep breath.
" So there was one chicken fry, mutton korma and fish kalia. Then butor dail, mixed sobji which no one ate, then there was fish steamed in banana leaves, murighonto with gourd, malai kofta. Then there were the tikkas and kababs for snacks, it was finished off with hot jelebi, ice cream, rabri, pudding..."
The listener's  eyes sparkle and he goes back to his meal of rice, masor tenga, dail, bhaji and chutney. But the food talk will continue...
" Uff! I still remember  Bhaiti/ Maina's wedding. What food they served! And what variety in fish and meat!"

If you are not on a wedding hopping spree, there are always the social calls to be made. This used to be the norm till a few years back. Any visit, even if it is for five minutes, will elicit the curious,
 " What did they serve?" God forbid if it happened to be just tea and biscuits. That household will continue to be the butt of all jokes behind the curtains and over the fences. The bar for such fares has stood steadily at lusi, alu bhaji, a few sweets and home made or ready made namkeens, home made pickle of either of amla, mango, chillies, olives. radish, mixed vegetables which have come from the backyard. This is accompanied  with a nice yellow omellete with onions in a runny middle  made in mustard oil.  Once you are finished with the soft lusis, round it up with steaming  aromatic tea made with garden fresh tea leaves that is supplied by a cousin twice removed from the aunt's husband's side. Or  anyone else from the meandering line plotted in the family tree if you don't have an immediate one employed in the Gardens.

When we take a break from the gluttonous path, we cleanse our system that has gone delicate, with an alkaline dish, khaar, atleast once a week, made of a particular banana peel. And voila! We are back on track! Actually that's where the vehement declaration of Assamese identity came from, "khaar khua Oxomiya!"  

Food has more than nutritional functions to perform. If any conversation is transforming into a debate and escalating into a heated discussions with the mercury rising, just drop in a line about a particular fish you had, or a dish you cannot remember the name of. The atmosphere will go all mushy and mellow enough to be squashed into a soft lump of bengena pitika, a version of  mashed brinjal. But let me warn you that the discussion could still get aggravated especially if it hinges on the method of preparation.

Now that we celebrate every conceivable occasion and have embraced all the other festivals, the calendar must be full of rounded dates and menus. And a brain spilling over with all that gourmet memories. Last I heard, there were instances of karva chauth making its way into some homes. It is only a matter of time before they find ways and means to circumvent the austere rituals.

So if you have finished reading this post and are wondering why was it  filled with all the food talk? Well! What do you expect from a true blooded Assamese  or should I say khaar khua Oxomiya... I am still smarting from a tele conversation. I had mentioned to my mother about someone's visit to my place. Pat came the query, " What did you serve?"
" They were in a hurry. So just tea and some namkeen..."
A stony silence. And then broken by a,
" ....not even some pakoras you made?"


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Assamese G Spot - Part I- Bihu Talks

Image result for free images of assamese food
( Picture courtesy Assam online)      
 If you have come to this post expecting  enlightenment on a community's discovery of carnal pleasures, you are not far from the truth. Only, the G-spot here is the one that evokes Gastronomical orgasms. Whoever generated that  reprimanding idiom "eat to live and not live to eat", had surely met an Assamese or lived amidst a host of them till he could no longer digest all the food talk. He must have come away from that land of lahe lahe scarred for life, smelling of mustard oil, dazed with the array of fish and still more dazed with as many ways of cooking a particular fish as the number of scales blinking at the sun from its back. And the meat. And the greens. And the vegetables. And their combinations on the breakfast, lunch and dinner thaals. Thaals that are gleaming and reflecting the diner's face in all their bell metal avatar. 

Making the ritual calls to the host of relatives basking in the lap of the homeland, especially during the Bihu festivals, is a copy paste conversation. And that is where this post rose in all its marinaded, steamed and roasting form. What follows is a transcript of a typical tele conversation made to greet during Bihu...

" Hello! Magh bihur xewa jonalu!" ( If the receiver is elderly)
 " Hello! Magh bihur ulog jasilu"      ( contemporary receiver)
" So how did you celebrate there? Did you have the Uruka ( Bihu community feast) last night?"
" Umm..yes.. just a  few of us got together for the evening. It's a working day here you know..."
" Oh! No holidays? Don't they have something like Lori..."
" Yeah,but Lohri is a day before Uruka. So..."
" So what did you eat?"
" The usual some fish, some meat..."
" Sitol and patha?"
" No, no sitol fish, it's difficult to get that here. We had rohu and chicken instead of mutton."
" Oh..."
" And today, did you have pitha, laru, doi sira?"
" Err no..."
" Oh..."
" Is Peha around?"
" Yes, he is sitting here right next to me. We are sitting around the meji having pitha, laru I made with til and gur...Last night he brought a two kg big sitol. It was a very good fish, full of oil and very tasty. Then I made mutton dry..."
" Hmmm...can I talk to Peha?"
" Hello! Happy Bihu!"
" Happy  Bihu Peha!"
" So did you have Uruka there?"
" Yes, yes,kind of..."
" So what did you eat? We had sitol fish and mutton your Pehi made so fine..."
" Yeah, she told me"
" Did you have pitha, laru today?"...

Next call made to a maternal uncle.
" Hello! Happy Bihu!"
" Oho!  Happy Bihu to you too! So what did you do for Uruka?"
" Yeah,we kind of got together and ate..."
" What did you eat? Sitol and mutton?"
" No. We had rohu and chicken."
" Oh! Our neighbours made some excellent kalia with the sitol, we also had some fried pieces on the side as snacks sitting around the fire...and your mami made some excellent mutton in an iron kerahi on wood fire... "
" Nice"
" Then Pona landed up with fine pork meat which we skewered it over fire... Ah! It went off very well yesterday." 
" Good. That must have been quite a feast...What about your acidity?"
" Ah yes!What about it! I had some antacids. We are having pitha, laru in front of the meji now. Did you get any pitha, laru?"
" No. Just made some coconut laru.."
" Good good. Here talk to Pona..."
" Hello Happy Bihu! So what did you do last night..."
Gritting the teeth and pulling the hair out. Strand by strand.

And so went the next call to mother's brother, and the one to husband's  aunt, and the one to the husband's mother's aunt's daughter, continued with the neighbour who happened to be sitting there, and the aunt's sister whom I had not seen but who happened to be there.

So when the dry cleaners called up to deliver my package, he got a dose of the conversation,
" How was the sitol fish  and who made the mutton..."
"Madam? Err.. is this 9********?"
"...and the laru must have been tasty..." Suddenly I am jolted out by the sound of numbers.
 "Yes? Who is this?"
" Madam, I am calling from the dry cleaners..."
"Oh! Okay...yes...tell me?"

Be warned. If you are calling up Assamese friends during the Bihu season, you might be asked about the victuals that went  down your gullet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Do excuse the poor soul who is probably still dazed by the deluge of gastronomical tele conversations with folks back home.