As part of our monthly APB Culinary Legacy series of events, we celebrated Na-Khuwa Bhooj with Gitika Saikia, an acclaimed proponent of North East Indian cuisine in Mumbai.
An Assamese harvest festival, this tradition is observed in all rural homes where after fresh crop of paddy is harvested, every farmer invites his relatives to a meal at his place. Since this is the winter harvest and bitter cold sets in by the month of November, meats like a pigeon, goose are eaten to keep warm. There will also be fish freshly caught from nearby ponds and cooked with fresh herbs or maybe the fragrant night jasmine flowers.
Gitika stayed true to the spirit of the festival and served up a feast that an Assamese farmer would be proud to see in Mumbai.
We welcomed guests with the traditional offering of Maah Proxad; a prasad of chana, moong and coconut.
Gitika explained the festival to the participants in her trademark style, mixing personal stories with descriptions of life in Assam. While talking, she demonstrated a dish called Gahori Lai Xaak; a delicious preparation of pork cooked with mustard greens.
She let us in on a secret about the hospitality code the Assamese follow. Casual and regular visitors are served chicken or fish. Special guests like in-laws are served the slightly more ‘important’ meats like pork. But VVIP guests are welcomed with preparations of duck and goose meat.
Once the meat was cooked through, a lavish buffet of authentic Assamese dishes were laid out. There were pumpkin fritters, crunchy on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside. Next was a potato and sesame mash and a quickly sautéed salad of mustard greens. Since guests at our studio are VVIP, the main course dishes were river fish with night jasmine flowers, duck meat with ash gourd and a fish head curry with intestines and veggies. To go along with these dishes was glutinous rice and bamboo pickle. The Assamese don’t usually eat sweets at the end of the meal so Gitika just mixed and served up puffed rice with some yogurt and a bit of local jaggery.
As the hosts for this wonderful meal, we were glad to see people really enjoying the food, discussing different aspects of Assamese cuisine and making plans to visit the state. This is the heart of the APB Culinary Legacy Series and we look forward to more such exciting events.