One of India’s most popular music events, Ziro Festival, will take place in Arunachal Pradesh between September 28 to October 1. It draws music lovers and tourists in large numbers from India and abroad. For those who are attending the fest this year, and are curious about the Arunachal's regional cuisine, must know that the state is home to several communities, and each have their unique specialities. I interviewed members of three different tribes for a glimpse into their food habits.
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Galo is one of the major communities which populate the districts of Siang, Lepa Rada, Upper Subansiri and Namsai. Gamlin is based in Itanagar, and says oik is a delicacy. It's prepared by boiling slippery bamboo shoots, adding salt, and combining them with pork. Galos savour eete, a special treat made from local rice varieties, ambin or asin. The rice is soaked overnight, ground into a coarse paste, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until it transforms into a rice cake. It's often enjoyed with tea or as a snack, and some even fry it with oil and coconut for a contemporary twist.
There’s the popular side dish kopoih made from small boiled green eggplants, chilli and salt. Rice beer or apong plays a significant role in Galo celebrations. It's an alcoholic beverage containing fermented rice, and is considered a symbol of good fortune when it turns out to be sweet in taste.
Bamboo holds a crucial place in their lives. During the monsoon, rainwater gets collected in its stem which is used to flavour different dishes, and it serves as an essential pickling ingredient.
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Nyishi tribe, the most populous in Arunachal Pradesh, is renowned as a hunter-warrior tribe with a strong agricultural background. Largely concentrated in Kurung Kumey and Kra Daadi districts, it is believed that they migrated from the Tang Sampo valley of Tibet centuries ago. Kumkum’s favourite dish is an appetising combination of boiled chicken and bamboo shoots. The latter, available in various forms from fresh to dried, adds a unique flavour to Nyishi cuisine.
A distinctive Nyishi breakfast dish called tassey is made from the stem of palm trees. It comes in vibrant orange hues and can be prepared by boiling, frying, or cooking over an open flame. Nyishi people have a hearty appetite for meat, and it is boiled with bamboo shoots with various herbs like fishmint, mezenga leaves and prickly ash.
Their festivities are incomplete without apong, an alcoholic drink made from fermented millet (temm), and Pona which is a rice beer fermented with yeast, and is similar to the drink of the Galo community.
The Adi tribe resides mainly in the Siang and Dibang Valley. They have four major festivals, like Solung, all centred around good harvests.
For most of their meals, Adis typically enjoy rice with boiled vegetables and meat. Just as the Nyishis, the Adi community prefers simple, boiled dishes, often accompanied by dried bamboo shoot and meat. The meat is usually dried for months by keeping it above a fireplace where food is cooked.
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