“In June and July, bamboo shoot is in season and it features in a lot of our dishes,” says Khachuk Debbarma. The university student who stays in the capital, Agartala, belongs to the Tripuri community. The north-eastern state is home to Bengalis as well as 19 indigenous Tripura communities like Chakma. The food of Tripura, Debbarma says, uses little to no oil, and boiling or mashing are the most prevalent cooking methods.
A unique ingredient, which is a dried and fermented fish product called berma, is used liberally in almost every dish. It adds a salty, spicy and umami taste. Gudok, where berma is the main ingredient, is one of Debbarma’s favourite dishes. For gudok, bamboo shoots, green chillies and vegetables like snake beans and potatoes are boiled and mashed together with berma. The dish, which has a semi-solid consistency, is eaten with plain rice. Chutneys like berma mosdeng, made with tomatoes, also features the ingredient.
Turmeric leaves are added to dishes and are used in curries and chutneys. Debbarma speaks of a popular dish called aah ikjak, which is prepared by wrapping small fish, named mokka fish or Indian carplet which is a local fish found in ponds, in raw turmeric leaves with some turmeric powder and steamed.
A unique feature of Tripuri cuisine is that almost no oil is used while cooking. “Vegetables are boiled together and mashed, or are directly grilled on the fire. Pork is also a beloved ingredient in Tripura,” says Teesta Saha, a Bengali food content creator on Instagram whose account @by_bornbhukkad_1994 has about 59000 followers. Her intention, she says, is to showcase the diverse cuisine of Tripura through social media.
A paper titled A Study on the Folk Culture of the Bengali People of Tripura published in the International Journal of Multidisciplinary Educational Research (ijmer.in) in 2021, noted that the Bengali community comprises 70% of the total population of the state, with the indigenous population being 30%.
“After I started documenting food, I became curious about Tripuri and Chakma cuisines,” shares Saha, and adds, “I usually eat Bengali foods like chicken bharta, which is also called tohan mosdeng in Tripura.” Tohan mosdeng is a dry preparation made by stir-frying chicken pieces with onions, chillies, and ginger. Another similar dry preparation is wahan mosdeng which is made from pork.
Indigenous Tripuri cuisine features both vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods and features pork as a main ingredient. Debbarma talks about dish named chakhwi where pork is a beloved ingredient. The curry uses the alkaline khar. It is made from sun-dried banana peel ashes filtered through water, and it is an important ingredient in Assamese cooking too. Khar acts like organic cooking soda. However, as the process of making khar is time intensive, local communities in Tripura prefer to use baking soda in chakhwi instead. According to Debbarma, the dish also has vegetables, and bamboo shoot is most preferred.
“Along with chakhwi, we also make gudok and muya awandru with bamboo shoot,” she says. Muya awandru is a gravy made with bamboo shoot, rice flour and berma. The ingredients are boiled together and garnished with coriander or parsley leaves.
A popular dish, mwkhwi, is a type of tasty snack made with fruits like pineapples or mangoes which are seasoned with salt and chillies. Debbarma says, “These fruits are in season right now, and they are so delicious that they are mostly eaten on their own.”