Seven Traditional Recipes from the Seven Northeastern States of India

Savour India’s rich gastronomical heritage with these seven traditional recipes from India's northeast put together by Purabi Shridhar and Sanghita Singh.

By Purabi Shridhar and Sanghita Singh

Open an atlas and trace out the shape of North East India – it’s like a graceful bird caught in a dance step. Sure, some North Easterners will tell you that the bird is in their stomach and was very tasty too, thank you! Look again, and there are the seven sisters, each with a distinct identity, terrain, communities, languages and dialects, and an amazing and unusual food history and heritage. Look again and there is a common link – that of simple humanity.

Look again, this time into the kitchens. They speak an easy-to-understand language – rejoice in the bounty that nature has given you in the land, air and water, and celebrate. For those far away from their kitchens, sometimes the urge to get just a whiff of familiar aromas, a taste of distinct flavours, can lead to a gnawing ache within.

For how can the senses forget the tart-sweetness of the small taut orange from a family garden, or the description-defying rich taste of Doh Khleh of Meghalaya, the intoxicating whiff of axonhe from a home in Kohima, the melt-in-the mouth deliciousness of Sungat Diya Misa Maas or the peppiness of Khangkhrai Arw Bilahi Megong from a home in Assam, the unpretentiousness of a Bai from Aizawl, the appetizing Iromba from Imphal, the simple but rocking Godok from Tripura and the redolent Paa Chauu from Arunachal Pradesh – simple, rooted-in-tradition dishes that uplift the body and mind.

Our book THE SEVEN SISTERS: Kitchen Tales From The North East (Westland) is a from-the-heart effort to put together recipes straight from the kitchens of family and friends in the North East and of North Easterners living elsewhere. Come, walk with us on our culinary journey.


MIZORAM – Bai (Mizo Vegetable Stew)

bai-(2)---MizoramIngredients (2-3 servings)

1 cauliflower (stalks, leaves and a few florets)
1 tsp fermented soya bean paste or sodium bicarbonate
1 large potato, cubed
1 large green chilli, sliced (deseeded if desired)
50 gm French beans, trimmed, sliced
A fistful of rice
Salt to taste


Cut the cauliflower stalks into two pieces each, tear the leaves roughly and break the florets into medium-sized pieces. Bring 1 litre of water to a boil in a pan on moderate heat. Reduce the heat and add the fermented soya bean paste or sodium bicarbonate and salt. Once the frothing subsides, add the cauliflower and the potato and stir.

Add the green chilli and beans and stir again. Throw in the rice and stir once again. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, till the rice has absorbed the water and the vegetables and rice are tender. Serve hot.


MANIPUR – Nga Taoba Thongba (Fried Fish Curry)

fish-thongba---Manipur.jpgIngredients (4-5 servings)

1 kg fish (rohu)
Mustard oil – for frying
A pinch of asafoetida powder
2 bay leaves
A pinch of fenugreek seeds
100 gm maroi nakuppi (Chinese or garlic chives), chopped
2 onions, finely sliced
1 tsp garam masala powder (optional)
½ tsp ginger, coarsely crushed
½ tsp garlic, coarsely crushed
½ tsp turmeric powder
2 tomatoes, diced in cubes
1 tsp black peppercorn and cumin seeds, ground
1 cup shelled green peas
2 potatoes, cut into small cubes
Salt to taste
To garnish
25 gm fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped (optional)


Clean the fish, wash and cut it into medium-sized pieces. Heat some mustard oil in a frying pan and lightly fry the fish pieces on both sides. Drain and set aside. Pour 4 tbsp of mustard oil into another pan and heat till it smokes.

Add the asafoetida powder, bay leaves and fenugreek seeds. Add the chives, onions, garam masala powder (optional), ginger, garlic and turmeric powder and fry on moderate heat, till fragrant.

Mix in the tomatoes and cook for a few seconds. Stir in the pepper-cumin powder and cook till fragrant. Add the green peas, potatoes and salt. Simmer on low-moderate heat, till the tomatoes are slightly tender and the potatoes are nearly cooked.

Pour in three cups of water and bring to a boil. Gently immerse the fish pieces into the curry and cook for 6-7 minutes. Garnish with coriander leaves just before serving. Serve hot with steamed rice.


ARUNACHAL PRADESH – Hot Chicken and Mushroom Steamed with Bamboo Shoot

hot-chiken-&-mushroom---Arunachal.jpgIngredients (4 servings)

5-6 dried red chillies
1 kg chicken, cut into small pieces
3 tbsp bamboo shoot (fresh or dried)
½ tsp North Eastern or Szechuan pepper, crushed
1 tsp red chilli powder
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp ajinomoto (optional)
250 gm green beans, trimmed (optional), cut into 2” pieces
200 gm mushrooms, sliced
2 bunches bok choy, washed, leaves separated (optional)
Salt to taste


Boil the red chillies in 1 cup of water in a small pan on high heat, till they are soft. Drain the excess water and crush the boiled chillies in a mortar and pestle. Set aside. Put the chicken in another pan and pour in just enough water to cover. Boil the chicken on high heat, till tender.

Add the bamboo shoot, pepper, chilli powder, garlic and the reserved red chilli paste and cook on low heat, till all the ingredients are well mixed. Stir in the salt and add ajinomoto for that extra dash of flavour.

Next, add the beans, mushrooms and bok choy and cook, till the vegetables are tender, but crisp. Keep adding a little water intermittently so that the mixture is not completely dry. The chicken should have a fiery red colour. Serve hot.


NAGALAND – Kalhang Pork

kalhang-pork---Nagaland.jpgIngredients (4-5 servings)

1 kg pork
5 tsp red chilli powder
1 cup water
3 dried red chillies (preferably Naga Raja Mirchi)
Salt to taste


Wash the pork and cut into medium-sized pieces. Put a large wok on low heat and add the pork pieces. Add 2 tsp of chilli powder and let the meat cook till its juices start drying up. Add 1 cup of water and continue to cook on low heat. Keep adding the rest of the chilli powder gradually and let the pork cook. Toss the meat gently by holding the sides of the wok and shaking it. This is essential to prevent the pork pieces from sticking to the wok bottom. Do not stir. Sprinkle in the salt.

When the meat is nearly tender, roast the red chillies on a dry tava or griddle and crush them to make a coarse powder. Sprinkle the crushed powder over the pork pieces and let the meat cook for a few minutes longer, till tender. Serve hot with steamed rice.


ASSAM – Sariyah Diya Masor Tenga (Assamese Fish Curry with Mustard)

Mustard-Fish----Assam.jpgIngredients (2-3 servings)

500 gm freshwater fish (rohu or rawas), cut into medium-sized pieces
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp mustard oil for frying the fish + 1 tbsp for the curry
½ tsp mustard seeds
6 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
1 medium-sized potato, boiled, mashed
1 tbsp mustard seeds, ground to a paste
1 tbsp sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
2 green chillies, slit at the tip
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, chopped
Salt to taste


Wash the fish and pat dry. Marinate it with a pinch of salt and a pinch of turmeric powder for about 10 minutes. Heat 2 tbsp of mustard oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry the fish for about 2-3 minutes on each side, taking care not to break the pieces. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Put a kadhai on moderate heat and add 1 tbsp of mustard oil. When the oil is smoking hot, add the mustard seeds. When the seeds start spluttering, stir in the finely chopped tomatoes and mashed potato. Add the remaining turmeric powder and salt, stirring continuously. Fry the mixture for about 10 minutes or till it begins to dry up.

Pour in 2 cups of water, stir once and bring to a boil. Gently add the fried fish pieces. Mix the mustard paste with the sugar and add it to the curry. Sprinkle in the lemon juice, stir and let it boil for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and mix in the green chillies and coriander leaves. Serve hot with steamed rice.


TRIPURA – Godok (Tripuri Mixed Vegetables)

godol---Tripura.jpgIngredients (2-3 servings)

¼ cup black-eyed beans, soaked overnight (optional)
2 medium-sized potatoes
100 gm French beans
100 gm sheet beans
100 gm bamboo shoot (fresh or dried)
6-8 mushrooms (optional)
A pinch of turmeric powder
2 small pieces berma (dried fish)
Salt to taste


Drain the beans and rinse thoroughly. Put them into a pan with enough water to cover and boil on high to moderate heat, till tender. Chop all the vegetables, add them to the pan and bring to a boil. Add the turmeric powder, dried fish and salt. Cook, till the vegetables are tender and remove from heat.

Strain the broth from the vegetables and set aside. Put the vegetables in a bowl and mash them coarsely. Now add the reserved broth gradually, stirring all the while, till it has a thick consistency. Serve hot with steamed rice.


MEGHALAYA – Brengna (Chicken Steamed in Bamboo)

brengna-(2)---meghalaya.jpgIngredients (4-5 servings)

1 kg chicken (or 4 small chicks)
2 large onions, finely minced
2” piece ginger, finely shredded
5-6 green chillies (preferably aaba chillies from Meghalaya), minced
1 tbsp mustard oil
1 fresh bamboo tube, about 10” long, 3” in diameter
Wholewheat dough, for sealing
Salt to taste


Clean the chicken and remove the bones. Cut the flesh into very small pieces and smash with a fork to make a coarse mince. Add the onions, ginger and green chillies to the chicken. Mix in the salt. Pour the mustard oil all over the mix and knead thoroughly with your hand. Stuff the chicken mix into the bamboo tube and seal the opening with the dough. Put the bamboo tube on a gentle wood or coal fire and roast for about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Note: If bamboo tubes are not available, make small dumplings of the chicken mince and steam them for about 10-12 minutes in a steamer, preferably a bamboo steamer for an enhanced flavour.

First published in eShe magazine August 2017


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