Northeast India is the hub of diverse culture and houses over 200 tribes in its beautiful landscape. Each tribe has its own culture and identity. One such factor that gives a tribe its specific identity is the food habit. Each tribe contains one’s own unique cuisine.
Some of the tribal cuisines like that of Mising, Naga, Manipuri and Singpho have now been made popular among the people in the urban areas by many ethnic food chains. These ethnic restaurants have successfully made the non tribal population of our state to taste the rich cuisines of these tribes.
Yet there are still many tribal cuisines yet to be explored. One such tribe which has an exclusive delicious cuisine is Tai Phake. This particular tribe first appeared in Yunnan and then migrated to upper Burma. They are now distributed in Upper Assam’s Dibrugarh and Sivasagar districts and Lohit district in Arunachal Pradesh.
Tais, who believed that they are the decedents of Khunlu and Khunlai (the heavenly beings who were god’s favourite), have a unique and healthy food habit. Rice is the staple food of the Tais or the Phakes. Their two main meals consist of rice and vegetables apart from meat, fish and eggs which are also part of their regular menu.
The Tais prefer boiled vegetables and avoid spices available in the market. Instead they use a kind of indigenous spice called Kansang and Makat. Mushroom is a favourite item of the Tais.
Some of the Phake delicacies are:
Dry Fish (Panao): Fish is dried in the sun for few days. When it gets completely dried, it is than grinded adding some salt to it. Then the mixture is kept in a bamboo container for days. The mouth of the container is tightly closed. This mixture is a special food item for special occasions.
Dry Meat (Ngu Hang): Like Panao dry meat is also a very special delicacy of the Phakes. Meat is dried in the sun for four to five days, and when it is completely dried, salt is added and a mixture is made. It is than kept in bamboo containers and the mouth is tightly closed. It can be preserved for months.
Sour fish (Pasom): Pasom is another favourite delicacy of the Phakes. A mixture of raw fish and boiled rice and a little quantity of salt is taken together in a bamboo container. After 6 days, the mixture is ready for consumption, and it can also be preserved for months.
Preserved Raw Fish (Patek): The Phakes preserve fish for future consumption. They cut fishes into pieces, and add indigenous spices along with salt and turmeric. The mixture is the+n kept into tightly closed bamboo containers. It can be preserved for two weeks.
Vegetarian Dish (Pokat som): To prepare this special and tasty vegetable dish the Phakes grow lai sak (a leafy vegetable). Four to five kilograms of Lai Sag are dried in sun rays for two days. After adding some salt and starch along with some other dried vegetables the lai sag is kept in bamboo containers. It is consumed after seven days.
The Phakes practise a healthy diet and these cuisines are free from extra spice and oil unlike traditional Indian food. The Phake cuisines are bland, hot, aromatic, fatty and very yummy. Food is a best way to connect with different cultures of the region of Northeast India and it also takes us to the rich history of these tribes.