Cuisine of Assam

Cuisine of Assam

The Cuisine of Assam, a state in North-East India, is a mixture of different indigenous styles with considerable regional variations and some external influences. It is characterized by very little use of spices but strong flavors due mainly to the use of endemic exotic herbs, fruits and vegetables that are either fresh, dried or fermented. Fish is widely used, and birds like duck, pigeon etc. are very popular. Pork dishes are particular favorites. Preparations are rarely elaborate—the practice of Bhuna, the gentle frying of spices before the addition of the main ingredients so common in Indian cooking, is absent in the cuisine of Assam. [Babbar, Purobi [ Queen Bee Of Assamese Cooking] ]

A traditional meal in Assam begins with a "khar", a class of dishes named after the main ingredient, and ends with a "tenga", a sour dish. These two dishes characterize a traditional meal in Assam. The food is usually served in bell metal utensils made by an indigenous community called Mariya. "Tamul" (betel nut, generally raw) and "paan" generally concludes the meal. [ [ Grandmas cooking] -- blog entry]


The cuisine of Assam is strongly influenced by the local ingredients, especially because this cuisine tries to preserve the natural flavors or augment them by processes like drying, fermentation etc.


Rice is the most important ingredient in this cuisine. The large varieties of rice found in the region has led to speculation that the grain was first domesticated in the Assam- Yunnan region. Both the indica as well as the japonica varieties are grown in Assam. The most popular class of rice is the "joha". Rice is eaten in many different forms: roasted and ground (xandoh), boiled in its husk and flattened (chira), puffed (akhoi). There also grows a variety of rice that can be just soaked and eaten (Komal Saul).

Rice is a part of all meals in Assam. A traditional breakfast consists of "chira" with yogurt and jaggery. Farmers eat cooked rice soaked overnight ("poita") garnished with mustard oil, onions, etc. Snacks would be xandoh, Komal Saul or bora saul with milk. For other major meals, rice could be boiled, steamed or wrapped in leaves and roasted.

A special class of rice preparations, called pithas are generally made only on special occasions like the Bihu. Made usually with soaked and ground glutinous rice (bora saul), they could be fried in oil with a sesame filling (xutuli pitha), roasted in young green bamboo over a slow fire (sunga pitha) or baked and rolled over a hot plate with a filling (kholasapori pitha).

Rice is also the primary ingredient for the many rice beers and liquors ("lao-pani") made in Assam by different ethnic communities: "zou" (Bodo), "apong" (Mishing), "xaj" (Ahom), "hor" (Karbi), "phatika" (Kachari) etc.


The next most important ingredient is the fish, harvested from the many rivers, ponds and lakes in the region. There is no traditional ethnic community in Assam that does not eat fish. Most traditional rural households have their own ponds for pisciculture. Some of the most popular fishes are the Rohu, the Hilsa and the chital (Chitala chitala), though the varieties of fish available and eaten is very large.

Other locally found fishes are: "Borali" (Wallago attu), "Bahu", "Bato", "Naro", "Pabho", "Aari", "Mirika", "Khoria", "Xaal", "Xol", "Kanduli", "Goroi", "Sengeli", garfish, cypriniformes, "Tôra", eel, Chanda nama, "Kusia", climbing gourami, "Bheseli", "Lasôn", "Bhangôn", "Koliyajora", "Xingi", "Xingora", walking catfish, "Gedgedi", Xenentodon cancila, "Boriola", "Môa", "Neria" etc. The discerning gourmand would be able to tell which region of Assam is known for which variety of fish. (See List of fishes in Kaziranga National Park for more)

The most popular dish from Assam, the "tenga", is an indispensable part of a proper meal in Assam. The most popular "tenga" is made with tomatoes, though ones made with "kajinemu" (lemon) (thick skinned elongated) and "thekera" (dried Mangosteen, Garcinia pedunculata) added to other vegetables are also popular. Another favorite is small fish roasted in banana leaves. "Hukuti" is a special fish dish prepared from dried small fish ("puthy mas") pounded with arum stem and dried and stored in bamboo tubes. "Xukan masor chutney", popular among the tribal communities of Northeast India in general and Assam in particular, are dried and fermented small fish "puthy mas" (Ticto barb), three to four in numbers are roasted along with lavishly amounts of green chillies, tomatoes, ginger and garlic (all roasted). The ingredients are then pounded in a mortar to make a coarse paste and served with rice.


Pork and beef dishes are particularly favorites in the tribes in Assam although general people also sometimes have pork, but not basically. The basic cooking method is boiling. "Onla", of the Bodos, is made with ground rice and special herbs, and constitutes a complete meal in itself. Other meat includes pigeon, duck, chicken, mutton, venison, turtle although venison and turtle meat are legally prohibited. The combination of duckwhite gourd and pigeonpapaya is very popular.

Greens and vegetables

The environs of Assam are rich in vegetation, and green leafy vegetables, called "xaak", are an important part of the cuisine. Some of them are grown while others like the "dhekia" (fern) grows wild. There is a bewildering variety that is eaten and according to custom, one has to have a hundred different "xaak"s (greens) during Rongali Bihu. Locally available green leafy vegetables are: Spinach, "lai" (a family of mustard greens), fenugreek greens, "khutora", amaranth, "moricha", "dherua" (radish leaf), "chuka", "babori", "matikaduri", asiatic pennywort, mint, dichondra, "jilmil", "tengamora", water spinach, water hyssop, coriander, patchouli, "doron", "mosondori", "noltenga", curry leaf, skunk vine, cabbage. Green vegetables are often boiled with water to form a gravy or sauteed in oil with onions.

Other locally available vegetables are: Cauliflower, beetroot, kohlrabi, potato, yam, sweet potato, taro, curry bananas, banana flower, banana stem, jackfruit, bell pepper, Pointed gourd, "jeeka", "toroi", Ridge gourd, snake gourd, bottle gourd, white gourd, pumpkin, Bitter gourd, Ivy gourd, Okra, peanut, cucumber, radish, carrot, tomato, Turnip, eggplant, Papaya, squash, chayote, drumstick tree. etc

Among pulses and beans there are: lentil, white lentil (e.g. urad bean with the black skin removed), mung bean, urad bean, "urohi", "lesera mah", Green bean, pigeon pea, chickpea, etc.


Among spices there are ginger, garlic, onion, cumin seed, black pepper, chilli, turmeric, coriander seed, cinnamom, cardamom, clove, fenugreek seed, white mustard seed, aniseed, cassia etc.

Exotic foods

Assam has its share of exotic foods. One such delicacy is "eri polu", the pupa of the Eri silkworm after it has spun its cocoon. Fermented bamboo shoot ("khorisa") is another traditional condiment used in Assam.


Although modern cuisine of Assam has been influenced by east and north Indian cuisine, Assam is still rich in traditional dishes. Various types of dishes are prepared and served throughout the year.


The khar is a signature class of preparations made with a key ingredient, also called khar. The traditional ingredient is made by filtering water through the ashes of a banana tree, which is then called "kola khar" (black "khar"). A traditional meal invariably begins with a "khar" dish, made of raw papaya, pulses or any other main ingredient. "Xôkôta": It’s severely bitter type of preparation. It’s prepared with dry jute leaf, urad bean and "khar". But the combination of "Khar" and "Tenga" is not recommanded.


The "tenga" is a light and sour fish dish, another signature class of preparations. The souring ingredient could be mangosteen, lemon etc., but the most popular is that made with tomatoes. Fish dishes made with fermented bamboo shoot are generally sour, but they are not called "tenga"s. Fish is fried in mustard oil or curried with bottle gourd or spinach. Another "tenga" dish is prepared with "matimah" (urad bean) and "outenga" (elephant apple). Bottle gourd also can be added to it. "Tengamora" or "noltenga" and lentil is also a distinct "tenga" curry. Meat is curried in spicy gravy.


"Poitabhat" is a favourite dish in Assam during the summer season. Cooked rice is soaked overnight in order to prepare "poitabhat" and served the next day garnished with mustard oil, onion, chilli, pickles, "pitika" (smashes) etc.


Side dishes called "pitika" (mashes) is very popular. The most popular is "aloo pitika" (mashed potatoes) garnished with raw onions, mustard oil, green chillies and sometimes boiled eggs. "khorisa tenga" is mashed fermented bamboo shoot, sometimes pickled in mustard oil and spices. "Kharoli" is fermented mashed mustard (Brassica campestris var. toria) seed. "Pitika"s are also made from roasted or steamed vegetables (tomatoes and eggplants being very popular) and fish. Another favorite side dish is "Patotdia". Small fishes, asiatic pennywort, "matikaduri", "tengamora" leaves, "mosondori", "dôrôn" etc. are roasted separately wrapped with banana leaves and smashed into "pitika" along with mustard oil, salt, chilli etc. to prepare various "patotdia". This item is so called since banana leave is used in it and the Assamese term for "leaf" is "Paat".


Pickles are there made of mango, indian gooseberry, hog plum, olive, Tamarind, star fruit, mangosteen, radish, carrot, elephant apple, Jujube, chilli, lime, garlic etc..

Chutney & Salad

Chutney is made of coriander, spinach, tomato, "mosondori", curry leaf, chilli, lentil, chickpea etc. "Xukan masor chutney" (chutney made of dry fish) is popular among the tribal communities. Salad is made of carrot, radish, tomato, cucumber, beetroot etc.

ome other Preparations

Some other preparations in Assamese cuisine include "Kahudi", "Panitenga", "Khorikatdiya", "Tenga sorsoriya", "Posola" etc

nacks & Cakes


"Jolpan" (snacks) in Assamese is what is breakfast although it is not always served as breakfast in Assamese cuisine. The items served in Bihu, marriage or any special occasions are called Jolpan. Some Jolpan are – Bora saul, Komal Saul, Xandoh, Chira, Muri, Akhoi etc. along with curd, jaggery, yogurt and various Pitha.


"Pitha" (rice cake) is a special class of rice preparation generally made only on special occasions like Bihu in Assam. Made usually with soaked and ground rice, they could be fried in oil, roasted over a slow fire or baked and rolled over a hot plate. Some pithas are- Til Pitha, Ghila Pitha, Xutuli Pitha, Sunga Pitha, Bhapotdiya Pitha, Lakhimi Pitha, Tora Pitha, Tekeli Pitha, Muthiya Pitha, Kholasapori Pitha etc.



* Various (2007) " [ Axomiya Vyanjon] Assam Bangalore Coordination Forum
* Barbora, Sanjay (2006) " [ Who needs butter chicken? The search for (and the finding of) a proud Assamese tradition of food] ", [ Himal Magazine] , November 2006.
* Goswami, Prashanta (2004) " [ Assam: Feast Northeast] ", Outlook Traveller, April 2004.
* Goswami, Uddipana (2000) " [ Baptism by Beer: Assamese Cuisine] ", [ Tehelka] .
* Saleh, Wahid (2007) " [ A few links to Assamese Cuisine] ", [ Indiawijzer]

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