Saturday, January 26, 2019

Eri silk the warmth of Assamese culture

Happy 70th republic day India. India's independence has a lot to do with Ahimsha silk or peace silk Khadi. Unlike khadi, my home state Assam is a proud curator of Eri silk. This subtle understated light beige or cream color silk has huge importance in Assamese culture.

     After the festive season bids adieu in Assam, the mild winter arrives. My grandfather used to wear the Eri shawl to protect him from cold. Not just my grandfather, in those times a quintessential Assamese winter essential was an Eri shawl and still is.

    Cultivated domestically the word Eri came from Assamese word ‘era’, which means castor as the silkworm feeds on castor plants. Eri is also called ahimsa or peace because while producing eri threads it does not require to kill the worm as moths leave the cocoon naturally and then the cocoons are harvested to be spun. Isn't it enthralling?

     Eri silk was once considered as an essential part of the bridal trousseau in Assamese culture. The weaving of Eri silk was practiced as a tradition in most Assaseme household.
    Eri silk is often considered and attracted for its durable quality. The more it is used, the more comfortable it becomes to wear and it is absolutely wrinkle free.
           Eri silk is earthy and subsides in shine in compared to other silk and is compared to other silk and is thicker as well. It is believed that worlds 95 percent of Eri silk is produced in Northeast India especially Assam and Meghalaya. It can be found in China, Japan, and Thailand as well.  The dense, humid and rainfall in northeast India helps to produce Eri silk.
      Sustainable yet affordable Eri silk could be one's wardrobe staple. It comes in a vivid array of northeast India's designs and motifs. Modern designer and revivals have come up with different designs. Unlike original use as scarf or shawl, eri silk could be found in saree, mekhela chadar,  jacket, cushion cover, tunic etc.

    With the changing time and environmentally concerned society, it brings hope and possibility. Hope indigenous and peaceful Eri will merge into mainstream fashion one day and will empower more local artisans and weavers to not just preserve the tradition but our environment as well.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Kumar's Manchester, CT review

      Do you ever wonder what the taste of country-style cooking or village inspired cooking in southern India is? Even though I come from India, I have never visited the southern part of India yet. If I imagine southern Indian village style cooking, my mind instantly clicks a picture of earthy rustic flavorful cooking, a good dose of spices and of course all natural ingredients served in banana leaves, ah solace.

      A few weeks back one of my friend mentioned about Kumar's the newly open Indian restaurant in Manchester, CT  with inspiration from Southern Indian village style cooking. I couldn't resist but to visit soon. Entering Kumar's I discover a hut in Kumar at the entrance felt good at the little effort to bring southern India to Connecticut USA, as huts are an integral part of an Indian village. It was busy Saturday night at Kumar's, it would be great if you can call ahead and ask for a reservation, otherwise, the wait is super long. As we call ahead earlier we were greeted and seated immediately.

      We love the ambiance at the first glace. You can see the effort of bringing southern Indian village here and something different from a usual Indian restaurant.

      They served papad before we ordered. For starter, we had mix platter that came with idli and vada. It also came with 3 types of chutney and a full bowl of sambhar. Soft buttery idlis were instant love and vadas crispy and soft on inside went just perfect with spicy sambar and savory chutney. Quintessential southern delight one must try. Kids will definitely enjoy, my picky eaters really did.

      Then we had Chennai chilly chicken. The spice will tickle your taste buds with the romance of chilly and crackle of curry leaves with those extra flavors you need in southern chilly chicken. Only thing I expected was the use of natural chicken instead of farm-raised as it is all about country-style cooking. However, the taste didn't differ much.

      I have heard rave reviews about Kumar's Mutton Biryani. We had it for mains. When it comes to Biryani one usually expect long grain Basmati rice, but in Kumar's, it was petit and stout rice. I never had something like this before for Biryani. It was succulent and mutton pieces were so perfectly soaked the flavor that in your every bite you just feel it. As they say, in good cooking that your tummy would get full but not your heart. The same phrase applies to Kumar's  Mutton Biryani.
Then for mains, we had pepper chicken. Scintillating with spices, let me tell you, full-blown of spice is the use of this entry, eat it at your own risk. The meaty flavor of chicken melt in pepper infuses a great dose of flavor.

      After having it, we wanted it subdued with sweetness and ordered almond kulfi. As all entry's already raised the bar we expected a bit more. Unfortunately, it was not what we expected. There was a lack of innovation when it came to the Kulfi and far away from inspiration from the village.
Overall it was a lovely experience that took me on a quick food tour of southern Indian country style cooking. I would love to visit again someday to explore its extensive menu because one visit is certainly not enough.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bora Saul or Sticky rice a beyond festive delight

After moving to the USA when I tried sticky rice in a suburban Thai restaurant in my city, the taste exactly felt like the bora saul in Assam. That reminds me that Assam has a huge connection with Thailand and is believed to be Assam Ahom king came to Assam in golden stairs from Thailand. While migrating Ahom brought food from Thailand to Assam and probably sticky rice is the result of Ahom's immigration from Thailand.

   In Assamese culture, bora saul or sticky rice has great significance whether Bihu or any festivity. Whether making a flattened rice cake (pitha) or as a cereal or preparing just by itself,  it serves any occasion or festival.

   A mild flavored, luscious in taste, small oval in size after cooking it gives little silky texture. Without this glutinous rice, Bihu festivity is incomplete.

              Variety of Pithas from Bora Saul or Sticky rice

 A snippet of Bora saul in Assamese culture:

1. Bora saul can be served as Jalpan(snack) with jaggery and yogurt or milk. If you like more rich and creamy texture than use cream or sour cream instead of milk or yogurt.
2. Bora saul can be served with a dry sauteed vegetable like potatoes.
3. Bora saul goes well with chicken or duck curry or any meat of your preference.
4. Ground bora saul is used for making various pithas.
5. During festive season Sunga Saul is one the popular delicacy in Assam, where sticky rice is cooked in a bamboo stick. This succulent one of a kind dish is a must try.
6. If you are innovative you can make Sweet pulav with Bora saul. Don't forget it add some dry fruits and spice of your choice and Jaggery for the sweetness.
7. Typically Bora Saul is White in color, but black sticky rice is also available.

                            Two types of pitha one are from white bora saul and one is from black bora saul or sticky rice

    Bora saul has a huge history in the construction of monuments and bridges in Assam. Use of Bora saul and egg was believed to give a sturdiness to any construction. The Ranghar in Sivasagar is still standing holding the magnificent history along with the usage of Bora saul.
  The fulcrum factor of consuming Bora Saul is its high-calorie. So, Bora saul is traditionally popular among soldiers and farmers.
Next week is Bogali bihu. Assam will be fragmented with all festive foods. I  will keep calm and cook Bora Saul for my family. Have a great weekend and a great bhogali bihu or Magh Bihu .

Saturday, January 5, 2019

A piece of pride of Assam called Gamusa

      Growing up in the early 80s, a piece of white rectangular cloth with crimson border and flowery designs on the edge was a quintessential part of my Assamese household. Today whenever I use a Gamusa, it feels like yesterday,  when the softness of Gamusa wiped me up after a bath, the crisp and sweet smell of new Gamusa presented on a special occasion.

      Whether it is a festivity, or special occasion or mundane task, one thing is for sure, in every Assamese household, you will find Gamusa. Ga means body and Musa mean a wipe, so it is technically a towel, but Gamusa has a deeper place in Assamese culture and a greater place in every Assamese heart. You can’t imagine any Assamese cultural celebration without Gamusa.

The look

     Gamusa in traditionally woven in cotton threads with red borders in all the four sides in a rectangular shape and motifs or designs on one side but sometimes could be found on either side as well. Nowadays silk Gamusas are available and people use them on special occasions.
Unlike any Assamese weave, weavers perk up aesthetic and artistic sensibility in Gamusa. Gamesa's motifs, designs are predominantly inspired by flowers, birds, Assamese festivities especially Bihu, musical instruments, Assamese hat (japi), etc.


      Mundane to special, Gamesa's use in Assamese culture and society is magnificent. Another name of Gamusa is Bihuwan, the word is associated with Assamese festival Bihu. During the festive bihu  season, presenting handwoven Gamusa to your beloved is a matter of pride and joy. During a festival or wedding presenting and taking blessings from an elder is a tradition. Honoring and facilitating guests with a Gamusa whether at home or public place is a quintessential scene in Assam.
Placing a Gamusa on your shoulder while praying or greeting guests gives a sense of respect and gratitude towards others and one who wears it.
Prayer halls and altars in religious occasion are always covered with Gamusa. It is a folk belief that you have to cover it with gamusa and can't leave it bare.
It is fun to watch Bihu dancers tie Gamusa on their forehead and waist. In fact, you can see musical instruments found wrapped around by Gamusa as well.
With the changing times, the industrial practices have brought threats to the existence of traditional Gamusa. Markets today are full of powerloom Gamusa and have tried to replace the traditional handloom Gamusa.

      Other than traditional use, designers and artisans are taking it forward by creating decorative items, umbrella, mekhela chadar, and shirts inspired by Gamusa design.

      Hope new generations will admire and understand the value of Gamusa in years to come.
If you happen to visit Assam next time, do not forget to bring home the pride of Assam called Gamusa.

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