Traditional foods and beverages of the Zeliangrong of Northeast
- Part 1 -

Dr Budha Kamei *

A scene from a Documentary Film by Ronel Haobam - 'The Zeliangrongs'
A scene from a Documentary Film by Ronel Haobam - 'The Zeliangrongs'


Majority tribal population of North East India lives in the forest ecosystem and has its own socio-cultural pattern, tradition and typical food habits. They depend mainly upon the natural resources of the habitat for their food. The Zeliangrong , too, have the knowledge of the cycle of various local wild plants and animals and they with that time tested indigenous knowledge, have exploited the plant and animal resources of their habitat so as to lead a successful living by way of setting up a harmonious relationship with the habitat.

In other words, with the help of their traditional knowledge, they prepare beverages, boiled foods, fermented foods and nutritionally rich traditional foods from various indigenous crop plants, forest products and meat of wild and domestic animals. They also have very strong knowledge to differentiate poisonous plants from the non poisonous ones. These foods are an essential part of their social and cultural life.

Traditional foods are rich in nutrients and also have certain healing properties against diseases and disorders. Alcoholic beverages of the different tribal peoples of North East have noticed of several anthropologists and ethno botanists. Because of introduction of ready made food through globalization process, the number of consumption of traditional foods significantly decrease and this has resulted in many diseases notably heart disease, diabetes and anaemia particularly to pregnant and lactating women.

Although the modern Zeliangrong have adopted to new food habits, because of its importance, it becomes vital to document the traditional foods and beverages and their importance amongst the people.

Methods and materials:

The present study is conducted in the hills and valley areas of Manipur covering ten Zeliangrong villages. About 30 persons who have well knowledge of traditional practices and foods are selected as samples. The selected key informants are interviewed through structured and unstructured enquiries at the study site(s)/village(s) to get supportive information. The response of the informants is recorded. The secondary sources are collected from available books, journals, electronic and non-electronic sources.

Dietary pattern:

In the past, the use of oil to fry food items was totally unknown to Zeliangrong people living in the remote areas. They still rarely use oil in the preparation of food. Their important diet consists of rice, meat, fish and vegetables. Fruits of different kinds are also taken by them. Preparation of food is simple, in most cases, meat, fish or vegetables are cooked only with salt, chilly and indigenous species or meat cooked with some vegetables.

In short, food is cooked simply by boiling, adding salt and chili and spices are not commonly used. Ganhoi, vegetable or meat cooked with grain rice is the common delicious food item of the Zeliangrong. They are very fond of fermented foods. They often flavour their simple curries with different kind of fermented food items and herbs. The women folks process traditional fermented foods, such as vegetables and beverages.

The popular raw materials for fermented food items are: bamboo shoots, soybean, seed of rossella etc. Generally, the Zeliangrong people take meals three times a day: morning, afternoon (at jhum field) and evening. Female members usually got up early in the morning, pounded rice and cooked food for the family.

In the words of R. Brown, "In the grey of the morning, the females of the family are astir, and the village resound with the blows of the long pestle in the wooden mortar, beating out the rice from husk. This finished, breakfast is cooked for the family." Meal time is important as all the members of the family take meal together and discuss any matter of the family. After morning meal, all the adult members of the family with food packets (Napdom) and rice beer (Joumuh) go to the field and return home before sunset.

Preparation of traditional foods:

Like many other tribal communities of the world, they also have their system of preparation of food and preservation. They practice different systems of preservation of food to avoid from the apprehension of scarcity of food in rainy season. This clearly indicates that the hill people bear hard life in the struggle of survival.


Ganhoi, a type of curry is prepared by boiling grain of rice with leaves of ginger, Bangmaroi, Tangang, chili and salt. They prepare such curry with dry or fresh meat or dry fish. Because of rice grain, it has a special flavor. Among the Meiteis, it is known as Chagem Pomba. However, they prepare it with cucumber, carrot leaf, squash and its leaves and broken rice about 50 gm. Some other vegetables which are cut into pieces can also be added. Sometimes, they fry contents with mustard oil. When it is almost cooked, they add fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) in place of coriander leaf in it.


Duigan is an alkali based curry and is common type of traditional food of the Zeliangrong. It is very simple in preparation; rice, salt, bamboo shoot, chili, leaves of arum (Bihnong) and mustard (Ganangnong) with sufficient quantity of alkaline are put together in a pot and cooked by boiling. Traditionally, Dui is prepared from the burnt ashes of the bark, straw, mustard plant etc. Nowadays, sodium Bicarbonate is used in preparation of Duigan.

Among the Bodos, the traditional cuisine is not possible without Kharwi, alkali. Ondla Kharwi is the most popular delicious dish of Bodos. The fermented vegetables or dried meat or fish or green vegetables are cooked with rice powder, Ondla and Kharwi. Among the valley Meiteis, a black lentil called Ooty is a compulsory item at all grand feasts.


Tam is a traditional dish of the Zeliangrong. It is not only an item of dish, but also an item of refreshment usually served during the festivals or in social functions. Tam is usually made by boiling vegetables or meat with fermented vegetables, chili and salt. It can also be prepared from boiled bamboo shoot (Thunda) or dry bamboo shoot (Thunkang) and dry skin of cow (Goigi).

Bamboo shoots which are cut into thin slices are boiled in water for about 30 minutes until it turns into yellow colour. Then, the bamboo shoot without liquid is mixed with liquid of fermented mustard leaves locally called Ganang Tamdui, chili, and salt. This is called Thunda Tam. For making of Goigi Tam, dry skin of cow is roasted and then washed with water; next it is boiled again and then cut into pieces.

Small pieces of cow skin are mixed with Ganang Tamdui, salt, chili etc. and thus prepared Goigi Tam. Gaktingtam, boiled pork pounded with salt, ginger, chilies and made into balls is served during the festivals or in other social functions.

To be continued ....

* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on April 17, 2017.

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