Traditional knowledge system of food preparation and preservation among the Zeliangrongs

Dr Budha Kamei *

Introduction: The Zeliangrong people, with the help of their traditional knowledge, prepare boiled and fermented foods, and nutritionally rich traditional foods from various indigenous crop plants, forest products and meat of animals. They have very strong knowledge of separating poisonous from the non-poisonous plants. These foods are vital part of their socio-cultural life. Traditional foods are rich in nutrients and also have certain healing properties against diseases and disorders.

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 like heart disease, diabetes etc. Although the modern Zeliangrongs have adopted to new food habits, because of its importance, it becomes vital to document the preservation of traditional foods and their importance amongst the people.

Methods and materials: The study was conducted in the hills and valley areas of Manipur covering eight Zeliangrong villages. The selected 30 key informants (who have well knowledge of traditional practices, foods preparation and preservation) were interviewed through unstructured enquiry at the study site(s)/village(s) to get supportive information. The response of the informants was recorded. The secondary sources were collected from available books, journals, electronic and non-electronic sources.

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

Techniques of food preparation and preservation

Ganang Tamdui: Ganang Tamdui, liquid of fermented mustard leaves is mainly used in preparation of chutney, Tam. The process of fermentation of Ganang, mustard leaves is simple; in winter season, mustard leaves are collected from jhum field and put on a platform for some days until the colour of leaves turn into yellow. The leaves are put in the sun again and the weathered leaves are put pressed in a Khoupak, bamboo basket.

The same Khoupak is placed on a dish for collection of fermented liquid. After some days, a pungent smell is released, that time these leaves are removed and pressed with both hands in order to extract the liquid from the leaves. Next, the liquid is boiled in a pot to become thicker/condensed liquid. This liquid is called Ganang Tamdui. It can be preserved for about one year. In second method, the mustard leaves are boiled and spread in the sun. After that the leaves are placed in a pot covered with plantain leaves for fermentation.

Ganang Kng: The mustard leaves which are collected from jhum field in winter season are boiled in a pot with small amount of water and spread in the sun until the leaves become completely dry. The leaves are made into pieces for quick drying. They are usually preserved placing on the Keikang, above the fire place for use in rainy season/off season.

Khui: Khui is a traditional fermented soyabean with characteristic flavor and stickiness. It is commonly consumed in local diet as a source of protein. In the traditional method of Khui preparation, soybean seeds which are cleaned and sorted are dipped in water for about 10 hours.

Then, the seeds are washed in plain water two or three times and cooked by boiling. The boiled soyabeans are then put in a Khoupak after draining off the water portion. It is then wrapped in banana leaves and put above the fire place for about three days in summer/ five days in winter so as to let the process of fermentation complete properly and also to keep away from insectsí damage. Within five days, the Khui is used in Tam, chutney preparation along with chilly and salt.

However, for long-term storage and depending on choice of taste, the fermented Khui are kept in cake form above the fireplace called Kaikang or individual beans are separated, dried in the sun and stored in containers. The dried beans or cakes are cooked with meat or are used for the preparation of Tam. The traditional Khui is characterized by its stickiness, alkalinity, and pungent odour. The preparation of Khui is alike to that of Japanese Itohiki-Natto.

Not only Khui, the Zeliangrong people prepare fermented seed of Rossella locally called Gankheng Khui. The process of preparation of Gankhengkhui is same to that of Khui and it is used in making Tam along with chili and salt. For longer storage, the Gankhengkhui is also dried in the sun; it is stored it in a bamboo tube covered tightly with a lid.

Thun: Bamboo shoot is also a popular item of food. It is taken fresh by boiling or roasting in the hot ashes of a fire or preserved dried or fermented to get sour bamboo shoot preservation.

Thunkheng, fermented bamboo shoot is produced exclusively from succulent bamboo shoots of the species Dendrocalamus hamiltonii, D. sikkimensis, D. giganteus, Melocana bambusoide, Bambusa tulda and B. balcona. Fermentation process of Thun, bamboo shoot is carried out during May to June when new shoots sprout. Tender bamboo shoots, after removing the scales, are sliced into thin small pieces and put in an earthen pot or a Khoupak, bamboo basket with the inner wall lined with banana leaves to keep in air tight condition.

A hole is made at the bottom of the basket/pot for draining the liquid. The upper portion of the basket or pot is covered with banana leaves and stones are put on it as weight. Large scale fermentation is done in a pit.

The bamboo shoots get fermented within five days and they are now ready for use in cooking. The fermented bamboo shoot is locally known as Thunkheng. For longer storage, the fermented bamboo shoots are also dried in the sun. Thunkhengkang, the dried bamboo shoots are graded according to size for preparing different dishes.

Thus, two products of fermented bamboo shoots, wet and dry are obtained. The products are used in cooking meat or vegetable dishes. There is another method in preparation of dry bamboo shoots. For this purpose, any edible bamboo shoot variety is used. All the bamboo shoots are cut into pieces and boiled with water and then the shoots are exposed to the sun for drying. These dried bamboo shoots are kept in a basket covered with Luikhum to use in off season. The bamboo shoots are rich in potassium, carbohydrates, dietary fibres, vitamins and various antioxidants.

Jan Ningmei: Usually, fat of internal portion of the pig or cow is preserved in a bamboo tube covered tightly with a lid. After 20 days of fermentation, it can be used in preparation of curry to soften the vegetables and it also imparts nice taste to the curry. The tube is placed above the fire place. In addition, they have different types of traditional foods, their preparation and preservation techniques which have been handed orally from one generation to another.

Conclusion: In traditional Zeliangrong society, culture, traditions, ethics and food habit canít be separated as they are all interrelated. Nowadays, their approaches to life have changed and it is not easy to find the age-old simple life style even in the villages. Traditional foods are still a favourite item in the food preparation.

The advent of modern civilization has adversely affected the age-old tradition and thus the younger generations of Zeliangrong are not exposed to traditional practices. It is well known that traditional foods have rich nutritional values and healing properties. So, there should be purposeful efforts to revive and promote the traditional food habit systems within villagers. The nutritional and microbiological aspects of traditional foods are required to be looked into in future.

* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at budhakamei(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 28, 2018.

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