It was my hostess Lei Choren’s kitchen, at Kalden Home Stay, that introduced some of the authentic Monpa dishes to me. At first, my hosts were a little wary of serving me their regular food, as they thought I might not like it. The aroma of cheese used in their food is quite strong and not many people are able to appreciate it. But, I insisted on having their food, and they were happy to prepare different ‘Monpa’ dishes for me. In fact, they didn’t just make me try their dishes, but also taught me a few basic words related to food – Tosang (food), Kamtang (veggies) and Ja (chai/tea).
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My first evening at their home began with a cup of delicious black tea with a hint of cardamom and clove flavours in it. They were so gracious to offer me tea whenever I wanted. I guess a cup of good tea makes the experience of being at a place even better. Don’t you think so?
Well, before I unravel the Monpa dishes and brews, let me tell you a bit about Monpa gastronomy – their typical food ingredients are chillies, maize, soya beans, barley, local cheese, and fresh home-grown veggies. Also, they like to have a lot of non-vegetarian dishes.
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Chicken prepared with Libichura (Soya bean)
I loved Monpa style chicken dishes. Although their chicken preparation was totally different from how it’s usually prepared in North India or anywhere else for that matter, it was delicious. They cook chicken with soya bean and local cow milk cheese. What I appreciate about their cooking is the simplicity. Their cooking, though some of their dishes take hours to cook, is not very elaborate or complex.
Thenthuk is a noodle soup made with Maida, veggies and pieces of meat. It’s yummy and wholesome, too. I enjoyed having it.
Phenang khongba is one of the Monpa dishes that take a lot of cooking time. It’s made with maize and beans, and takes around 6 hours to cook. Monpas relish it so much that they prepare large portions of it, so that they can have as much as they like.
Momos with spicy chutney
Although momos are quite popular everywhere, the momos from a Monpa kitchen are a totally different experience. You can have them steamed or fried. My hostess prepared a very nice roughly ground chutney to enjoy with it.
Fish with green leafy veggies
I’m particularly fond of fish. So yes, I relished the fish preparation that was served to me. It was a watery dish with fish pieces in it, along with saag (spinach).
Monpas mostly eat rice with all their dishes. I guess that’s because rice is easier to cook than chapattis. However, my hosts, at my behest, were sweet enough to prepare chapattis for me on one occasion.
Also, they like to eat a little bit of local butter with rice, which is a delicious add-on.
Cabbage with Maida chapattis
Cabbage with Maida chapattis was my favourite. The veggie was so simply made with just salt, red chillies and nothing much really, but it was so delicious and homey. It goes really well with Maida chapattis.
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The beverages I tried at the Monpa house –
Arak is Monpa tribe’s local alcoholic brew made with fermented rice that they like to enjoy in the evenings. I didn’t really like its taste that much, but the intoxication was slow and nice. It’s a good nightcap I’d say.
Arak goes well with chicken dishes.
Bangchang is also a local alcoholic beverage in Arunachal Pradesh made with fermented rice, kiwi or maize. The taste is somewhat sour, which is easier to like. But, I found it a little hard for me. I had a headache the next day.
I was very curious to sip the butter tea popular among the Monpa folks. Well, it’s good to try, but you’d get back to your own kind of tea quite soon. The tea is so full of butter that it barely tastes like tea. But, that’s my opinion. You might like it!
It was a unique experience to try different Monpa dishes and brews at a Monpa home. I’d say it was a total break from what I have on my plate, in my everyday life. Thus, it was interesting and invigorating. Food is the best way to live a different life. It was almost like biting a slice of a different world.
What about you? Have you experienced a totally unique gastronomy on your travels?
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