Barak Valley is a place of food lovers and enthusiasts who love to experience new food, new cuisines, new restaurants, etc. The food of barak valley comprises both vegetarian and non-vegetarian and is mostly boiled in nature.
And as such, it is one of the healthy forms of food and widely sought over by many Bengali, Manipuri, Naga, Mizo, Kuki, Assamese people alike.
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Barak Valley is blessed with the Barak river and its tributaries along with various freshwater resources that boast several kinds of delicious fishes. Hence,unquestionably, fish is an indispensable part of the cuisine.
The cuisine of all parts of Barak Valley are almost similar, more inclined towards non vegetarian. The people are so fond of non vegetarian that even if the preparation is vegetarian they add non vegetarian to it . Some dishes are bland while some are spicy.
Different parts of Barak Valley have their own food culture. Fish and rice are the major food items of Barak Valley.
The valley is known for its natural resources and bamboo is quite famously used in the kitchen. The plant forms a way of life and the people’s culture, where it is used in almost every dish, bamboo shoots being the most popular. A popular dish across India, and consists of red rice, cooked with generous amounts of pork meat.
Sufficient green chillies, onions, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, bay leaves with pork chops are added and fried, after which the red rice is added and cooked with the mixture.
Iromba is a healthy dish made originally from fermented fish and assorted fish sauce, which is served with rice. The fish is cooked along with a variety of boiled vegetables.
The fermentation process is also known to add flavor, increase digestibility, nutritional and pharmacological values. The valley is known for its diverse cuisine and food habits all across northeast India. It has a multicultural heritage with various ethnic food habits spread across its vast geographical area.
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Shidol is known as Iromba, Tonga in barak valleys indigenous Manipuri community and also nowadays other communities indicating an adoption of the item in respective cultures. It is very much different from other commercially fermented foods.
Fermentation as a technique is common in Barak Valley’s culinary milieu. With abundance of fishes in barak rivers and streams, preservation came naturally to the local populace, to ensure availability in dry seasons. Over 30-40 varieties of dry and fermented fishes are available.
Shidol is prepared in a different way where sun dried small fishes are ground in a traditional grounding apparatus with some herbs following a specific procedure. Preparing hidol involves smearing an earthen pot with oil, sun drying it, tempering its insides with a paste made from crushed dry fish, then pouring brine and mustard oil and finally hard-stuffing the processed fish to the pot’s optimum capacity.
The pressing was traditionally done by feet, though manufacturers now use hands or wooden appendages. The pot then goes inside a deep hole dug into the soil, covered and left there for 4-6 months depending on the quality and quantity of fish. The microbial fermentation is catalyzed by the cold, darkness and geothermal energy underground. When the pot is harvested, shidol is ready for the market.
The varieties of shidol- based dishes in barak valleys diverse cuisine are wide. Its taken dy roasted in fire and mashed with copious amounts of onions, garlic and hot chillies like bhoot jolokia ; fried in oil, infused with fried onions, abundance of chillies, a dash of tomato and coriander leaves, mashed in a paste or boiled with bamboo shoots, lots of hot chillies, spices and condiments, even stewed with different vegetables as one pot dish. The scent of hidol can bring tears of joy.
Omega3 fatty acids are available in high concentration in traditionally prepared dry fishes. It helps people with cardiac problems and diabetes. But since dry fishes have high sodium content, people with heart ailments should undergo a lipid profile test and make sure their sodium, potassium levels are within the safe bracket.
Shidol is also believed to boost immunity level and is a must if someone is down with fever and cold. The spicy, sharp flavors of the dish are an instant cure for blocked sinuses. It is believed to tickle the taste buds and bring back the lost appetite. Fermentation increases the probiotic value of food, makes it digestible, keeps the gut healthy and boosts overall immunity.
It represents the socio-cultural milieu of a region, where people are known for ingenious ways of preserving food. When it comes to fermented fish – hidol in Barak Valley in Assam; not many know it is revered for its curative properties.
The culinary tradition of fermented fish is linked with the geography and weather conditions of the land. Being the localities of the Barak region, we cannot imagine a day without shidol. It forms an integral part of our diet from the time a child develops a taste for spicy food.
The most popular recipes to come out of the Barak Valley kitchens are shidol chutney and fritters made of stuffed shidol in pumpkin leaves. In order to fill up what we have lost over time and to preserve our rich tradition, many old ladies from this region, throughout their life, saved this authentic traditional Manipuri cuisine “SHIDOL”. Shidol is an emotion which we take with us wherever we go. It is a regular dish for every household except those who are strict vegetarians and the dish varies from house to house who make this in their own way.
Let us all enjoy the local delicacy from Barak valley- Shidol.
The basic ingredients
Let us add this for flavor
Ready to be served
The final product- Shidol
Contributed by Jahid Ahmed
Edited by Imtiaz Ullah