Imagine sitting by the window of a house on stilts, slowly sipping passion fruit juice from a bamboo tumbler, as your eyes caress the heavy purple blue clouds of early dusk hanging over green mountains and clear streams.
You'll probably have to wait till your next vacation to experience this north-eastern paradise — but the culinary part of it is accessible this evening at the Ants Café, Indiranagar.
The Flavours of Mizoram food festival at the Ants Cafe will kick off with passion fruit juice, a simple cucumber salad and some chicken soup. The clear soup, with vegetables and chicken, is distinctively flavoured with Pardi, a well-liked Mizo herb which closely resembles celery. The sharp bite of this herb offers an interesting contrast to the sweetness of the vegetables and the heartiness of the chicken.
The menu at the festival has been personally put together by Lalrinpuii, a Mizo who has lived in the city for a decade now, and her friend Vanlalchhuani – both active members of the local Mizo community. The staple is rice, with meat and vegetables served on the side, ranging from the homely bai, a simple vegetable stew, to the Vawklu bawl, pork head with sesame, garlic, onion and herbs.
While the Mizos truly relish their non-vegetarian delicacies, Lalrinpuii surprises us with an unexpected revelation. Daily meals in a Mizo home are often totally vegetarian and meat is a “must” only on weekends and festive occasions.
Also, Mizo food is on the blander side and low on oil, and many-a-time the dish serves as centre stage for one star ingredient, like the Pardi in the chicken soup or the fermented soyabean in the Bai. This is unlike many other Indian cuisines where a medley of ingredients combine to define the dish.
In the Bai, the fermented soya bean gives the stew it's rich distinct flavour and is offset perfectly by the spicy chillies. But Lalrinpuii points out amusedly that the younger generation of Mizos don't always prefer these strong flavours, (dried fish being another example). Whereas those in her peer group grew up with these flavours and associate them with home.
One dish which remains popular across age groups is the smoked pork. Lalrinpuii recalls a time when every Mizo home had the meat hanging on rafters above the cooking fire so that it absorbed the flavours of the daily cooking as it aged. Now of course, it is commercially available in her home State but the enthusiastic and committed lady has made the effort to offer you her homemade version, cooked with bamboo shoots.
The Mizos take their herbs very seriously. They have numerous varieties of mustard leaves, locally called antam, which are indigenous to places like China and France and brought home by the Mizo soldiers after World War I.
Lalrinpuii has most of these ingredients flown in from Mizoram, as they are not available locally.
And if you've always envied the Mizos svelte appearance, the low-calorie last course of the meal explains it for you — paan and black tea served with jaggery. Lalrinpuii says fresh fruits of the season are another popular dessert option among her people.
The Ants Cafe is attached to The Ants store, which retails clothing, jewellery, decor items and other handicrafts made by the people of the north-east. It is a venture of “The Ant”, a voluntary organisation that has worked for the people of the north-east, directly and through fellow-organisations since 2000.
The Flavours of Mizoram is part of their latest initiative – Northeastising the Mainstream by bringing to us positive stories from the region. Music, books, talks and film screenings are also part of this effort.
To reserve seats, call 8123481721 or 41715639. Confirm attendance as food is limited. The cost per plate is Rs. 350.
The dinner will be tonight between 7 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. at the Ants Café, #2023/B, 1st cross, 14th A main, HAL 2nd stage, Indiranagar.