Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A chutney from Manipur

My love affair with aithang-lou didn't happen overnight.

The first time I took a spoonful of an aithang-lou chutney must have been over four years ago, if not more. The chutney was hot. Very, very hot. And so pungent that it reminded me of something akin to fish food. Needless to say, that spoonful eventually found its way into the garbage bin after dinner. And, no one asked why. I suppose its an understood thing. The first time you taste aithang-lou, it is not going to go down well.

Aithang-lou chutney

Fast forward to 2015. Len and I were in Manipur for a holiday and happened to visit the Tribal Market at Imphal. I was on a herb buying spree. Keen to bring back a slice of Manipur's ethnic culinary tradition, I purchased every exotic ingredient I could lay my eyes on that summer. Aithang-lou was one among those. After returning to Delhi we simply buried some in a pot, and before a week passed we could see tiny green shoots pushing their way through the soil. Ever since, harvesting the roots has become a seasonal affair, and it is rare for us to not have a container full of aithang-lou tucked inside our fridge.

Easy to grow and fun to harvest

Aithang-lou is also called the fishy-smell herb or fish mint, and rightly so, thanks to its earthy, pungent, umami flavour that is almost reminiscent of pond weed. It is without a doubt an aquired taste like many others, but if you do happen to cross over to the other side, aithang-lou will have you hooked. Line. And sinker!

My favourite chutney using this delicacy is made using dried raja mirchi and charred, ripe tomatoes. The heat from the chilli balances the pungency of aithang-lou, while the smoky flavour of the tomatoes give an added dimension to the dish. My favourite way to enjoy  this chutney is with steamed rice and a colocasia and bamboo shoots stew.

For those interested,  here's the recipe.

What you need

1 ripe tomato
1 dried raja mirchi (a type of dried red chilli), or to taste
1 cup root
Salt to taste

How to

Burn the tomato skin over an open flame, till it turns black and can be scraped off easily. Lightly roast the chilli as well.

Mash the tomato, chilli, and salt in a mortar. Mix in the roots.

In addition to this, I also thought of sharing the different common names used for this root across the world. This is not an exhaustive list, but just some of the many names it is known by. Not surprisingly, I discovered that in addition to being a common ingredient in the north east of India, this aaromatic, medicinal herb is eaten as far as Vietnam, China, and Japan.

Scientific name: Houttuynia cordata
  • Manipur, India: Aithang-lou
  • Nagaland, India: Ngayung, Ngayungwon
  • Meghalaya, India:  Ja mardoh
  • Assam, India: Musundari, Aich
  • Laos: Khautong, Pak Khautong
  • Thailand: Phakkaawtong
  • China: Chou cai
  • Japan: Dokudami


  1. I love aithang-lou with its pungent flavour and aroma..good appetizers and tasty to eat with steamed rice

  2. Definitely one of my all time favourite chutney....Just hd yesterday wt super hot king chilli


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