Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Christmas in Manipur: Food, family, and new experiences

Even when I visit the same place over and over again, I find that there is always some new to learn, to experience. Same goes for Manipur. If I had to sum up my 2017 trip, I would say that the highlight of the trip was spending Christmas at Siden - Len's ancestral village. I had visited Siden two years back (read about it here), but that was in the summertime, and the festivities were missing then. 

Alex at the wheel

We started from Imphal on Christmas Eve, and drove down to Siden village in Moses's new car. It took us about 2.5 hours to cover a distance of 60 kms because of the condition of the road. I realized nothing much had changed since my last visit; we passed by the old village school, the football field, the paddy fields, the chief's house, the pond, right up to aunt Heshi's place where Len and I spent the night. 

The old granary: This was used to
store grain back in the days
when Len's grandparents were around

Len, Alex, and I spent a lot of time loitering around the village, lazing under the sun (till it started getting way too hot!), making friends with Bobby the pup, walking through open fields with grazing cows, and just soaking in the slow-paced life of a typical Indian village. Our two days at Siden was spent this way, interspersed with prayer and chit-chat with family (although I was mostly a mute spectator at such times owing to my inability to speak or understand Thadou!). 

The mandatory hay selfie 

Bobby, the friendly mutt
This is probably my most favourite part of the village. I could have stayed there all day, but the weather in Manipur is strange! Even in winters, the sun is very strong, and can get pretty hot, pretty fast! We lazed under the sun on a pile of hay for about half hour or so, then had no choice but to shift base.  

Chilling out

Lenny boy with the kids - and, no, they weren't shy!
Just naughty.  

This cute lot refused to smile for the camera,
but broke into a gleeful grin the moment we
put the camera down :)

Christmas lunch was a communal feast with the entire village coming together, and at night singing songs of worship in a small makeshift pandal. 

The food was rustic and all new to me. I am not a beef-eater by any means, but by my third meal of the beef and mustard curry, I had developed a taste for the mushy gravy with chunks of meat. However, a more familiar dish for me was the colocasia and dry fish curry that Len and I made even after returning to Delhi. The colocasia we used was a local variant, and slightly different in texture and flavour from the ones we find in Delhi. 

Needless to say, my shopping bags from Manipur mainly consisted of LOTS of local ingredients, in the hope that I would be able to recreate some of the delicacies I tasted during my trip. This one here is the colocasia and fish curry. My mother, too, liked it, and remarked, 'What a delicious "soup" this is!'

Trying my hand at making a colocasia and mustard
curry with dry fish. Enjoy this with a plate
of steaming hot rice, raw onions, and
some shi and ginger chutney

What you need

10-12 colocasia (cleaned, peeled, and roughly chopped)
1 bunch mustard leaves (cleaned and roughly chopped)
Dry fish, a handful or more
6-7 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 dry raja mirchi
Salt to taste

How to

Take a deep pot and add the colocasia and garlic. Add enough water to cover the vegetables. Turn on the heat.

Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add salt, turmeric, and raja mirchi. Continue to cook for another half, till the colocasia is completely cooked and softened. This is a soupy dish, so if the curry begins t dry out, add some water and give it a good stir.

Add the mustard leaves and let it cook for about ten minutes. Then, add the dry fish. Check for salt, and turn off the heat. 

Enjoy with sticky rice and a chutney on the side.  

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