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Three Cheers For The Local Brew

Three Cheers For The Local Brew

Local drinks of Northeast

The Northeast has over 150 tribes and 200 sub-tribes and almost every community here has their own way of brewing their local beverage

by Soumyadeep Das

I was meeting my friends after a gap of almost nine months. We had decided to spend the day at a resort near Chandubi Lake (Guwahati). There we had to take a small boat ride to reach a restaurant with local delicacies on offer. Different pork items were already on the table as drinks were ordered. There I tasted a locally brewed beverage called ‘Xaj’ for the first time and its taste still lingers in my memory. The tangy bitterness at first, it soon left a sweet taste in the mouth and a breath of freshness in the body. We had a good time there as we were catching up on our lockdown stories, sipping on our drinks simultaneously. All of it made for a memorable experience and has stayed with me since.

Upon a quick Google search, I came across all these beverages that are brewed locally by people in their houses. These beverages go by various names in different regions and are an important part of the cultures and traditions. There are many locally brewed drinks found in different communities throughout the country and the northeast especially has a wide range of such drinks. The process of making also differs from region to region. Interestingly, the northeast has over 150 tribes and 200 sub-tribes and almost every community here have their own way of brewing. Your visit to the northeast will remain incomplete if you have not tried these at least once.

Xaj from Assam

Talking about local drinks of Assam, one cannot miss out on Xaj or Xaj Paani as it known. Assamese tribes make a wide range of alcoholic beverages. Xaj-a type of rice beer, is very popular locally. It used to be the drink of the Ahoms but it has not stayed limited. This drink is made with subtle variations in various regions of the hilly state. Rice is soaked into water to turn into beer. Regional herbs add flavor to the beverage. Xaj is prepared in Assamese households and the process and ingredients make it different from household to household.

Xaj Paani holds a special place in Assamese culture. It is offered to the forefathers to seek their blessings by the communities during ceremonies. Also, during Bihu, it is prepared and offered to guests. It is always served in traditional copper vessels.

Apong from Arunachal and Assam

Apong is a rice beer which is traditionally prepared by some tribes of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. It is an important traditional drink of the Mising tribe of Assam and Adi Tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. It is prepared in households. Apong is also made by fermenting rice. It is then mixed with the Apop Pitha or the starter cake. It is one of the most important ingredients. The leaves of many locally available medicinal plants are dried and ground to make the starter cake. The Mising Apong comes in two types – Nogin Apong and Poro Apong. The Nogin Apong is whitish in color, while Poro Apong has a dark greenish colour. The method of preparation is different. So, they also differ in their taste and color. It is served in all the important cultural and social occasions of the Misings.

Yu from Manipur

The local term for alcohol in Manipur is Yu. It is a beverage popular among the Meitei people and is also prepared by different communities. There are various versions of the Yu like Sekhmai and Andro based on the place of origin. The key ingredients are rice and hamei. Hamei is the starter used for fermentation and it is made of chopped and powdered yangli. It is then mixed with rice and left to ferment. It is traditionally prepared by the women of the house while the men are away at the fields. The difference in flavour comes from the different hamei being used.

The Yu made in Sekhmai town of Manipur is much sought after owing to its flavor. It has even drawn comparison with Japanese Sake. Distilled from fermented rice it has low alcohol quotient. Despite government bans on sale, it is available in the town at small outlets.

Kiad from Meghalaya

The abode of clouds is also the abode of locally brewed drinks. Kiad Um is a local beer of Meghalaya. It was introduced as a medicinal remedy to the Pnar tribe of Jaintia hills in the 1880s. The locals use a piece of charcoal to ensure the tart, sweet drink has the desired balance of alcohol. The amount of distillation varies from one region to another.

It is an essential part of the cultural and social life of the people. Village elders drink it during ceremonies. A few drops are also fed to babies with the belief that it will make them strong. Kiad, as it is called, is served in bamboo tumbler. It is available at Jadoh stalls throughout Shillong and Meghalaya.

Zawlaidi from Mizoram

Zawlaidi in Mizo translates to ‘Love potion’ in English. Mizoram’s Zawlaidi is a fruit-based beverage. After strict prohibition laws for thirteen years were relaxed in 2010, wine made locally from Mizoram grapes was made available in the markets. Mizoram has a hilly terrain and dense forests and is famous for the premium variety of Lubrusca grapes that are used for making the wine. Zawlaidi costs much less than other wines sold in the state. Oak wood is used in the grape brewing to reduce the sourness and improve the flavor of the wine.

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Zutho from Nagaland

In Nagaland there are three types of rice beer, namely- Dzutse, Ruhi and Zutho. Of the trio- Zutho is more popular. Zutho is a frothy drink with a sweet and sour taste and also has a fruity aroma. Naga people are fond of using rice in their cuisine and they also make their beverages using rice. It used to be the drink of the Angami Nagas and only they knew about the procedure of production of this rice beer. It is now popular amongst all Naga people. Traditionally, Zutho is prepared by the breaking down of starch rich solutions into sugars that are fermented by yeast. It is different from other rice wines because of the usage of sprouted rice grains. It is served in bamboo made glasses.

Chuwarak from Tripura

The land of fourteen gods, Tripura is famous for this drink. Chuwarak is a type of Whiskey made in Tripura. It is distilled from a lot of raw materials including rice, jackfruit and pineapple. Local ingredients like Tokhiseleng leaves and Thakotor leaves are also used. The process of distillation takes about a day and requires a lot of care. It is an important part of social gatherings as it is served to village elders

Channg from Sikkim

It is also known as the Hot Beer. The Channg or Tongba is a popular locally made beverage in Sikkim. It is made using whole grain millet which is cooked and then fermented. It is also dried for a long time before the beverage can be prepared. The fermented millet is stored in bamboo tumbler and then boiled water is added in it. The Sikkimese liquor or Raksi plays a very important part in marriages. No social occasion in Sikkim is complete without its consumption. Marriage rituals include the boy’s family going to seek permission of marriage from the girl’s family with Raksi.

As Covid-19 restrictions have been eased, people are flocking to bars and clubs to drop off their lockdown baggage. It is also that time of the year when partying is at its peak. Celebrating the end of a fateful year and the start of something new, will often involve gatherings over drinks. As the year gone by serves to show that the normal is the past and the present is a new normal, instead of paying over the top at such high-end places, we can instead go for these locally brewed beverages. They will surely add a different flavor and feel to the celebrations. Happy New Year.

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