Celebrating the harvest festival of Magh Bihu is always more special when old friends drop by to share some culinary delicacies.
By Somashis Gupta | Recipes by Sashanka Sarmah
It was shortly before dawn on a chilly winter morning, on a dark narrowed tree lined country road of Jorhat, at one of the darkest spotswhere the road turns,stood a two-storied handsome bungalow. The Bungalow of the District Commissioner.
Fifty yards ahead stood a group of young boys. The distant barking of the dog broke the silence from time to time momentarily. The boys remained as motionless as possible. They were waiting, waiting for the guards to change their shifts.
Notmore than two more hours later, Praveen Kumar the newly appointed DC woke up hearing his wife’s voice, “Listen…wake up…listen.”Praveen was usually an early riser but not today. Today the office was closed. He responded with resentment, “What? Today’s a holiday, let me sleep.”
But his wife insisted, giving one of the strangest reasons, “No. No.Wake up, all the bamboo fencing of the bungalow is gone.” Meanwhile the young boys after their successful maraud, gathered in the meadow, with their loot of bamboo fencing.
True, Magh Bihu robbed us of all sanity. The bamboos and straws which are easily purchasable, were no match for the ones we stole from our neighborhood. No, it wasn’t about the quality either but the thrill involved in a steal. All the effort was for the Meji. It was Uruka after all.
Unlike us, the mischievous ones, traditionally mejis are made of bamboo and paddy straw. It is here, where community feasts are organized at night and during the wee hours ofmorning, the structure is burnt down marking the beginning of the harvesting season. For the sake of global understanding, meji comes from the Deori word, Midi-ye-ji, where ‘midi’ denotes “ancestral gods”, ‘ye’ means Fire and ‘ji’ means fly away. This is magh bihu or bhogali bihu the festival of merrymaking and feasting.
Besides me the others in the group were Anjan Ayengia, Ranjan Sonowal and Sashank Sharma. We all had distributed our responsibilities for the occasion. While Anjan and Ranjan were in organizing the fence attack, me and Sashank were in charge of organizing the feast.
I remember we used to start our preparation way ahead. Perhaps our mise en place (preparation before cooking as the French call it) is the longest in the world, for 2 months to be precise. We selected the duck as early as November and fed it with grains and let it play in the pond. This helps the duck to gain the required fats.
In fact, as I write this, I can feel the saliva formation in my mouth urging me to eat it again. What was the recipe like? I don’t seem to remember. I wonder if Sashank remembers … let me call him.
“Sashank?” “How have you been?”
“How is life?”
“Okay listen, do you remember the recipes we used to make during Bihu?
“Of course, I do, why?”
“Can you tell me.”
“Which one the gahori(Pork) or haa (Duck)”
“The duck” I said
“You start by…”
Three hours later, “Runu…Runu,” I call my housekeeper. “Take this.”
I gave her the 750 gms duck meat chopped into small pieces; Juha Kumra/ash gourd 500 grams;300 gms onions; 300 grams potato alongwith some ginger,a few cloves of garlic, few green chilli, some black peppercorns, turmeric powder, bay leafs, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom and of course, mustard oil.
“Now what you need to do is, cut the kumra and potatoes into big cubes, slice the onions, make a paste of ginger and garlic about 2 tablespoons each, dress the green chilli and make a fine paste, also make a paste of the garam masalas, once you are done, call me.”I instructed, just the way Sashank had told me.
The wait for Runu to do the preparation felt like ages. I was quite hungry, in spite of having had 3 patishaptas, a couple of kolar pitha and a few dudhpulis for breakfast. Remember the recipe I had shared with you last week? Yes, that one. I finally tried it yesterday.
“Dada…Dada?” Runu called after an hour. “All done?” I asked, “Okay, good. Now pour some mustard oil in a pot.”
Just than my phone rang. It was Sashank. “Which one are you cooking?” he asked. “Duck” I informed him. He disconnected immediately. What was that I wondered, why did he call and more importantly why did he disconnect so quickly?
Anyways I preferred to concentrate on my cooking. Seeing the smoke in the pan, I realized the oil was ready for the onions. I asked Runu to pass me the sliced onions. In some time once the onions turned translucent, I added the ginger-garlic paste.
“Dada reduce the heat a bit or it will burn,” Runu warned. I felt the raw smell disappearing, and added the chilli paste and turmeric. After about 3-4 minutes, almost like a miracle I saw the oil separating from the mix. I remember Sashank had told me, “At this point, add the duck meat and mix well. Cover in low heat till the meat is half-cooked.”
Half cooked? Why? …but then, I recalled he told me to add the kumra, and the potatoes, along with the spice mix, and of course salt and pepper. Thank God my mind worked or else the entire charm would have gone. I added water and after a while ….
No not a bird, it was my door bell. I opened and found Sashank standing at the front door with a huge pot. “What is Bihu without spending time with old friends?” He said and handed me the pot.
“What is this?” I asked
“Til Gahori” this reply of Sashank made my jaw line drop down to my chest. “You are an incredible man, thank you so much.” I said bringing him to the living room.
“Runu, Runu, learn the recipe of Til Gahori,” I instructed for future gastronomical delight.
Sashank started, “You need about 500 gramspork, 4 table spoons of black sesame Seeds, 6-8 dry red chilly or as per taste, 2 onions chopped, 2 teaspoon of ginger garlic paste, 2 green chili slit, half a teaspoon of turmeric powder and mustard oil.”
He picked up the cup of tea, took a sip and said “Ah! Makaibari” and continued.
“First dry roast the black sesame seeds in a saucepan and then grind them into fine powder. In the meantime, wash and boil the pork and add a pinch of salt while boiling. Heat the mustard oil, add your onions, green chillies, ginger garlic paste and saute till the onion turns golden brown. At this point add the chili, turmeric powder and salt to taste. Continue sautéing.”
Replacing the empty cup at the table, he started again. “After 2 minutes, add the boiled pork and mix well. Cover the pot and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally add the sesame powder, stir and mix them well, sprinkle little water and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Voilà!! Your Til Gahori is ready.”
Runu had just finished noting down everything when the bell rang again. I wondered who could it be, I opened the door and saw Pranjal and Ranjan, swaying a bottle of lau pani and singing “tuk dekhi mur ga, keneba keneba lage, bihu ray oi tolitay, nasu nasu lage”
Happy Magh Bighu.
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A devoted foodie with keen interest in wild life, music, cinema and travel Somashis has evolved over time . Being an enthusiastic reader he has recently started making occasional contribution to write-ups.