Taste of Garo Hills

Latcia Momin loves to experiment with ingredients and innovate while cooking traditional Garo delicacies

Latcia Saka Momin’s indigenous recipes have become popular even beyond her homeland. The Tura-based traditional Garo culinary expert recently won hearts at a food festival in Mumbai where she earned accolades from food aficionados and visitors.
The 48-year-old homemaker, who was born and brought up in Tura, had always been enthusiastic about cooking and the keenness turned into passion over the years. “Being the youngest among four siblings I used to help my mother in household chores, including cooking, and that is when I picked up the basic lessons of simple home cooking. However, I got into it seriously only after marriage as my husband was a big foodie and a very good cook himself,” Momin told Sunday Shillong in an email interview.
She learnt Garo delicacies through “experience, interest and eagerness to perfect the rich variety we have in Garo cooking”.
“For instance, we have so many different ways of cooking meat like normal pot cooking, brenga (cooking in bamboo over fire), we’tepa (wrapped in plantain leaves cooked in charcoal fire) and an’jia (open fire grill),” she explained.
Momin’s traditional dishes served with a dash of culinary innovation are an experience to savour for life. She considers her late husband Arup Cheran Momin as the greatest inspiration. “As a homemaker, cooking for the family was an integral part of my household chores but later it became my passion. I personally feel cooking is a fine blend of art and science in which one’s creativity can really be explored,” she said.
The food festival in Mumbai happened “by chance”. According to Momin, a group of friends from Mumbai exploring the Garo Hills visited her place and thoroughly enjoyed the “simple food that I managed to cook with whatever was available at home”. A few months later, she received an invitation to take part in the Isuzu X Food Festival (in last November) after the friends, Gaurav Athalye and Ayush Singh, recommended Momin’s name. “We would like to thank our friends for the reference and the organisers Nicole Mody and 70 EMG Mumbai for taking the risk and believing in us,” said Momin, a mother of three.
Momin’s stall, ON.ANI that means an offering from the Garo Hills in her language, was a hit.
“The festival was an awesome experience and a much needed eye opener. We felt honoured and privileged to be a part of such a unique festival in the most vibrant city in India. The response was great and far beyond our expectations. Never did we imagine people from the other corner of the country would like our simple cuisine so much. On both the days our stall was crowded and hence we sold out early,” she recollected.
Despite the recognition, Momin said she missed the comfort and familiarity of her kitchen and also the rest of the team there.
The team that went to Mumbai comprised her nephew Victor William Cheran Momin, son Danyl Momin and the expert. There are other members (Christina Watre Momin, Allan Shepard Cheran Momin and Eric Cheran Momin) in Momin’s catering team that provides services in and around Tura on request.
Of all the dishes which she cooks, Momin loves Gal’da Dambong Wak, which is pork cooked with fresh tangy roselle leaves and mushroom, and Wak Sri, or sliced pork marinated with indigenous citrus.
The primary ingredient in Momin’s recipes is karchi, which is prepared by drying layers of banana stems in the sun and burning them. The ashes are soaked in water and placed in bamboo sieves. The slow trickle of liquid is collected over time and used for flavouring various Garo delicacies. Karchi is used to add a distinct flavour and soften the meat. The other ingredients she uses are ginger, fresh green chilli, rice powder, fresh and fermented bamboo shoot, locally available leafy greens and a variety of citruses indigenous to the region.
“Garo cuisine can be popularised through tourism, pop-up stalls in different cities all over the country, food festivals and social media,” said Momin, who holds a BEd degree from College of Teacher Education in Rongkhon, Tura.
Besides Garo delicacies, Momin is an expert in other northeastern tribal dishes and even north Indian food. “Since I am a foodie, there are endless varieties of dishes that I like from the North East. Some of my favourites are doh klieh (meat salad) by the Khasi and Jaintia tribes of Meghalaya, anishi (smoked pork cooked with dried yam leaves) by the Ao tribe of Nagaland, bai (mixed vegetables cooked with fermented pork fat) by the Mizo tribe and yongchak (stinky bean/tree bean chutney) by the Manipuri tribe,” she listed.
Momin feels that if one is adept in cooking, “we gain the confidence of trying out new combinations”.
“I sometimes like to try and incorporate different styles and techniques of different regions and combine and mash up various ingredients and try to create new tastes and flavours. As far as acceptance is concerned, my innovations have only been tried at home,” she added.
Momin and her team have a dream. They want to promote Garo culture and tradition as well as popularise the delectable and flavoursome cuisines of the Garos.
“The young generation should develop a healthy food habit. I would also like to encourage them to preserve and promote the rich and vibrant food culture of the Garos in particular and of the region as a whole,” she said.
For young chefs, Mimin has an advice. “Be creative, cook with passion and focus on eaters’ delight” to win hearts, she concluded.

~ NM

Photo courtesy: Eric Cheran Momin

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