In the serenity of a village
The Bodos are the numerically predominant ethnic and linguistic group of the Brahmaputra Valley. They are also found in different parts of the country such as Nepal, North Bengal etc. Irrespactive of their place of habitation, Bodos are maintaining their customs, tradition and language in the state of Assam.
Rice is their staple and they are by food habit non vegetarian. Apart from rice they also cultivate jute, pulses, mustard, other cash crops and a number of vegetables. Rearing silk (Endi) worm and weaving is an integral part of Bodo culture. Poultry, pig and goat farming are very common in a Bodo household, fishing being one of the oldest practices.
A common sight in the village during summer, youngsters duck deep under water closing their nose with one hand in search of fish and crab as well as enjoy playing in water.
The Bodos lead a simple pastoral and bucolic life; the practice of which in modern times is called the slow food, i e, "growing locally" and "eating locally", which is now espoused by the Slow Food International. However, because of pressure on space, their habitat is sinking and they are now scattered all over the globe. Many of them are doing extremely well in their fields of activities, including some high profile professions.
My quest for hidden facts about Bodo culture and cuisine has often led me to exotic findings over the years. Sharing here are my experience through my lens and little narration about catching crabs in the village.
Bodos cook a wide variety of tidbits with crabs, which is low in saturated fat, yet a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B12, protein, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and selenium. Of course one should not forget that crabs are high in cholesterol and sodium.
My observation is, Bodos enjoy catching crabs as much as they love cooking and eating them.
Young boys fishing and hunting for crabs
Crabs are found both in fresh waters as well as low laying areas where rain water stagnates leaving the area muddy in semi tropical regions of the Brahmaputra valley.
It's amazing watching young boys diving into the river and hunting for crabs with bare hands by holding them top down avoiding the deadly pincers.
These crabs(picture below) are called 'Khangkhrai Naga', black shelled, large in size. The mature ones grow much larger than the ones seen in the picture below. One should be an expert to catch a crab as little hint of an enemy approaching towards them, make them stretch out their pincers menacingly. It would be most unfortunate if one is caught by these pincers as they can take the day light out of you. Khangkhrai naga hasn't got much taste, has worms in them which needs to be cleaned properly before cooking.
'Khangkhrai Dubri' is a tiny variety of crab, with uneven carapace, protecting them from attack by bigger species. Their size is not bigger than the thumb, have lot of fat and taste great. They are found both in fresh water as well as in ponds and are caught in the process of fishing.
During monsoon the rivers swell up and crab holes are filled with water, they come out and take shelter in the higher grounds or on the reeds and water hyacinths. During this time, it is easier to hunt crabs by pulling the water hyacinths to the shore and catching them in plenty. They are also found in abundance when the river and small water bodies dry up in winter.
Crabs are then separated from the fishes
Then there is a common variety which is found while fishing, round the year. They are not too big, little brownish-yellow in colour. They do not grow any bigger than shown in the picture below. Generally cooked as a curry or pounded into a chutney.
The common crab found while fishing
The best/ the tastiest crab is 'Khangkhrai Alari', extremely delicious with plenty of fat. They are found in the paddy fields. After the first shower, followed by paddy cultivation during the months of June-July. Under ground crab-holes of khangkhrai alari are filled with water during this season forcing them to come out to the surface in great numbers and that is when they get caught. They are also found taking shelter in the water hyacinths, when the rivers over flow in summer.
Khangkhrai Alari, the tastiest of them all, lovely colour, with a smooth shell.
Except for the shell and the four pairs of walking legs, all parts of crab can be eaten. The soft meat of the pair of chelipeds of big crabs can be eaten by breaking off the hard outer cover.
The plump claws or chelipeds (as seen in the picture above) can be eaten after cutting off the long sword like ends called the pincers. This part is full of flesh and very tasty.
Cleaning crab before cooking is as much interesting to watch as watching crab hunting. With an apt hand crab is first washed thoroughly before removing the four pairs of walking legs.
crabs after the legs are removed
Then the shell is broken in half to take out the meat and fat, before discarding the shell.
The washed and cleaned crab meat.
The fat of Khangkhrai Alari which makes the curry taste awesome.
Crabs are packed in small woven bamboo pouches and sold in the markets of nearby townships at a minimal price of around Rs.40 a kilo.
Fascinated by the thin strips of raw bamboo weave of the pouch, I bought one. As the strings that tied the mouth of the pouch were untied, all of them crawled out at such a war like speed as if a whole army charged ahead towards the enemy. I shrieked and ran for my dear life at the sight of their pincers, all stretched out for a deadly pinch :)
Bodo terms :
Khangkhrai : Crab