Sunday, 25 March 2012

Crabby Delight


                                                                                                                       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 Naga

'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.

                                                                                          Water hyacinth

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.     

                                                                                 After the catch, fishes and crabs are removed from the net. 

                                                                                                Crabs are then separated from the fishes

'Khangkhrai Jamin' is yet another variety of crab. Unlike others, this variety has a distinct red edge around the shell. Very pretty to look at, not commonly found. They are mostly caught in the channels or small water bodies during summer by hand, ducking deep into the water. It is also a popular sport among the youngsters of the village to catch crabs as well as play in the water during the very hot and humid months of summer. 

                                                   Young boys taking immense pleasure in catching crabs diving deep into the water with bare hands.

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. 

                                                                                                                    Khangkhrai Alari

                                                                                                                      Khangkhrai Alari

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 content in Khangkhrai Alari enhances the taste of the curry. Although my favourite is crab soup, the two extremely delicious indigenous Bodo crab recipes I have learnt, cooked and tasted are Khangkhrai Jwng Maitha Jwng  and  Ondla Jwng Khangkrai Jwng.  

                                                                                 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. 

                                                                                           This bamboo pouch contains 250gm crabs

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 

Ondla Jwng Khangkhrai Jwng

Ondla Jwng Khangkhrai Jwng ( Curry made of Crab and Rice powder)

Bodos love catching crabs as much as eating them.
A few Bodo terminologies :
1. Khangkhrai : crab
2. Jwng : with
3. Ingkhree : curry with gravy
4. Ondla : a curry made of ground rice, a favourite of the Bodos, mainly cooked with either fish or meat.
5. Khaari : alkali, procedure of making : sun dry banana peels and trunks and burn to collect the ash. Then pour water on the ash, keep over night, strain and store the clear brown liquid to use in curries. This is very common and used in a variety of dishes all over the north eastern region of India.

To cook this delicacy you need :

                                                                                            Khangkhrai Alari

                    700g khangkhrai. I have used a variety known as Khangkhrai Alari, which is very tasty.

2tbsp mustard oil
                                                                           2 green chillies
                                                                           paste of 1 onion
                                                                           paste of 4 cloves of garlic
                                                                           1tsp turmeric
                                                                            salt to taste

paste of half of a cup of rice. Soak rice for half an hour and make a fine paste with water.
Generally in Bodo indigenous cooking rice powder is used to cook ondla. But for those who are not an expert in stirring while cooking, the curry turns lumpy. I have used a paste of rice with water which is a much easier way, giving a fine consistency to the curry.

Method of cleaning :

                                                                 Wash well, break the shell in half

                                                    Scoop the crab meat and fat out and discard the shells.

                                                                  The washed and cleaned crab meat

                                                                              The fat of crab

Method of cooking :

                                                                                       Heat oil ....

                                            ...... put in paste of onion, garlic, chilly and fry for a few minutes

 .... add the crab meat, salt, turmeric and stir fry for a few more minutes. Add the fat and fry for a few minutes
                                                                Add water, cover and cook till tender.

                                               Pour the rice paste and stir well so that no lump is formed.

                       Add khaari and stir well. Check salt. Gravy should neither be too thick nor very watery.

                  Ondla ingkhree with khangkhrai is ready. Serve garnishing with chopped fresh coriander
Khangkhrai Jwng Maitha Jwng 
Khangkhrai Bathwn 
are two delicious indigenous recipes you can check here. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Poem : March Melody

Pic courtesy : internet

Tears of gaiety from the heavens,
                Merrily pouring down
Like a March melody full of bliss,
                In a splitter-splatter fun.

Ecstasy surround,
                My restless, untamed mind
Out pours happiness unbound,
                Making the heart waltz around.

Crystal droplets of drizzle,
                Slide down my window pane
Washing heaps of agony off the heart,
                Like bubbles plop, melt and wane.

Lingering redolence of moist grass,
                Freshens up memories of yore
When the heart thumped doing a solo,  
                Tapping, jiving or doing a jig all day long.

Growing wings thus flutters my mind away,
                To an unknown mystique vale, where
Overpowered by colours, darkness fades away,
                Ah, song of happiness, with me do always stay.

                                                                                Ruprekha Mushahary

Friday, 2 March 2012

Lesedi, South Africa

Lesedi, situated in the Republic of South Africa, the beautiful country, located at the southern tip of Africa. Lesedi Cultural Village is Gauteng's most exciting showcase of African Culture. One gets a glimpse of the art, dance, history and tribal legends of African people here. Set in the pristine bushveld and rocky hills of Lanseria, Lesedi is about less than an hour's drive from Johannesburg.

Occupying the front seat of the car, to go on clicking my camera all the way, I tried to extract as much information as I could from the guide. The charm of natural view and the beautiful road before me, was mesmerizing.  
M1 North, then we turn West to N1 at the Woodmead interchange ..... then from Lanseria off ramp, we take the R512 North...... proceed for another 40 kms ..... and then on the left hand side of the road I could see the name clearly written on a board, "Lesedi Cultural Village"

A warm welcome awaited us on this pleasant winter afternoon as we arrive at Lesedi. The villagers in cute costumes and bear hugs made us feel at home instantly. 

As we walked through the gate of the village, great traditional African music/song/dance lifted our spirits. 

Vibrant craft market and curio shops with their decorative walls await you to choose and pick for family and friends back home ...

Without losing a single moment I got down to do the honours and within minutes came out with a huge loot of curios for each of my friends back home :)  

House with colourful Ndebele design. They seem to love playing with colours and artistically designed patterns.

As we take a walk around the village, a whole lot of fascinating aspects of vibrant and colourful traditions of African lifestyle unfolds before us. 
The discovery begins at the Ndebele village where the introduction to a cultural experience precedes a multi media presentation on the history and origins of today's 'Rainbow Nation'. This is followed by a guided tour of the other four ethnic homesteads : Xhosa, Zulu, Pedi and Basotho. 

The Ndebele women weave dreams with traditional bead craft. These women in the picture above are displaying their ware made of beads, including the dresses they are wearing.
Beads are also very common in men, women and children, can be seen sporting on their hands, necks and legs. 

Talking of this wonderful craft of beads, one of the best examples can be the South African flag, hung behind the chairs of the judges of the highest court of justice, the Constitutional Court on the Constitution Hill, Johannesburg. This entire flag is made of beads. I was amazed to see the fine craft and couldn't believe my eyes, kept touching and feeling it for a long time to convince myself, wondering how much effort/patience and expertise have gone into completing such a unique, intricately designed product.

This villager is on duty, at the gate of the Zulu homestead, guarding his village. The young men of the village do this in turns.

The village physician, who does mumbo-jumbo to cure the ill.

This is the Basotho homestead, a couple is narrating the history and legends of  the Basotho tribe. Lesedi is a Sotho word meaning 'Light'. One can easily identify this gentleman here is from the Basotho tribe by the colour and pattern of his blanket and the conical straw hat on his head. Our guide explained as we walked from one boundary of tribe to the other, their distinct style of construction, use of a weapon, role of each member of a family, customs and tradition. 

Five traditional homestead can be seen in Lesedi :
  The Zulus with their fighting sticks and cozy beehive huts. 
The Xhosas with their perfectly thatched rondawels and distinctive white blankets. 
The rhythmic drums and whistles of The Pedi tribe. 
The conical straw hats and thick colored blankets of the Basotho tribe.
 The bead work and colourful homes of the Ndebele. 

Had a lovely time interacting with the villagers of Basotho tribe sitting by the fire. They wear their colourful blankets as shawls. The pretty conical straw hats look lovely on them. They are from the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. The roofs of their huts are thickly thatched to protect from the biting cold. 

Learning to speak a word or two in Xhosa :) Oh its not so difficult after all ...
Molo : Hello
Ndiyabulela : Thank you 
Siya Namkela Nonke : Welcome
Ewe : Yes
Hayi : No

These are the huts of the Xhosa tribe. Their huts are made of mud  but whitewashed, as a result of influence of the early Europeans. The walls are adorned in colourful decorations with natural  paints. 
Local families live here permanently in all the five homesteads and visitors  are allotted huts for over night stay. 

My interest in the life and time of Nelson Mandela was one of the most important reasons prompting me this visit to Lesedi. Here I could see   Xhosa, Mandela's tribe and its culture. Xhosas are known for their traditional chest beating dances with skill and energy, painted faces and  wooden tobacco pipes. 

Xhosa tribe is particularly known for their striking colours and detailed patterned blankets, which they all (both men and women) wear as shawls.

 The door way of these huts are made very low, so that one needs to droop while entering the house, showing respect in the process to the owner. We were lead inside the hut of the Xhosa village headman. We sat down and took part in a prayer meet. Although couldn't understand a single word, the prayer touched my soul deep. 
The women are always made to sit by the right side, i e behind the door so that they are protected in case of  an attack. It is always the men who would enter a house first leading the women for their safety. 

It was such a pleasure walking through the four traditional homesteads in Lesedi, talking and learning a few words of Zulu, Ndebele, Pedi or Xhosa. Our guide animatedly explained to us about the lifestyles and different rituals of each tribe of the village. 
The Pedi tribe, the agriculturists came down from the Limpopo province. Legend has it that, while fighting the war against the British, they found the Scottish Highlanders dressed in 'Kilts', mistaking them for women, they refused to fight, thus, losing the battle. As a remembrance of this, even today they wear kilts. 

This young man from Pedi tribe was busy crafting tools and curios with wood/bamboo. He burst out laughing when I asked him to show me how to curve a knife out of a piece of wood. He asked me, of all things why a knife! The young man laughed even more when I said I need a knife to protect myself.
My appreciation of his typical Pedi kilt and a colourful beaded neck band seemed to amuse him a lot.  

O wow .... look at the gentleman in all his traditional finery.
Their costumes are very colourful. This Zulu warrior is sporting a traditional blanket which they wear like a shawl and an apron of goat skin. 
Zulus are the proud sons of Shaka Zulu, the most feared warrior of the great Zulu history. They measure their wealth in cattle. This wealth is very important to buy a bride, more cattle means more brides.    

Another beautiful craft! This young Zulu woman is weaving a mat like the one she is sitting on, in front of her hut. Showing me how to weave it with her deft hand, she said its very simple. Whew.... not that easy for me ....:) Nevertheless, I said,   Siyabonga (Thank you, in Zulu) giving her a hug,  
".... Ngiyajabula ukukwazi" (pleased to meet you), she said. 
 I fell in love with the Zulu huts which are thatched in a unique way in fine layers, making them look like bee hives. 

This young man of Zulu tribe was too sweet to model facing my camera, I went on clicking ...... only to realize soon enough that my group had left me and gone further ahead leaving me far behind ... had to run and catch up with them.

These beautifully thatched Zulu beehive huts with geometrical patterns painted on the walls are cosy and  comfortable for a over night stay for that perfect feel of a romantic African night. Although they look like traditional thatched huts from out side, you can find all the facilities and comfort of a luxurious hotel once inside. 
I stood there in awe, marvelling at the terrific construction skill of  the Zulu tribe. 

Hey you guys look great in your traditional attire !
They are the Zulu villagers.   
"Sanibonani", they said in unison, meaning 'welcome'. 
I said, "Siyabonga" (thank you)

One can easily notice the use of beads on their head band, skirt, top and neck band. Married women wear this traditional head rest.

In between the other huts, this tiniest little one, in the Zulu homestead caught my fancy. The guide explained .....  "This is how the tribes keep the vegetables cool and preserve for a long time........."  Wow, a refrigerator!  

After completion of the tour of all five homesteads of Lesedi, we gather round a fire that was ready and waiting for us. 
 Other groups from different countries too joined us. Had a great time laughing and merrymaking around the Bonfire. 
It was mid July, winter in South Africa and by the time we completed our tour, it was late evening. The night gradually turned very cold. The bonfire warmed us giving the feel of a true African night out.  

Entrance to the cultural hall 

The sun set over the African bush, making the night very dark and cold. Warming ourselves for sometime sitting around the fire was great. But now it was time for some more fun and activities. We were soon escorted to the 'Boma' a hall for traditional singing and dancing depicting stories that date back to the days of their ancestors.

 It was fun time now. Here the guests and the families of the village met for the traditional dance Boma for the 'Giant Ingoma" - song and dance of all five villages. In Zulu, 'Ingoma' literally means "song" and is associated with different forms of traditional male group dances.

A story teller introduces the guests to the ancient legends of different tribes. Then begins the traditional dance performance with the pounding of the drum beats, kicking and jumping as high as possible, stomping their feet vigorously. Soon a competition starts between the tribes. 

In the Giant Ingoma Dance Boma, the drums beat rhythmically. The young women with their colourful beaded costumes add to the night to turn it a magical one.
 The dance floor erupts as Zulus in cultural dress leap and stamp. Pedi women execute a cheeky, hip-swaying rain dance. South Africa has its own Rain Queen – Majoji - who reigns in Limpopo Province.
 “Now, help us summon our ancestors!”, the story teller announces. Herbs are scattered over the open fire, around which the show takes place, releasing a sweet scent filling up the entire hall. 

Dancing becomes increasingly frenzied, culminating in men wearing zebra masks leaping across the floor.

Gradually the dancers pulled us to the dance floor and we all started tapping our feet magically along with the rhythmic pounding of the drum beats. Trying to keep pace with them going round and round the fire we danced till late into the night holding hands. It was a wonderful experience of the spirit of Ubuntu at this unique cultural venue !

It was dinner time, and finally the grand buffet of traditional African food  'Nguni beef', 'Bushveld lamb', African fowl' and home grown maize, in the huge traditional dining hall of Nyma Choma restaurant.

The buffet was a culinary feast which is layed in a traditionally decorated dining hall serving an exotic African ethnic meal. The dinner was great, with meat of Crocodile and Ostrich, apart from the usual turkey, beef, lamb and chicken. Tried to be quite sporting by serving myself some Croc meat. Found the meat hard, but felt great to have tasted a meat I could never imagine eating back home. The turkey was great. I happily settled down with some lamb and chicken, of course there were plenty of local greens and fruits too.

The restaurant is divided into three parts namely, East Africa, North Africa and South Africa. The guests can choose a dining experience whereby absorbing the variety of colours, sights, tastes and sounds of different African customs. All this is complemented by the restaurant's authentic setting and vibrant colour murrals illustrating African heritage and legends. 

It was one wonderful experience, a life time of knowledge ! 
Every attraction of Lesedy is not only fascinating, but absolutely enriching. For those culturally inquisitive, a visit to Lesedi is a must while at South Africa.