07 May, 2021

The Companion Grain

The Meghalayan menu. It’s like the white on rice.

The Companion Grain

The trick was in the jam, shovelled straight out of a Kissan bottle, vaguely called ‘Mixed Fruit’, virulently red and mind-numbingly sweet. That was the way I liked to eat putharo—a flat saucer-sized rice cake, sometimes so sticky it stuck to the roof of my mouth till I dislodged it with my tongue. The grown-ups said putharo went best with pork—doh nei iong (pork with black sesame seed), doh jem (curry made with the ‘softer’ meat, including liver, intestine and kidney)—or tyrungbai (fermented soya bean paste). Still, I preferred mine with jam, and in a thick slather that threatened to (and often did) drip onto my fingers.

While for most of the country, rice’s function ends with the main meal or an occasional foray into a creamy dessert, in Meghalaya, it constitutes the very fabric of life. The Khasis, Jaintias and Garos turn to rice for their snack treats. Rice is soaked, usually overnight, slightly dried and then pounded in a stone thlong (mortar) into a fine powder. It is then used...

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