Sikkimese cuisine is a mix of Tibetan, Lephcha and Nepali influences. Sonam Wangmo Ladaki, author of Popular Sikkimese Cuisine helps us understand.
The staple diet includes rice supplemented with meat and vegetable curries. Sonam reveals that the rice, also called alwa, is slightly towards the sticky side and is starchier as compared to other rice. Sikkim also has a meat eating culture, specially pork and beef. Beef is preferred in North Sikkim as it very cold. People, who live next to the river and have access to fresh fish, consume river fish but for the rest, it is not that common.
The climate of a region does tend to affect the food habits of the people living in the area, in Sikkim, because there is a lot of rainfall, people turn to the jungle’s bounty for nourishment. Sikkimese cuisine includes a lot of seasonal food. ‘We have ferns, which we call ningro. Then we have many varieties of seasonal mushrooms. If seasonal items are plenty then we like to preserve it by sun drying or fermenting it so that we can have it throughout the year.’
Rice, maize, millets and buckwheat are common ingredients that are used. And Sikkim being a farming community, a lot of dairy products are used in the cuisine like milk, cheese and cottage cheese, eggs, butter and curd. Yak and sheep meat are also consumed but they are luxury items and available only once a year around the festive season.
Delicacies and Specialities
Sikkimese cuisine has a special breakfast item called Dethuk, It’s like thukpa but it is made of rice. Sonam explains, ‘The rice is first boiled and then mixed well with a phirki. It is made like a chowder and then to the mixture, you add a little bit of cheese and butter and ginger to make it more palatable.’
Ting momos is also a common breakfast item; this type of momo comes without any filling. Phapar roti, pancakes made out of buckwheat and meatbread (Shaphaley) are items that are prepared when guests come over. ‘Rice complimented with soup, any curry or dal is also served to guests. Even though this is a new addition, before people never used to have dal but now it’s become a very common item. Soup is more preferred, even now most people make beef soup, and the meat is taken out and fried to compliment the rice and soup. If it is hot, then curd is served or buttermilk which is called Mohi. Aloo dum, is also different, and each home has different recipe.’
Dallae is a common item found in almost every household, ‘People like chilli. People preserve it, sundry it and put little bit of salt and make a pickle out of it. Some sundry it and keep it in oil, others keep it with vinegar. Some people also make it into a powder but this is a rare practice, usually we don’t use the powder so much,’ says Sonam.
In Sikkim, tree tomatoes are also found that are excellent for making chutneys. Kinema is also special. The word Kinema is a limbu word for fermented soybean. It is great for digestive problems because like curd, it is fermented food containing friendly bacteria.
There is a very special item called Zayro which is made during festive season. Rice is pounded and made into very fine powder and this is fried like jalebi although it is not thick as jalebi. In festive occasion, Khapsey is also prepared which are Tibetan cookies.
Of course, Sikkimese food includes local beverages that can be made at home, ‘The most famous one is Bhaate Jaanr, made out of fermented rice. They make it out of fermented millet as well, they call it Chaang. They also make it out of yam in North Sikkim. First, the rice is cooked and cooled, although you should not cool it fully, it should be amber warm. Then yeast is mixed in, after which it is bundled up, either in a plastic or an air tight container. Then it is allowed to sit, at least for a week but again it depends on the weather. The warmer the weather, the faster it gets fermented. If you want it very strong, they ferment it for a longer period of time.’
By Meeta Borah