India’s indigenous communities have centuries of rich and innovative food traditions. From liquors made with flowers to ant chutneys looking at a GI tag, here’s a look at five tribal foods in India.
Demta chutney, also known as kai or chapra chutney, is a sour and spicy condiment composed of red weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina; also known as “demta” by tribals) and red ant eggs. Tribes in Odisha, Jharkhand, and Chattisgarh enjoy this protein- and calcium-rich food. The chutney is prepared by grinding the weaver ants and ant eggs with spices such as garlic, ginger, chillies, and coriander. It is served as a kind of starter for daily meals. The chutney has properties that help treat jaundice, colds, and poor eyesight. Scientists have sought a Geographical Indications (GI) tag for the chutney.
Marh jhol is a spicy and flavorful gruel made of starchy water from boiled rice mixed with whole red chillies, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and some native vegetables and greens like bathua saag (Chenopodium). Rich in carbs, this dish is taken along as nourishment when people go out to work in the fields. They have it in pattal (sal leaf plates).
Mahua is a traditional liquor made from mahua (Madhuca longifolia) flowers. It is clear, silky, and odorless in nature with rich in protein and iron. The fermented liquid improves digestion, soothes the stomach, acts on back pain, and intestinal troubles, and has antibacterial qualities. Mahua liquor is consumed in central, eastern, and parts of northern India.
Hariya is prepared when there is a wedding or a special celebration in the community. Also called handia, it’s a traditional healthy drink that helps people stay cool, and also prevents jaundice. Generally made with local rice, it is slow-cooked with water in an earthen pot and kept in the sun to dry. Ranu, or bakor, a fermentation starter, is mixed with rice and then transferred to an earthen pot, covered with leaves to arrest the fermentation’s odor and left for three days to ferment.
Sandhana (tender bamboo shoots), also called karil, are popular in Jharkhand. They provide the body with proteins, carbohydrates, fibers, and minerals. The bamboo shoots are cut into smaller pieces and then kept aside to ferment. Then it’s mixed with onions, tomatoes, green chillies, and mustard oil, and kept in the sun, like any pickle.