Takeaway

Green revolution

Partha Pratim Sharma | Updated on July 12, 2019 Published on July 12, 2019

Wide angle: The fern is especially popular in India’s Northeast and Southeast Asia   -  ISTOCK.COM

The fiddlehead fern — often had as a side dish — is now at the high table

When I am in Guwahati, there is always a serving of something green for lunch. Often it is stir-fried fiddlehead fern, what we call dhekia xaak in Assamese. This saag is widely available across the Northeast and the East. It is eaten elsewhere in India, too. The fern is used in pickles in Himachal Pradesh, and eaten as a vegetable in many other parts of northern India. The fern has to be cooked soon after the leaves are picked, because it does not stay for long.

As the practice of eating fresh greens becomes a rage across the world, the fiddlehead fern is increasingly occupying the high table. It is said to have antioxidant properties and is a good source of Vitamin C. The fern, available in different shapes and colours, is one of the oldest edible greens still found — and eaten — in many parts of the world.

 

The fiddlehead fern is especially popular in Southeast Asia, and underlines the cultural bonding between the region and India’s Northeast. History tells us that the people of the Northeast migrated into what is now India via Myanmar centuries ago. The Northeast, in fact, is the gateway to Southeast Asia, with links to Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Bhutan and China. Assam is linked through Dimapur, Kohima and Imphal to the town of Moreh, which is on the Indo-Myanmar border. This route connects to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The similarities between the people of the Northeast and Southeast Asia are evident in their music, clothes, language and other cultural aspects. When it comes to food, it almost seems like one region. Take the use of fermented food. You will find this widely across India’s Northeast, Southeast as well as East Asia.

Food is cooked in simple preparations in the Northeast and Southeast Asia, with minimal use of spices or oil. It is bland, but is often hot, a unique combination of tastes that can be mouthwatering. Most dishes are tempered with chillies — some of the hottest in the world grow in the Northeast — garlic and ginger.

The flavours are often strong, with aromatic ingredients such as bamboo shoots adding a pleasantly sour taste to the food. Then there is the use of large and fragrant lemons across the regions.

Here are some ways of cooking fiddlehead ferns. Try them out. The fern, after all, is healthy — and delicious.

Also read: Local veggies, global salads

Published on July 12, 2019
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