If there’s one thing you can count on in any part of Northeast India, your taste buds will be treated to loads of new and exciting menus and flavors that will simply blow you away. You shouldn’t expect anything less from a place so big in the kitchen that it’s a big part of the diverse cultures. This is the result of the work of many curators in Northeast India who are passionate about promoting local cuisine and exporting it to other parts of India and the rest of the world.
Not many do it as well as Geeta Dutta, however. Her résumé is quite long as she currently holds various roles and touches life in so many ways. Geeta, a doctor by profession, acts as a recipe creator, food influencer and curator of food at festivals such as the North East Festival 2021. As a passionate promoter of tribal cuisine and the presentation of rustic foods, Geeta also has two series of “State on a plate” at the Chandubi Eco Camp.
Geeta’s childhood had a huge impact on her passion for cooking, especially local delicacies. “Because my mother worked a lot, I spent most of my childhood with my aaita (grandma), who shaped me into who I am today. Aaita was also my first guru in cooking. She was cooking in a fireplace and I remember her having magical hands. I acquired almost all of my knowledge of Assamese cuisine by watching my aaita cook. From Khulaat Diya Puthi Maas to the simple Pura Jolfai Pitika, my aaita was the best indeed.
“Also, my ability to observe was a great thing. I’ve always watched our neighbors cook Khichri in Kali Puja, Patishapta in Lakshmi Puja and not to mention the extensive Punjabi meals. It was like a culinary master class for a young mind. I have valued this knowledge ever since and to this day, ”she says.
Geeta remembers the first dish she ever cooked and gets nostalgic. She shares: “After two years in the hostel while studying upper secondary school at Cotton College, which gave me wings to fly, I joined Assam Medical College in Dibrugarh. It was during my stay at Ladies Hostel 1, Room 7, that I did most of my experiments with flavors for the first time. We had an electrical panel in our room that we would hide from the guard. I made all sorts of flavors of chowmein, dal, and chicken with all the ingredients we could handle. On Sundays we were served chicken, each bowl had 2-3 pieces and the sauce was very watery. I collected the pieces from my friends and cooked my version of chicken. “
“Everyone has started to love my food. Gradually seniors asked me to prepare meals for room parties. After completing the MBBS, I entered the Refinery Hospital in Digboi as a trainee. At that time I was exploring different kitchens; from rural Singpho villages such as Ingthong and Bordumsa. I also learned Nepalese cuisine from our housekeeper Savitri Didi. She was like a mother to me. Our trips and medical camps in the surrounding villages gave me the real glimpse into rustic cuisine, she adds. “
Speaking of her style of cooking and how warmly it has been received by everyone across the state, she says it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what her style is. But when it comes to traditional food, she just loves to stick to 100% originality. “No falsification of authenticity is my mantra; no matter what kitchen it is. Second, I love the rustic, simple way of cooking. All of my personally curated recipes are very easy to cook and don’t take much time. I never cheat with food colors and flavors. The health element is also a very important aspect of my recipes, ”she says.
As someone closely connected to their roots, Geeta makes sure that their cuisine is made with 100% natural ingredients. Herbs, edible flowers, and some other medicinal plants are some of their regular ingredients. Even roots are a special part of the northeastern indigenous cuisine and they take advantage of this. What other things she thinks about, she takes us a little into what you find in her kitchen. “Bamboo shoots, black pepper, various spices, balsamic vinegar, herbs, axon, salad spices, Khaar and mustard seeds are like a family. Always present in my kitchen, ”she laughs.
“Potatoes do not come from this area, but from roots and various tubers such as wild ginger and garlic (ponoru). Edible flowers like Tita Phool, Moringa (Sojina Phool), and Sewali Phool (night jasmine flowers) are traditionally cooked, and each has its own medicinal values. Northeast India itself can boast of most medicinal herbs, many of which have been used in Ayurveda for centuries. As a doctor, I promote the benefits of our traditional foods, recipes, and cooking methods through my writings. For example, the ritual “Jaal Bota” – a mixture of various herbs such as Bhedailota (Shunkvine), Gonchona, Posotia, black pepper, etc. – when cooked with fish and served to the mother after childbirth has definite antiseptic properties that help with healing and promote lactation, ”says Geeta.
Some of her favorite dishes from the many she’s cooked over the years are: Pork with Bamboo Shoot, Khulat Diya Maas (Dry Roasted Fish), Outenga Diya Dail (Lentil with Elephant Apple), Poita Bhat (Fermented Rice), Fried Pork Chops with Roasted kordoi (star fruit) dip (own recipe), pan grilled fish with caramelized orange (own recipe), Haah Joha Kumura (duck with ash pumpkin), champaran mutton, Bhapa Ilish (steamed hilsa), braised pork belly with king chilli and pomegranate juice, served with salsa (Christmas recipe).
When asked to share her thoughts as a food enthusiast and influencer on the current food scene in Guwahati, Geeta said that cafes are very popular these days, but the menus are quite monotonous and most of them are inconsistent. “Investing just a good amount may look fancy, but ultimately it doesn’t generate any sales. Thorough market research and developing out-of-the-box ideas will attract more people. One good change I noticed is the increasing trend towards roadside tea stalls offering snacks and a variety of teas. For example: Bhuruka and Saah Sinaki are two places that are doing pretty well. Many pubs and lounges have great interiors and themes. Then the cloud kitchens and ethnic restaurants, both old and new, see great reactions. say Raja Mircha, Michinga and Tai Singpho, among others. That is a very positive sign. People no longer hesitate to get into the grocery store. It has both money and glamor. “
As a health care professional, Geeta has a good understanding of what the body needs to function properly, but she doesn’t interfere with taste either. Coupled with her passion for exploring her culture and traditions in every possible way, she is not slowing down anytime soon as she plans to undertake even bigger projects than she has already done. “I concentrate fully on developing my own recipe line. And do a few pop-ups – like farm-to-table, food, and traditional rice beer. Plus, food photography and heritage food tales are two areas I’ll be working on in the coming days, ”she adds.