This month 50 Indigenous tribes from the world will head to Shillong to be hosted by 40 villages, in what is deemed to be the largest gathering of indigenous culinary heritage in the world today. Is it worth the go? YES in bold.
Five years ago, when culinary crusader Phrang Roy, Chairman, North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS), initiated the Mei Ramew festival (which roughly translates into Mother Earth in Khasi) to revive and conserve the traditional Khasi, Garo and Ao Naga local food systems – and this included the way each home had their own self-sustaining (read: exotic) kitchen garden – here; little did Roy (or the small community that joined hands with him) know that in a short few years his little initiative would blow into one of the biggest culinary events in the world. One that would not only put his Mawhang Food Festival – a food extravaganza dedicated to the Khasi cuisine- on the world map, but also make India a part of the big Slow Food Festival with patrons like the legendary Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, an eco-gastronomic organisation started in the 80s to protest against the penetration of low quality, mass produced fast food, as an integral part of it.
This November, Shillong, for five aromatic days, will live that dream thanks to Indigenous Terra Madre 2015. An event that would see the little sleepy town transform into a culture and taste theatre that will offer the world a chance to not only get a glimpse of North East’s lesser known heritage and culture but also a taste of its culinary ingenuity that made Chinese traveller Fahiyan call it, “the food bowl of the world.”
Supported by the Government of Meghalaya and organised by the Indigenous Partnership (Rome) and NESFAS in collaboration with Slow Food International, Indigenous Terra Madre (ITM) 2015, will highlight exotic meals, ingredients and produce and recipes that have been cradled through centuries by tribes, not only from the homeland but Amazonian Indians to Native Americans. It will, in other words, be the venue where you would discover hidden gems like the citrus fruits from Garo Hills in the Balpakkram area, which for centuries have been the lemon and orange bowl of the world. And of the fleshiest kiwi too!
It would be the biggest food exchange platform that will allow one to indulge in relishing the traditional pork in international styles, with slow food specialist chefs giving it a contemporary twist and presentation.
But don’t mistake it for yet another food festival, because ITM 2015 isn’t. Not in the conventional sense though.
Established as a venue to showcase the local food practices, ITM this year celebrates the traditional self sustaining life systems that have kept the North East state eco-friendly yet developing. It is perhaps the single platform where you would not only meet tribes, farmers and weavers who have perfected the traditional self-sustaining model of producing food (a better version to organic) and textile but have also fine tuned to suit the modern lifestyle. So while on one hand there will be sessions that showcase the way to ferment food across 50 different cultures in India and elsewhere and the way to have them, on the other, they will be workshops to teach the various styles of cutting meat and cook them to achieve what best such natural produce have to offer.
But what seems to be the biggest highlight of the festival that will bring together weavers from 40 different villages showcasing their art and the Mongolian throat singers will be a chance to sample food of 90 different tribes in its ‘authentic’ form, and be a part of the oldest food festival at the Sacred Groves at Lawkyntang, Mawphlang, where a sit down meal will be cooked by people from the 41 host villages, just like they did back in time!
Madhulika Dash is a writer with over 13 years of experience writing features from tech to cars to health. She is also a seasoned food appreciator who writes on Indian restaurants and cuisines across different platforms. She has also been on the food panel of MasterChef India Season 4.
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