Can Local brews From Northeast be famous like Feni of Goa?
Be it Zou, Rohi of the Bodos, Aapong of the Mishings or Xaj of the Ahoms and Tiwas. Home-made rice-beers have always been an integral part of the culturally diverse and ethnic communities of Assam.
Not just served during social gatherings like the weddings or festivals, rice-beer is served during certain funeral rituals in some of the communities. Historians shared that serving of these local brews is as old as the birth of the ethnic tribes.
Fermented rice is the primary ingredient which is used in most of the local brews. It may be noted that the maximum of the population in Assam lives in an agrarian society and also rice occupies about two-third of the total cropped area in the state Rice plays a significant role both for the state and rural economy.
The traditional beverages of Assam which are being prepared using traditional procedures and herbs, also impacts the socio-cultural beliefs and traditions of the communities, stated experts.
“The traditionally prepared brews should be certified or officially recognized. Rice-beer is an integral part of the people of Assam since its origin. This beer is known by different names by different communities. Though the State Government has till now not taken any initiative to preserve the brews, the indigenous people of Assam have been taking the tradition forward by passing the recipes from one generation to another.”
Rice-beers or the local brews hold a special place in our customs and also finds mention in the folklores. You cannot talk about a particular community without mentioning their food habits. And among all the ethnic communities, consumption of rice beer will find a mention.”
wine festival organised every year in Shillong, Meghalaya, the Assam Government should also take such initiative to promote the local liquors of Assam.
“Such festivals open door for interactions and debates between people from all walks of life. A local liquor festival will give a chance to the people to come out and enjoy their locally brewed drinks, without shying away. The local entrepreneurs will also receive the maximum boost. Preserving and promoting the local liquors are necessary as they are the part of history too
It may be mentioned, although none of the local-brews of Assam have been patented or certified till now, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Assam headed by Sarbananda Sonowal, as stated in the State’ Annual Budget 2016-17, is all set to promote as well as commercialize the local liquors of Assam on the lines of the Feni of Goa, Heritage Wine of Rajasthan and Vodka of Russia.
Government’s role in promoting the local-brews, State Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, on the floor of the Assam Assembly, proposed that the Government will conduct ‘proper research on these brews so as to ensure the standardization, hygiene and proper bottling in attractive package’.
such brews will be promoted as ‘licensed items to be sold in permitted shops and establishments’.
Assam govt officials said, Presently, their teams are visiting different places, interacting with different tribes and learning how they prepare the brews. The main aim of the State Government is to boost tourism by promoting these brews and also helping the ones who prepare these traditional rice-beers.”
That way the recipes of the brews will also be preserved. The brews will no longer be confined within a particular community. When the brews will be commercialized, the brews will gain popularity. We will shortly call for tenders.”
It may be mentioned, after obtaining Geographical Indication (GI) status for the Feni, the researchers and producers of Goa are now trying to patent the process to manufacture this local brew, which is also known for its medicinal benefits.
local-brew manufacturing units will be established in different hotspots in the State. “The products manufactured in these units will be called Heritage Alcoholic Beverages.”
There are several tribal brews which are healthy and of high medicinal values.
The pungent smell of the rice beer also pulls the elephant out from their territory. Time and again it has been reported in the media, how elephants flattened huts, guzzled local brews, got drunk and created mayhem in the village. Rice beer also finds mention in songs usually sung during community festivals and marriages. The brew also finds mention in a popular folktale of Assam centered on the difficult lifestyle of an old couple who manage to deceive a group of seven brothers.
The practice of consuming local brews in Assam is as old as the culture of that particular community. Majority of the population in the State depends on agriculture. In rural Assam, most of the people, when they fall ill, use local herbs and plants for treatment. They use high-medicinal value herbs in the brews as their forefathers.”
A community picks up ingredients which are grown or available in abundance in that locality. Home-made ginger-wine is sold in Shillong as Meghalaya boasts of good ginger cultivation. In the hills, some communities use bajra (Pearl millet) in their brews and some even use bananas too.”
The initiative to local liquor will help putting a stiff competition to the country liquor which is more injurious than the local brews. The state government is also considering the proposals for licensing the sale of local brews.
Restaurateur and celebrity chef Atul Lahkar, who is widely known for using indigenous ingredients in his dishes, has been lately involved in experimenting different tribal brews and their ways of preparation.
“Rice is a staple food in Assam and the local brews, prepared by the different ethnic tribes, are basically prepared from fermented rice. These brews are healthy because of the herbs used while preparing such drinks. These drinks are keeping traditions and customs alive,” said Lahkar.
Lahkar, while sharing about the mode of preparation, stated that tribes have their own ways of preparation the drinks. He is the owner of two city restaurants Heritage Khorika at Goswami Service and Bhut Jolokia at Zoo Road.
“There is no policy under which I can serve the local brews in the restaurant. If the state government passes any order on that line, I would love to serve my guests with the varieties of local liquors,” he added.
The most popularly known local liquor of Assam is Lao pani. It is a locally brewed rice beer fermented in the shell of a bottle gourd. Pepper and different kinds of herbs are added for taste and colour. Lao-pani is also made of ripe jack fruits and varieties of banana at times. Another popularly known drink is the Po:ro Apong or Sai- mod – a traditional beverage of the Mishing Community. It is prepared from a mixture of rice flour, straw, hush and herbs.
“Traditional liquor carries history of the tribe on its shoulder. Consumption of the local brews is mandatory in certain customs and rituals. Traditionally prepared brews must be popularized and conserved or else they will vanish with time.”
the rice beer named Zutho (a drink of the Angami Nagas) is a fermented drink obtained from rice. Home-made zutho has a white slurry-like appearance. Rice beer will be served in bamboo goblet at the restaurant.
“At a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is asking us to use India-made items, we should proudly drink the local brews. Being desi is in fashion these days,”