By: Chitra Ahanthem
In recent years, one has been seeing an annual feature of a food festival (also called Chinzak festival) adding staunch supporters and regulars at the festival. The first such festival was on a small scale some years ago at GM hall. The footfall of people attending the food festival then was a mix of `how does a food festival look like?` to `hey! There is rice brew`. Over the years, the number of stalls has grown in numbers but for those looking at gastronomic delights and interesting food fusions, the outgoing Chinjak Festival -International 2011 (April 22 to May 1) at the Iboyaima Shumang Leela Sanglen campus shows just how food can be packaged and presented.
The festival, organized by the Innovative Youth Society in association with Department of Tourism, Manipur saw food stalls from Thailand, Korea, China, and Tibet along with 33 stalls serving different local food and snacks. And while the international food stalls expectedly saw a rush of people to check their food items, the different variety of local food on offer was interesting and unique. Most people made a beeline for a stall run by Yendrembam Jamini Devi of Kakching Khunyai Leikai. The most coveted item in her stall were small little fried balls of Chahao simply called Chahao matum: pounded aromatic black rice that she would mix with sugar, water and then fried in peanut oil. There was an interesting item called Moom kheer, which Iche Jamini said was prepared from a cereal called Moom. The texture of the said Kheer was a kind of cross between eating porridge, oats and chahao together. She said the cereal was found only in the hills but she had run out of the raw cereal so a photo capture for cross checking it later did not materialize.
The theme was on indigenous food items and led to some very unique fusion food. There was the yen paknam in another stall that gave me a visual of chicken and fermented fish brought together by besan (gram flour). But a sample of the said item dispelled the thought: it was minced chicken mixed with the roots of the narcissus plants (maroi mara) and then wrapped in yaingangla. The wrapped mix would be then steamed and then baked giving off a regular paknam aroma but a taste of chicken salami! Interestingly, the stall was being managed by a few young men from Place Compound area and the banner had the word `Turkey` in bold letters. This was to signify that they were selling Turkey meat but many visitors to the stall thought the stall was from Turkey!
There was a booth called Public Kitchen, where visitors could try their hands at making different food items. Here, the Kimchi of Korea appeared a huge favorite for most young festival attendees who in turn happen to be die hard followers of everything Korean: films, serials, TV channels and fashion. Unfortunately, not many know that Kimchi is more a side dish much like our own morok metpa. Or rather, let`s say the kimchi taste is more akin to the mustard achaar/pickle (which goes straight up the nose and brain!).
Most people were disappointed that the Tibetan food stall did not have Momo (steamed dumplings) or Thukpa (traditional noodle in soup/broth) on its menu. When quizzed over the absence of Momos, which is to Tibetans what ngaari (fermented fish) is to Manipuris, Khyen Tse who ran the stall said that he had no idea at all about the temperature in Manipur or the food habits here. `I thought Manipur would be as hot as Delhi. I thought that people here would not be interested in Momos or Thukpa but everyone coming to my stall are asking only for these two items. I will definitely come again to the next food festival here after proper preparation.`
The food spread was exhaustive but what went against the food on offer was that they were mainly snack centric. It would have been more satisfying for the stomach to have a thaali system with rice or noodles or bread to go with the various dishes on offer. Another area of improvement would be if there are more seating arrangements. The best part of the food festival apart from the food was the standard of cleanliness that was being maintained: stall attendants all wore gloves and food were all covered; dustbins dotted the festival area and in case anyone left plates and disposable cups and spoons lying around, a volunteer went about collecting the trash and putting them in the dust bin.
Bringing together an ensemble of over 30 local food stalls and then bringing the participation of international food stalls would be a logistical night-mare but Kh. Athouba, Managing Director of the Board of Chinjak Festival 2011 exudes a professional calm and passion for preserving and marketing indigenous food. `Our NGO (Innovative Youth Society) has been striving to claim a platform for promoting our food but also to give it a packaging that is in keeping with the times around us. We aim to make the Food festival happen on a bi-annual basis while our long- term plans are to establish a food park that will have food items in 33 stalls, one per community living in the state.`
Luciano Pavarotti in Pavarotti, My Own Story once said of food and eating: `One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.` Going by the number of people eating out at the food festival, it certainly did look like a lot of number did stop whatever they were doing`… only to grab a bite and eat!