Manipur is situated in the northeastern part of India. It is rightly named as the land of jewels due to its rich tradition involving all the cultural aspects like martial arts, dance, theater, sculpture and the cuisine of the land. The green environment, excellent climate and delectable cuisine make Manipur a wonderful land.
Manipur has very unique individuality in terms of food culture. The most distinct characteristic of Manipuri cuisine is that it is hot and rich in nature. The Manipuri cuisine has a spectrum of delectable dishes that are simple to cook and healthy for consumption. The cuisine is rich not only in taste but also in quantity. The variety of dishes in this cuisine is more than 200 in number.
The staple food of Manipur comprises of rice, fish and leafy vegetables. Most Manipuris have a kitchen garden where they grow vegetables and a pond where they cultivate fish. This makes the vegetables healthy and fresh as the vegetables are grown without the use of pesticides. This in turn gives the dishes a distinct taste. This also makes the cuisine seasonal as the cuisine is dependent on the various vegetables grown seasonally in the kitchen gardens or acquired from the local market. Various aromatic herbs and roots and certain vegetables that are found only in this region are used to prepare the dishes that make this cuisine so unique in nature. A few of such herbs and roots are maroi napakpi, maroi nakuppi, awa phadigom, mayang-ton, toning-khok etc. and some of the vegetables peculiar to the region are yendem (a kind of taro), chawai, hawai mana, Koukha (a herb root), loklei, pulei, komprek, etc. Mushrooms of various kinds are also an important part of the Manipuri cuisine. Some varieties are uyen (similar to shittake mushroom), uchi-na (black slimy mushroom), chengum, kanglayen (lichen). Some distinct ingredients of the cuisine are hawaijar (fermented soya bean), soibum (fermented bamboo shoot) and nga-ri (fermented fish). The dishes are typically spicy and locally grown chillies and herbs are used to make the dishes hot and spicy. Iromba is a very popular dish of the Manipuris. This fish chutney consists of the fermented fish called Ngari and chillies. Fish finds a prominent place in the cuisine of Manipur. Ngari is such a favorite among the locals that it is often said that the Manipuris can go without a meal a day but could not live without a Ngari a day. Nga Aiyaba or dried fish is another favorite item of the locals. Chicken is also relished by the natives.
The cuisine is traditionally served on banana leaves and eaten by sitting on the floor. Some of the local specialties are as follows:
Eromba is a popular dish prepared by boiling together potatoes and vegetables with an excess of umorok or red tree chilies. Fermented fish and dry fish are added later and seasoned with coriander leaves, toning khok tilhou, maroi napakpi, maroi nakuppi, mayang-ton and awa phadigom among others.
Singju is a healthy salad consisting of finely chopped cabbage, onions, lotus stems, tree beans, coriander leaves, sinju pan, ginger, and heibi mana. Ngari along with a profusion of seasonal vegetables are added. The dish is given a unique taste by tempering with salt, red chili, red roasted sesame powder and chick peas powder.
Chamthong or Kangshoi is a dish made with seasonal vegetables and ngari, onions, maroi and salt. The dish is tempered with fried fish pieces and topped with dried fish, ngari and water. This soupy dish is relished with rice.
Morok metpa is a rich dish made in the form of a coarse paste with a mixture of dry red chilies or green chilies, onions and coriander leaves. The chilies are usually crushed or boiled with ngari. The item is finally topped with fried fish pieces.
Some other delicious dishes of this cuisine include Kanghou, a dish of various vegetables fried in oil with traditional spices, paknam which is a mixture of ngari cake and gram flour, chagem pomba, alu kangmet which involves mashing of boiled potato with fried red chilies and topped with mustard oil, nga-thongba (fish curry), ooti (a typical Manipuri vegetarian dish), pakora thongba, chagem pomba (made with fermented soya, mustard leaves, dry fish and other herbs), keli chana, etc.
Shuktani is a side dish prepared during religious festive days and occasions. Chamfoot or Anganba is used to cool the stomach.
Manipuri cuisine has a special place for desserts. The dessert items include Chahou Kheer, Khamen Ashinba Athoomba, Madhur Jaan, Kheer Angouba, etc. Hei Thongba(fruit dish) is considered to be the best and is ofetn served at the end of a meal. This dish is beneficial towards digesting a heavy meal.