Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tea and cake: Indian Style

Hidden in the folds of the Himalayan Mountains, Assam is a north eastern Indian state known for its silk, delicious tea and stunning natural beauty. Home to the Bengal tiger and Asian elephant, the food of Assam is as exotic and diverse as its culture.

The region is nestled between Bhutan and Bangladesh, and due to its proximity to China it possesses a distinctive South East Asian feel that is not found in other areas of the country. The gravity-defying tea groves carved into the mountainsides resemble Vietnam’s highlands of Sapa and China’s rice terraces. What results is an ethereal merger of Chinese and Indian culture, one infused further with the remnants of colonial rule.
Assam has a unique concoction of religious influences as well. The country is home to a large, vibrant indigenous population which coupled with Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities, makes for a distinctive regional identity and a frankly, cracking good cuppa of tea.

The British set up set up India’s first-ever tea estate in in Assam in 1837 and swiftly saw the benefits of growing in such a fertile religion. Despite Britain’s physical departure when India declared her independence in 1947, Britain’s legacy endures in Assam’s tea groves. An industry that was once a source of great anguish under colonial rule has become one of Assam’s most celebrated attributes, with visitors being drawn across continents to try some of her world-renowned tea, camellia sinensis.

But it was not just the Britons’ love of tea that rubbed off on the locals, as their love for an accompanying snack stuck around too. Joplan, a sweet and savoury popular breakfast snack, is also enjoyed during traditional Indian weddings and festivals such as the Bihu festivals.

Masala Zone
Another variety of joplan is called Komal Saul. It is made from rice native to Assam that can be consumed without cooking. It is simply soaked in water until it gains a fluffy texture and then served with curd, yogurt or jaggery. Muri, or puffed rice, is another joplan style which is rinsed in brine and served with sugar, hot milk or curd.

Another rice-based delicacy that is popular during the Bihu festivals is Pitha, a thin, flat cake made out of soaked and ground rice. It can be either baked on a hot plate, fried in oil or roasted over a slow fire. Til Pitham is a pancake version of this snack that features ground coconut, orange rind and sesame seeds.
Laddu is a small, spherical sweet that is made from ground coconut and caramelised sugar, and has many varieties, such as the Narikol’ or Ladoo. It is often served with a pot of Assam tea.

Regardless of whether you are more savoury than you are sweet, Assam’s teas and accompanying treats are perfect for when you cannot quite fit another course in, but fancy a light after-dinner palate cleanser that will help ease digestion. Has this article left you with a hankering for indulgent sweets? Why not visit London’s best Indian brasseries to try them for yourself?