Naoba's Chakhumang: A must for contemporary Manipuri food (Foodie Trail)
Posted on Apr 17 2014 | IANS
By Natalia Ningthoujam, Imphal, April 17 : It's been around for more than two decades and its chef has worked at New Delhi's Hyatt Regency Hotel. Today, Naoba's Chakhumang has become a one-stop outlet for traditional Manipuri dishes with a contemporary twist.
"In 1990 I got a place at RIMS (Regional Institute of Medical Sciences) road and opened my Naoba's Chakhumang on Dec 24, 1990. It is a dining place for families," owner and chef Lourembam Bireshwar Singh told IANS.
"When I started off, I had a few south Indian dishes, steam dumplings and burgers on the menu. But now I have removed them. I've added more dishes like pork slices, sauteed chicken and nga atoiba (fish fry) as I decided to introduce food items which promote our culture," he said.
Describing his journey as a learning experience, Bireshwar Singh said: "Earlier, the food habits of Manipuris were simple. It used to be only two meals a day and in-between some seasonal fruits."
"During those days, there used to be only one person earning for the whole family. But now many changes have come about. Most of the family members are working and this has led to changes in food habits. Having breakfast at home and eating out has started becoming popular. So, we need to promote our own products to suit the changing food habits of people," he added.
He talked a lot about food items cooked with less oil and so I was game for them.
The first item looked a lot like soup. When I took the first sip, I realised it was Kangsoi. It is almost like a stew, which is consumed with rice. Its oil content was low and it had vegetables like cabbages, potatos and peas with ngari (fermented fish). I never thought it could also be taken as a soup. To make it suit the tastebuds of others, the chef ensured he reduced the strong aroma of the ngari.
Next was Chicken Paknam. Traditionally, it is a chickpea flour dish which uses ngari in abundance. The additional minced chicken enhanced its flavour. The presentation was also neat. It was nicely cut into cubes before being served.
Then I moved on to the main course. I chose to accompany the steam rice with one of the restaurant's most sought after dishes - Fish Curry. Served with coriander leaves and half-split green chilli, it looked super-hot. But surprisingly, it was mildly spiced.
Thus, it came as a surprise that one of the ingredients was umorok (apparently the hottest chilli available in the world) paste.
I ended my lunch with an unusual dessert called Slim Waist Beson Dumpling with Chakhao Cream. Made with chickpea flour, the dumplings were soft and small. They were decorated with the cream of chakhao (black rice), which tasted sweet but wasn't an overdose of sugar.
This apart, there's a lot more to offer. For vegetarians, there is Cottage Cheese - stuffed Paknam and Banana Flower Paknam. There's also Chamfut, consisting of boiled vegetables like cabbage, carrot and cucumber.
Or, you could try Singju - it's like a spicy salad made with the leaves of green peas, lotus root, cabbage and more - with ngari.
Basically, it depends on how hungry - and adventurous - you are.
My eating out here was quite a healthy experience and what added to my happiness were the prices. The dishes are extremely affordable, with the costliest priced at Rs.200.
Or, look at it from this perspective: A meal for four would cost in the region of Rs.500. As for me, I picked up a lot of stuff for the 20-member joint family I live in and the bill came to just Rs.3,000!
(Natalia Ningthoujam can be contacted [email protected])