Foods Connecting Generations

By SAMHITA BAROOAH

Generational differences are growing very fast in this jet age when we are moving towards     individualistic lifestyles. Our lives are determined by choices, freedom of thought and trend   setting norms which practically play a very dominant role. With the markets catering to every choice, taste, wish and desire, every generation does find space in diverse array of human agency. Generations of people are treasured through layers of oral history, traditional knowledge and living traditions and amongst such traditions the most common tradition is that of food.  Food brings out the essence of family tastes, traditions and aromas. Families are bonded through the familiarity of food choices and also through the stories attached to such choices. Sometimes more than the curries and food flavours, one remembers the stories of grandparents which were shared while cooking those curries. Such memories of food connect the generations.

Inter-generational exchanges happen mostly at the dining spaces like a kitchen space in case of Nagaland where the young and the elders meet and share their experiences of life and living. Wherever I tried asking people in Naga villages about food which connected the generations, people shared about rice and meats. They said how food choices of diverse generations shifted from slow cooking delicacies over firewood to instant fast food which can be tossed and turned in a bowl of hot water heated up in an electric kettle. Colo Mero a resort owner at Kisama village named Dimori Cove shared his bond with the tastes of his village elders which he innovated and blended it into the modern menu of his resort and named that curry as Chizami pork. He said that he used to cook that dish himself only on prior order in bulk and his passion for serving the signature dish to the world comes alive when his guests enjoy the authentic tastes of that dish. Mr. Mero relives his childhood memories with the aroma, taste, flavours and delightful presentation of Chizami Pork. Such food can never be compared with the fastest possible Chinese dishes cooked in precise time. Chinese food has evolved over the years with acute competition on time, authenticity, texture, colour, taste and flavour all over the world. Timing of serving has really made Chinese food a hot favourite in the fast food industry in today’s world but at times the authentic tastes gets lost in the process.

Foods are connecting generations also through the introduction of tools and technology which can pace up the preparation time from long hours to a few minutes. Such food innovations have been able to incorporate the traditional recipes with the new cooking techniques in Chinese food traditions. But the foods which serve intergenerational needs are slowly getting wiped out. Keystone food choices of varieties of rice and all the delicacies prepared with rice bind the generations together. Every Naga home I visited enthralled me with the flavours of their ancestors. Whether it was jobs tear drink, rice beans and sesame roasted snack or snail with beans curry, every curry cooked over the slow fireplace of the Naga household triggered the taste of yester years. People treasured their generational food traditions with great honour and pride. Foods across generations are improvised with different kinds of ingredients. People have tried to explore Thai, Indonesian and Korean cuisines as well with the same ingredients which they find locally but the older generations enjoy the traditional styles only.

Soft rice, local chicken soup with flavourful pinch of fresh ginger, basil, garlic and roselle leaves makes both the children and their grandparents very satisfied in rural areas of Nagaland.  Galho is another very significant dish which connects the generations amongst the Chakhesang and Angami communities in Nagaland. This dish is cooked in seasonal variation with the availability of diverse leaves, vegetables and even meats. Ms. Lebi Iralu, a food connoisseur and member of the Nagaland Baptist Christian Council in Kohima served me with a Galho dish which she cooked with garden fresh herbs like basil, smoked pork and local rice. The Village Council Chairperson of a Chakhesang village K. Tsuhah shared that he enjoys the Galho with chicken and local herbs. But the women society members of the same community shared their liking of Galho with local vegetables and leaves.

I could also taste a handful of Galho made from pumpkin and basil herbs made by a community worker at a women’s organisation which was very wholesome and delightful. All these people shared that Galho was a food which reminded of their grandparents and they enjoyed such food. Galho is also a midday meal food not necessarily a full meal. Mostly farmers carry Galho to their fields to have it as a snack while resting during the day after a hard day’s work. Galho is also the food which ensures good nutrition and balanced diet when one falls sick and does not have a good appetite. Generations of people are also connected through the flavours, tasteful recipes and preservation of different foods for months together over slow fire inside smoked kitchens. The kitchen is a place in Naga tradition where all the generations of young and the old come together and along with them comes the stories of bonding, friendship, togetherness and love which also centres greatly on food. When the household is big and the food is less then, the food items especially meat pieces are numbered for the liking of each family member. Grandparents always keep the best share for their grandchildren and sometimes for their first or last born children. In Naga customary traditions, certain foods like meat settle disputes, ensure regard and respect for loved ones and in most cases, reinforces the cultural constructs of society. In these customs young and the old does come together to accept or hand over the practices of the ancestors. This was very evident when an entire village in the Phek district of Nagaland got together to celebrate International Day for The Elderly on September 30, 2015.

The youth of the village organised the programme and cooked a hearty meal for the entire village but more specifically for the older persons. They ensured that the elderly persons were publicly recognised, honoured with some token of appreciation and resolved to respect the elderly in every way in all public and private spaces. The older persons also blessed the gathering for   prosperity, success and goodwill in future. So such a heart touching display of affection, honour and respect was celebrated with a community feast which was sponsored by the Political Advisor to the Chief Minister of Nagaland, Mr. K.G.Keniye who hails from the concerned village.

Foods connecting the generations do create an atmosphere of reassurance about one’s identity and distinct cultural connotations of tribe, caste, race and territoriality. Sometimes the young people across diverse states, linguistic differences or cultures share stories which are common when it comes to food belonging to their ancestors. When it comes to generational foods, at times the staple ingredients and certain spices are common to people. Sometimes cross-cultural food styles and oriental cooking styles are improvised by the younger generations but their older generations do not approve of such foreign tastes. Older generations simply enjoy their authentic ancestral flavours and slight variation might make them very unhappy.

On the occasion of World Food Day which is October 16, 2015, remembering the most healthy and nutritious food choices of our generations indeed ensures our well being and revives our faith in the ties of generational bonding. I could relate to intergenerational foods very closely when I saw that an elderly couple in Chizami village in Nagaland came back from their hard day’s toil in their farmland and reached home to find their grandchildren playing near their homestead garden. The elderly woman digged out a cucumber and a small pumpkin from her khang or bamboo basket and handed over the vegetables to her grandchild. This was a true reflection of how farm fresh garden food connected the generations in rural Nagaland.

(This article is written under the aegis of CSE media fellowship on Good Food. )

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah is a Researcher and Travel Writer.