Features of Sikkimese Cuisine
In Sikkim, Himalaya’s traditional foods form an essential part of dietary culture. Rice is the chief food of the Sikkimese. Depending on availability, meat and dairy products are consumed as well. Apart from these foods, a range of traditional fermented foods and beverages make the basic diet for centuries. The pattern of food production also reveals the gastronomy of Sikkim. With high altitudinal variation, crops like finger millet, wheat, buckwheat, barley, vegetable, potato, soyabeans etc. are grown.
The cuisine is also incorporated with Dals (lentils), fresh vegetables, bamboo shoots, wild flowers, mushrooms and nettle leaves. Talking about non-vegetarian food, beef, pork and fish are relishing items. The main thing about the cuisine of Sikkim is that it has been materialized under the changing needs, geographical compulsions and cultural contact of the adjoining countries. Sikkim cuisine demonstrates the good sense of the residents, who took only those styles and methods from other cultures, which helped their mode of life, maintaining their own distinctive cuisine.
Spices of Sikkimese Cuisine
Sikkim horticulture department commonly cultivates spices like Chilli, Large Cardamom, Turmeric and Ginger. Sikkimese put pepper and chilli mostly in their dishes to cope up with the cold climate. Other than those ginger, garlic, cloves, cinnamon etc. are used to put exotic flavor and taste to the cuisine.
Various Delicacies of Sikkimese Cuisine
Momo (steamed dumpling), Tomato Achar (Pickle), Thukpa /Gya-Thuk (Noodle soup), Kinema curry (Fermented soybean), Gundruk and Sinki Soup (Fermented vegetable soup), Gundruk ko Achar (Pickle), Chhurpi Soup (Traditional cottage cheese), Chhurpi ka Achar (Pickle), Chhurpi-Ningro Curry (Chhurpi with wild fern), Sel Roti (Fermented rice product), Shimi ka Achar (String bean pickle), Pakku (Mutton curry), Bamboo Shoots, Sisnu(stinging needle), Phing ( Glass noodles), Shya Phaley( meat stuffing), Sikkimese Tea( salty), Gyari( Steak), Gya Kho (chimney soup) and Mesu Pickle (Fermented bamboo shoot) are some of the local dishes that are enjoyed by all the communities in Sikkim.
Some of the local cuisines which are prevalent in Sikkim are as follows:
Momo is a popular Tibetan delicacy adapted in Sikkim. Stuffing minced meat, vegetables or cheese in flour dough and then moulding them in the form of dumplings to prepare it. After that these are steamed for about half an hour in a three-tiered utensil that has bone or tomato soup in the lowest compartment. Steam from the boiling soup rises through the perforations in the containers above and cooks the dumplings. Momos are taken along with soup and home made chilly sauce. It is available in most of the local restaurants as well.
It is noodle soup with vegetables. Thukpa is readily available in most of the local restaurants.
This Nepali cuisine is prepared by grinding a mixture of rice and water into a paste. The paste is then poured into hot oil and deep fried. It is normally eaten with potato curry. This dish is not commonly available in restaurants, but is widely prepared during parties and special occasions.
Niguru with Churpi
Niguru is a local fiddlehead fern and its tendrils when light fried with churpi or cheese forms an irresistible dish. This is a household dish and normally prepared in houses. Generally these are not available in restaurants.
Gundruk is leaves of the mustard plant that have been allowed to decay for some days and then dried in the sun. These dried leaves are then cooked along with onions and tomatoes and thus forms a tasty dish.
Chang or Thomba
Chang is a local beer which is made by fermenting millet using yeast. It is sipped from a bamboo receptacle using a bamboo pipe. The receptacle which has millet in it is topped with warm water a couple of times until the millet loses its potency. Chang can sometimes be very strong and very intoxicating. This is a favourite drink of many people of Sikkim.
Phagshapa is strips of pork fat stewed with radishes and dried chillies.
Kinema is a fermented soybean food which is rich in protein and has a unique flavor. The dish is eaten with rice. Kinema curry is a favorite food of Sikkim people. What makes the curry special is the uses of spices the blends with the soybeans. The different taste of the curry comes from the soybean after fermentation. Turmeric powder, onion, red chili, and tomato are fried before adding to the fermented soybean which enhances the flavor.
One of the famous Nepali cuisines, Masaurya curry is a favorite local dish of Sikkim. The main ingredient that takes to make the curry is the fermented black gram. It looks like a ball and includes spicy condiments. This dish is best served with cooked rice.
Kodo Ko Roti
This local Nepali cuisine is a favorite local food among people in Sikkim. The best combination is Tomato Achar and the Kodo Ko Roti. It can also be served with a variety of pickles. The typical pancake is prepared with finger millet as its main ingredient, locally called Kodo. The other important ingredient includes sugar and ghee.
Thenthuk is yet another yummy soup. Prepared in the form of noodle soup made of vegetables, wheat flour and meat or mutton, it is one of the best Tibetan foods in Sikkim. It is a favorite dinner for the people in Sikkim. To make it spicy, several restaurants use chilli powder while some people serve vegetable Thenthuk to keep it healthy. The origin of the Thenthuk is from Tibet.
Gya Kho is one of the lips smacking local dishes in Sikkim. It is the Chimney soup served in the bowl and since the bowl resembles the shape of the chimney, it got its name Chimney soup. This Tibetan cuisine is adopted by Sikkim because of its great taste. The extraordinary taste comes because of its cooking process. It gets cooked under the coal with a lot of other ingredients in it.
Bamboo shoot is another commonly used ingredient in local food. This can vary from fresh bamboo shoot called Tama, which is often used with pork to make an irresistible curry to Mesu, a traditional fermented bamboo shoot product used to make pickles.
Fermented Foods and Beverages of Sikkim
Fermented foods and beverages are an integral part of Sikkimese cuisine, comprising 12.6% of total food consumption in the state. Polling indicates that 67.7% of Sikkimese people prepare fermented foods at home rather than purchasing them. This suggests that most fermentation is done at the household level with the notable exceptions of chhurpi and marchaa (a starter culture for fermentation), which are purchased in markets. Examples of traditional fermented foods are kinema, gundruk, sinki, maseura, and khalpi. Traditional fermented beverages include tongba, raksi, and kodo ko jaanr.
Desserts in Sikkimese Cuisine
Sikkim has several deep-fried snacks such as the Tibetan/ Sherpa biscuits called Khapse which are slightly sweet and intensely addictive fried dough made with flour, butter, eggs, and sugar during Tibetan Losar festival. Other sweet deep-fried snacks are Bhutia-snacks like Zero and the famous Nepali rice-flour fried dough ring, Fox Bread is also prepared by Nepali households during the festivals of Tihar or Dashain.
Various traditional fermented foods and beverages constitute the basic diet. Owing to this, people can preserve vegetables, when they befall out of season. To cope up with the chilly weather, the residents of Sikkim rely on alcoholic drinks. An assortment of soups, pickles and beverages make the Sikkim cuisine more flavorsome and delicious.