Enjoy your glass of chhang at Mechukha (Foodie Trail-Arunachal Pradesh)
Mechukha, (Arunachal Pradesh) Jan 23 (IANS) If you are planning a trip to this remote valley in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, rest assured you will be welcomed with a glass of chhang, a pungent home-brewed local beer made from millet or rice.
Welcoming a guest with chhang is a traditional common trait among the locals in the valley — a mere 30 km from the Sino-Indian border in West Siang district — which otherwise is inhabited by a large number of tribes whose distinctive cultures are as diverse as chalk and cheese. Be it dress or dialect, there is little in common among the major tribes — Memba, Tagins, Bokar and Pailibo — as also the smaller ones.
“Try our own welcome drink. It is better than tea or coffee. We consider our guests as god, don’t refuse,” said Yape Yorung serving a glass of the brew after District Tourism Officer Rita Yorung took this IANS reporter to her sister-in-law’s home.
Chhang is a must during festivals and celebrations among the locals, besides the staple food of rice and millet. Many also consume it on a daily basis.
At the same time, chhang is considered an effective remedy to ward off the cold and chill in the mountains. It has its varieties like “rice-beer” and “ara” — a distilled beer, Yorung explained.
“We make millet and rice beer on a regular basis. Since it lasts for a year, we usually prefer making the beer in bulk. The distilled variety lasts even longer,” she explained.
“While other variants of chhang leave a bitter aftertaste, the distilled chhang is flavoured and has little aftertaste,” she added.
In Mechuka, almost every family has a chest in their home exclusively for fermenting millet or rice for making chhang. Usually, the complete fermentation process takes about 15-20 days.
The room where the fermentation is done is always kept neat and clean.
“For making the beer, the millet is boiled and then spread on to the very clean floor to cool. Dry yeast (locally called “oppop”) is mixed with this millet,” Yabung Samyor, busy making the brew, told IANS.
About three-four kilos of millet is required for making a litre of beer, she said.
The yeast, too, is made by mixing millet powder and chhang. “Oppop is the yeast used in the beer-making process. Making oppop is similar to making curd by using the curd residue in milk. Here we use the chhang residue and mix it with millet powder,” Yorung explained.
Getting the right temperature is crucial while mixing the oppop with the boiled millet. “If the millet is too hot and the yeast is added, it will sour the brew. If the millet is too cold, it will take longer to ferment,” Samyor said.
The mixture is kept in a thoroughly-washed and dried container with a lid for fermentation.
“Leave it for 15-20 days in a warm place. Don’t open the lid in the meantime. When we started to smell the fermentation strongly, it would be ready,” Samyor said.
Water should be added depending on whether one wants to make the chhang strong or weak.
“The alcohol content is low, but it produces an intense feeling of warmth,” said Kumar Noasing, a young Tagin tribal.
“The locals, who can’t afford to buy branded alcohol, prepare the chhang very meticulously to satisfy their own tastebuds,” he said.
Generally, a bottle of chhang is sold for Rs 40.
Consuming chhang to endure temperatures which go well below freezing in winter is in line with the food habit of taking dry, roasted and boiled pork, chicken, squirrel, birds from local forests, Noasing added.
(Bappaditya Chatterjee was in Arunachal Pradesh at the invitation of the state government. He can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org)