Ngaa Atoiba Thongba ~ Fish Stew from Manipur
Manipur is one of the northeastern states and its capital is Impal. The state borders Nagaland on the north, Assam on the west, Mizoram on the south and Burma on the west. Meetei is the ethnic group in Manipur, form the majority of the population and live in the valley region. Meetei people are of five social groups, Meetei Sanamahi, Meete Christians, Meetei Hindus, Meetei Brahmins locally knows as Bamons and the Meetei Muslims also known as Miah Meetei or Pangal. The Bamons and the Pangals are originally from the mainland India. All of them speak meeteilon also known as the Manipuri.
The staple food in the region is rice, leafy vegetables and fish. Manipuri food is spicy compared to other northeastern states. Chilies are used to spice the food and garam masala is rarely used. Vegetables are usually grown in kitchen garden and fish in nearby ponds. The taste of the food is different than the other Indian cuisines as the herbs and roots used in this cuisine are grown exclusively in the area. Some of the herbs are maroi napaakpi (hooker chives) and maroi naakuppi (Chinese chives). Umorok is a very common chili in the area and is also known as naga jolokia or ghost chili. Bamboo shoots; both fresh and fermented, and ngari (fermented dry fish) are very common ingredients in Manipuri cooking. Ngari is used in almost all the preparations. Some of the dishes from the region are Eromba, Singui, Chamthong or Kangshoi and Morok metpa.
Eromba a simplified explanation of this dish is, it a mashed and seasoned vegetable. If I were to compare it to other Indian cuisines, it is similar to chokha of Bihar or pitika of Assam. Vegetables are boiled or steamed with lot of red chilies or umorok (king chili) and mashed along with ngari and seasoned with local herbs.
Ngari is fermented ot dry fish and it is either steamed or roasted. Roasting ngari, I warn you, the smell could be a turn off if one is not used to dry fish. I will get to that when I do the other north eastern states, tomorrow and the day after.
Singju a salad prepared with banana stems, lotus stem or cabbage. Salad is seasoned with local herbs and red chili flakes, sesame seeds powder and roasted chickpeas powder.
Kangshoi is stew of seasonal vegetables and is eaten with rice.
Morok metpa is chutney or a paste made with green or dry chilies mixed with onion coriander leaves and ngari. It is side which is part of everyday meal. This fermented fish paste seems to be a common preparation in all most all of the northeastern states.
Today’s dish is Manipur fish stew or ngaa atoiba thongba. Ngaa means fish and atoiba means disintegrated. Fish is disintegrated in this way of cooking. This fish is usually better eaten with hands as it is easy to remove the bones from the fish. I used fillets which is boneless. Along with the fish, potatoes, tomatoes and green peas also go into this stew. We usually do not cook or are not used to cooking meats or seafood with vegetables, with tomatoes being the exception. When lima beans and green peas are in season, these are the only vegetables that go into our meat & seafood preparations, if I may call these vegetables. I was curious to see how this stew tastes. Also, the only gravy we cook with fish is pulusu, a tamarind based gravy, which is lot similar to Kerala Fish Curry I posted couple of days ago. My fish pulusu is still in my drafts and I don’t know how long it is going ot be there. Anyway, to me this stew tasted more like tomato shorva, but with fish. Husband thought it was ok but I thought it was better than ok. We are usually use to adding lot of spices, both chili powder and garam masala in non-veg curries and Mr.U thought it was a bit bland. I thought it was not as bland but was on the milder side.
Source: Kundo (Jasmina)
Total Time: 20 – 30 minutes
Preparation: 5 – 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 – 20 minutes
Serves: 2 – 4
- 0.8 lbs. Tilapia fillets or 2 fillets
- 7 Pearl Onions cut into half
- 1 medium Potato diced or ½ – 2/3 cup diced Potato (16 pieces)
- 2 medium Tomatoes diced or 1 cup (heap) Tomatoes diced (cut into 14 – 16 pieces)
- 4 Cloves Garlic or grated 1 tbsp.
- 1 thick piece Ginger grated or 1 tsp. grated Ginger
- Few maroi napaakpi/hooker chive roots (optional. I did not use it )
- 5 Green Chilies cut in to 3 at a slant angle
- ¼ cup frozen Green Peas
- 2 tbsp. Oil
- Pinch of asafetida ~ Hing (I did not use it)
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 1 tsp. Turmeric
- 1 tsp. Chili Powder + ½ tsp. for marinating (adjust to taste)
- ½ tsp. Cumin Powder roasted
- 1 ½ tsp. Coriander Powder (roasted preferred but I used unroasted)
- 1 tsp. Salt + ½ tsp. for marinating (adjust to taste)
- Cut wash and cut the fish into 2” x 1” pieces. Add ½ tsp. salt and ½ tsp. chili powder and rub it to the fish. Keep it aside.
- Cut the vegetables.
- Heat oil, add bay leaf. If using hing, add it along with bay leaf.
- Add onions and fry for a minute until they begin to soften.
- Add potato and fry until onions are soft.
- Add ginger garlic and fry for a minute. If using maroi napaakpi, add it along with ginger and garlic.
- Add salt, chili powder, coriander powder and mix well. If using less oil, be careful not to burn the spices.
- Add tomatoes and cook for couple of minutes until tomatoes are soft.
- Add fish and mix well to coat the spices. Fry for a minute. Be careful as fish tends to break as it cooks.
- Add 1 ½ cups of water, mix well and bring it to a boil. Cover and cook for 5-6 minutes until the potatoes are cooked. Fish tends to cook fast and need not worry about under cooked fish.
- Remove cover, taste the stew and adjust seasoning if required. Add cumin powder. My gravy was too thick so added ½ cup of water, brought it to a boil and cooked it for 2-4 minutes.
- Add cilantro and turn off the heat.
- Serve it with rice.