Spring is in the air and for the people of Assam it is Rongali (Bohag) Bihu time. It is the time of the year when Assamese people celebrate their New Year (Prothom Bohag – first day of Bohag month as per the Indian calendar). This is the time for merriment and celebration.
Though Rongali or Bohag Bihu is mostly about wearing new clothes, gifting, cultural functions held late into the night, Bihu songs including Husori and Bihu dance, there are also a lot of different types of ethnic Assamese cuisine that are a part of the celebrations.
A variety of pithas (made of rice flour with a filling of grated coconut and sugar or jaggery or roasted black sesame and sugar or jaggery) - Tilpitha, Ghilapitha, Tekeli Mukhot Diya pitha, Chunga pitha (made in hollow bamboo) and a range of Larus (laddoos) -- Narikol Laru (grated coconut laru), Tilor Laru (black sesame laru), Sujir Laru (semolina laru) are staples during Rongali (Bohag) bihu. These form an intrinsic part of the Bihu platter even during Bhogali or Magh Bihu celebrated in mid-January, another important Bihu festival of the Assamese people.
Some of the lunch and dinner delicacies during Rongali Bihu are different types non-veg dishes – duck meat cooked with white gourd, mutton, chicken and fish delicacies, the most important one being masor tenga or a sour fish curry made of tomato and lemon juice or thekera tenga.
Xaat saak or a mix of seven variety of saag (leafy vegetable) is a must have during Rongali (Bohag) Bihu.
Traditionally, people start their meal with 'Khaar', a signature dish of the Assamese community. Khaar is alkaline in taste and is extracted from burnt banana peels. It is cooked with raw papaya and fish or with lentils. One of the most popular Xaak eaten during Bihu is 'Dhekia Xaak' known as fiddlehead fern, which grows abundantly during spring. Some of the other variety of green leafy vegetables had during Bohag Bihu include Khutura Xaak, Zilmil Xaak, Babori Xaak, Durun Xaak.
An Assamese meal is never complete without Aloo Pitika (boiled, mashed potato mixed with mustard oil and salt) Bengena (smoked brinjal mixed with mustard oil and salt) on the platter. 'Patot Diya Maas' (fish mixed with a paste of ground mustard or a paste of garlic, ginger and dried, powdered xukuta and Posotia) is another authentic cuisine relished by the Assamese people. Bahor Gaaz or bamboo shoot is also used in a variety of Assamese cuisine including as a pickle or in chicken stew.
Bohag (Rongali) Bihu is generally celebrated for a minimum of 7 days. The first day of Bohag Bihu is observed as Goru Bihu. On this day cattle belonging to the household is bathed and taken care of better than in other days. On this day the younger ones seek blessings from the elders and the belief is that if blessings are not sought on this day, the younger ones would not find a place in Baikunth (Heaven). The next day is celebrated as Manuh (people) Bihu. New clothes are worn, gifts are exchanged and merry making begins.
During Bihu people start their day by having a light meal 'Jalpaan', which consists of Sira (flat rice), Doi (curd), cream, Muri (puffed rice), Gur (Jaggery), Sandoh-Guri (variety of rice flour), milk, Kumal-Chaul (variety of rice found in Assam. It is soaked for hours and had uncooked), hurum (a variety of puffed, crunchy rice). Few communities of Assam also brew rice beer known as Apong as a celebratory drink.