An Assamese shrimp chutney prepared in a jiffy. Photo: Gitika Saikia
In Assam, shrimps or prawns are popularly known as misa maas, which means fake fish. This is because they do not resemble the more common-looking fish. Strange, isn’t it? Also, misa maas have not yet succeeded in carving a name and position for itself among the locals. They are caught in the fishing net with other varieties of fish - large and small while fishing in the village ponds. Once caught, they are only washed unlike others, which are descaled, cut and cleaned thoroughly.
A normal day in my village starts at 4.30 AM with activities such as lighting the wood fire to warm water, sweeping the sootal or courtyard, feeding the cows and setting the poultry free. But on fishing day, the entire schedule goes topsy-turvy, and everything moves five times faster.
The fishermen folk arrive by 5 AM. Once the fishermen arrive armed with their fish nets and botuwas or large vessels to carry the fresh fish later, two members of a family are assigned to be with them directing which fish is to be caught, and which ones are to be set free. Fish is then caught and weighed, some are kept aside for home consumption and a large chunk is taken away to be sold in the local markets or nearby towns. Tea, carried in degchis or kettles and biscuits are served once it is over.
The fish is then segregated between large, medium and small (which includes water bugs). I will share a separate dish made of these bugs. Misa maas are categorised in the small variety of fish. Being extremely tiny, they are just washed and fried. We make a spicy chutney with these and serve them with plain rice, dal and fish curry for lunch and get ready for an hour-long afternoon siesta.
Recipe for Misa Maso-r Chutney Or Pond Shrimps Chutney
2 cups of pond shrimps (can be substituted with regular sea shrimps as well)
3 pods of garlic
5 green chilies
2 tsp of mustard oil
You will need: wooden mortar pestle or sil pota
1. Fry the shrimps in mustard oil.
2. Dry roast the garlic and green chillies together.
3. Put all of these in a wooden mortar and start pounding.
4. Add salt and a pinch of mustard oil (if you wish).
Gitika calls herself as an Assamese food evangelist. Once a marketing professional, she is now a North East Indian food curator in Mumbai. She wants to showcase and promote Assamese tribal food on Gitika's Pak Ghor.