The Ark of Taste – a conservatory of Indigenous food practices

MAWPHLANG: With the objective of reviving the traditional cuisine the local villagers of Nongtraw Village, East Khasi Hills, have in the past three years been trying to showcase a unique beverage, Shiahkrot, a root which locals of that village use for brewing tea instead of tea leaves.
Shiahkrot is a red coloured root that grows mostly in the rocky areas of Nongtraw village situated near Khad-ar Shnong in Sohra (Cherrapunjee). This root has been used by the locals of that village for ages but many have not heard of this rare root.
The decoction – a light maroon coloured drink has a rare earthy taste. Only a few slices of the root which is shaped like ginseng boiled in water gives a flavour akin to tea but with a medicinal touch in it.
The villagers claim that besides refreshing the body, it also takes care of stomach-related ailments like diarrhea.
“The art of making tea from this root has been there in our village since ages. Many of us are still following this trend except for one or two,” a local of Nongtraw village, Jacinta Ranee, said adding that it requires no extra efforts for the locals to cultivate this root as it grows everywhere and in all seasons.
Realizing that this practice could well disappear unless something is done to popularise it, the locals of Nongtraw village decided to preserve this traditional beverage by sharing this knowledge and exposing the applicability of this red root to the world by taking advantage of the local food festivals held in various places of the State.
The villagers first started showcasing this root at an indigenous food fest held at Cherrapunjee in 2011. Later, after coming in contact with the North East Slow Food & Agro-biodiversity Society, the villagers were encouraged to display their indigenous food items every year at an annual festival of this society titled, ‘Mei Ram-ew a celebration of  (Contd on P-10)

The Ark of Taste…
(Contd from P-1) indigenous food ways’.
“We are seeking the help and support of NESFAS to further showcase the uniqueness of this root and we have been working with them for more than two years now. The response till date has been good,” Ranee said adding that they have even received orders to provide this unique tea during weddings.
Since 2010 NESFAS has been organising the Slow Food fest and villagers are looking forward to this unique event to showcase their food practices. This year too, the locals of Nongtraw village participated in the Mei Ram-ew Festival 2013 called The Ark of Taste held at Mawphlang on December 13 and 14.
The Ark of Taste sailed with more than 10,000 visitors from Shillong and many villages around, who enjoyed a wide variety of local cuisine, each one special and particular to the local community which was displaying it.
The traditional tea may not fall under the list of ‘Most Wanted Beverages’, but it is garnering popularity slowly with people getting a taste of it in festivals like these. Young folks were heard saying, “This is better than Coke…Yeh dil mange more.”
“I had no clue that the tea was made out of the root. It is nice and unique,” said Herbert Shabong, a Shillongites who tasted and bought this root during his traditional food tasting spree at the Mei Ram-ew Festival in Mawphlang on Saturday.
Commenting on the efforts to popularize this tea, Chairman of NESFAS Phrang Roy said “This form of making tea from a root is something unheard of until few years back when we learned about it from the locals of Nongtraw village. So we took the initiative of helping to project this beverage and showing it to the world in such festivals.”
“This society acts as a breeding ground for novel ideas that have potential to direct a pathway from the ground up towards a more sustainable future,” Roy said adding that through, NESFAS, traditional knowledge and modern science are getting into dialogue through innovative, participatory activities and projects.
Stating that the process of documentation is on to identify, tap and project these traditional consumable wonders, the NESFAS chairman said that the society is tying up with Botanical Survey of India, NEHU, MLCU and Synod College to provide scientific names to some of this edibles so that they are identified.
Marching ahead in its quest to revive and revitalize the traditional food items, NESFAS through its Ark of Taste festival managed to blaze a trail for the future generation to follow suit and preserve the rich indigenous delicacies whose existence is otherwise threatened by the fast food culture.
In this era of fast cars and planes, where fast food seems to fit in perfectly with the fast paced life, some are trying to beat this rat race by conserving and encouraging the traditional cuisine which alone can stand the onslaught of climate change.