It wasn’t till December of 2011 that I was introduced to this menacing looking chilli. By now the BHOOT JOLOKIA also known as Ghost Chilli had already established a reputation of notoriety across continents.
Placed right in front of me, I didn’t have the least desire to challenge its potency.
“Just a small bite!” cried out my chilli loving husband. He would look for every opportunity to ridicule my inability to eat things spicy and here he was asking me to commit an act nothing short of being suicidal. We were atop a hillock overlooking the grassland of KAZIRANGA. At a distance, we could see Rhinos grazing. A little nip in the afternoon air an enormous spread for lunch and Bhoot Jolokia for company!
Before I got the taste of authentic food from this region, I had a preconceived notion of it being an extension of the North Indian cuisine, a pasty concoction of dhaniya, jeera and garam masala powder submerged in finger deep layer of oil. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered to the contrary. Food habits of my friends (My husband included) from this part of the country had convinced me that one got to be a non vegetarian to survive here. They would, and still do, live to eat the next meal where there ought to be a thing which once walked, crept or crawled this earth.
Was I thrilled to learn that the choices for a vegetarian are far more than I ever had growing up with Sambar, Rasam and Thayir Saadam (Curd Rice for those who don’t know Tamil!)? The freshest vegetables cooked with least amount of masala.
I could go on about Assamese cuisine, but let me reserve that for another day.
Today is the day of the not so humble Bhoot Jolokia. For centuries, Bhoot Jolokia has been used to garnish food in this region. Add it to pork, mutton or chicken, I am told it has transformational qualities. Bhoot Jolokia is also used to cure stomach troubles and to fight the summer heat, declared my husband’s cousin. Paradoxical it does seem but native practices sometimes defy conventional understanding. As we got to devour what lay in front of us, I couldn’t help ponder on what possibly is the reason behind new found stardom of Bhoot Jolokia.
Bhoot Jolokia lived in obscurity for centuries. In 2007, Guinness World Record declared this chilli the spiciest in the world, loaded with a destructive arsenal of 1,001,304 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). This against 7,000 SHU for Tabasco Habenero sauce, the most adventurous many of us will ever get to!!!!
If it wasn’t for the Guinness, like many other beautiful things, Bhoot Jolokia would have remained confined to this region alone.
Today Bhoot Jolokia has grown in stature some would say much larger that the land it grows in. From restaurants in Manhattan to eateries in Amsterdam, all so proudly announce the hottest chilli on their menu.
I truly am happy for the chilli but what baffles me is why just the chilli?
Here is a land so pristine so rich! She holds in her bosom nature’s bounty, there is Kaziranga, Nameri, Manas and plenty! And yet the shores of the mighty Brahmaputra sees not visitors too many.
It took a Guinness to elevate the chilli. It will take the might of many to unshackle this region from its solitary confinement. Many to visit, many to talk about it and many more to know that to see an unexplored heaven, we need not travel too far.
For me the journey has just begun. The road is long and bumpy it ought to be.
Next stop MAJULI. A river island which till recently had the distinction of being the largest in the world. Sadly, erosion is eating away bit by bit this jewel in the heart of Brahmaputra and I got to get glimpses of it before it’s too late.