Written by Joyeal Debbarma and translated from Kokborok by Manisha Debbarma
Rice is a huge part of the food culture of many communities across India. Even among the tribals of Tripura, rice is the staple diet and is consumed with almost everything across all seasons. The tiprasas or tribal people of Tripura are traditionally used to eating rice balls in the winter season. In the olden days, people used to enjoy eating rice balls, cooking them in the cinder or hot coal, while enjoying the heat of the crackling fire in the cold winter. During the winters, there isn’t much cooking taking place in the morning, and rice balls are an easy-to-make meal as opposed to a full-fledged one.
To prepare rice balls, a little salt is added to rice and the rice is then kneaded for 15 minutes until it makes a thick dough. This dough is then made into balls and cooked. To cook them, a fire is lit, and when the firewood turns black, the rice balls are cooked in the cinders. It is essential that firewood is used to light this fire; when grass or leaves are burnt, the fire dies quickly and turns into ash. Rice balls shouldn’t be cooked on gas, cooking them on fire cinders is the best way.
The upper layer of the rice ball needs to be cooked properly, and when it is, it turns red. While cooking, the rice ball needs to be turned several times to ensure it cooks properly. It takes at least 30 minutes to cook a rice ball perfectly. After taking out the cooked rice ball from the fire, it is eaten with chicken, a combination that is a favorite among tribals in Tripura. This combination leads to a lip-smacking dish that leaves people even hungrier!
During the winter, when our grandparents feel hungry and when there is no curry available, they make rice balls and eat it while enjoying the crackling fire. This is a favorite among people across all ages, and even children love eating rice balls, usually while listening to stories from their grandparents.
Nowadays, it’s very rare to see people cook and eat this dish. Some of the dishes in Tripura, once a delicacy among the tribals, are now disappearing from our villages. However, we do get to taste these traditional dishes during tribal food festivals, so everyone sets their heart on them, waiting for them to arrive so they can enjoy a part of their culture that is getting harder to preserve as the days pass by.
About the author: Joyeal Debbarma is a resident of Tripura. He is currently studying for his BA. He is fond of singing and travelling and loves to help people out when he has the chance. He wants to complete his LLB and become a lawyer someday.