Translated from Kokborok by Bibhuti Debbarma
Tribals across the world have a deep understanding of the forest and the sustenance it provides. Plants, roots, tubers have been a part of the diet of indigenous people for eons. Tripura’s tribals also majorly depend on the forest for their food. With a diverse food culture and a healthy, fibre-rich diet, Tripura is home to food practices that we should all know about.
One of the tribal favorite food items is Thabolong Chamung, which we have been cooking and eating for generations. Thabolong is cooked into Mui Borok (a traditional dish without oil). Some people also cook it with pork. However, it is most delicious when it is cooked with bamboo shoots.
Thabolong (wild roots) are sold in local markets at the rate of 60-80 Rupees per kilo. A big thabolong can weigh around 3-4 kilos. The right time to take a Thabolong out is when creepers and leaves start sprouting from the ground. This is the time when Thabolong is most delicious. As the Thabolong grows, leaves begin to show up. The Thabolong plant is a creeper that has small thorns. Its leaves are somewhat round in shape and are thorny and that is how it is identified.
It is also a source of livelihood, as many tribals collect and sell Thabolong to make a living. Nowadays, it is not only Tiprasa people who are eating Thabolong, a taste for these wild roots has spread to Agartala’s markets, too, where it is sold frequently.
However, with an increase in demand for Thabolong, its price is also rising day by day. As it grows in the forests, Thabolong has no chemicals or pesticides in it. This attracts people to these wild roots and whenever Thabolong is taken to the market, customers throng the shops to buy it.
To cook a Thabolong, it is washed with water and then boiled in water with salt, turmeric and green chili. Sidol (dry fish) is also added to it. After letting it cook for some time, garlic paste is added.
There is hard labour which goes into meeting these demands in the markets. Taking a Thabolong out of the soil is not an easy task. Moreover, with the increasing rubber and other plantations, Thabolong isn’t as available as it used to be. At this rate, in a few years, it won’t be available at all
I hope we can find a way to increase the growth of these wild roots, they are a part of the tribal diet in Tripura before it vanishes, like a lot of other plants which were easily available before urbanization and industrialization took over the forests.
Note: This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.