What is Tata Steel Samvaad 

This is the 4th year for Tata Steel Samvaad. Tata Steel Samvaad was born in 2014 in an environment where more than 1500 tribals from across the country were eager to proudly showcase their cultural heritage to the world. Those witness to this unique conclave were equally eager to immerse themselves in a novel experience of tribal life. In the event, tribal intellectuals, artisans, performers and entrepreneurs came together from different parts of India to participate in various events like panel discussions, cultural programmes, handicraft exhibition cum sale. A corporate Social responsibility by Tata Steel, where every year, numerous tribals across various states of India assemble together to bring collective wisdom together, exchange and cross pollinate ideas, understand the issues and angst of tribals and sensitize the non tribals against it. Various themes have been used over the years like tribal language, tribal health systems etc. This year the theme has been Aspirations of tribal youth and Leadership for future.

What is a Food Blogger doing in Tata Steel Samvaad 2017?

As a part of this initiative, this year there was a tribal pop lunch which saw three states – West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand and tribal cooks and women from Santhal, Sabar, Kora and Lodha tribe come together to cook up a great meal for invitees. While Mr. Biren Bhuta has had enthralled with some hard hitting facts that it’s not only India but tribals worldwide share similar problems. I could see the cooks of the afternoon with some hope and anxiety in their eyes were eagerly waiting for the lunch to be called open. Food connects all. Food dissolves boundaries. Food has no state, no religion, no caste, no PAN nor even  Aadhar Card. Straight from heart, uninhibited, non pretentious and rustic, with a smell of soil transporting you back to the grassroots. That’s how I would like to explain this food for you.

Soup is always the best part to start with and we had Mara Rasi or chicken soup from the Kora tribe. I remembered my Granny instantly. This is the soup which she always used to make when I was kid and this soup was not all clear or simmered but had a little spunk to it which made it so attractive. I was focused on trying stuff which I have never tried before and Hao chutney or Red ant chutney and Crab chutney were my target areas. Using natural resources is a way of survival for the tribals and if not told about the specific unique ingredients, these chutneys would taste as similar to some of the dips that we taste at various places. My pick from here was Machh puda. In my mamar bari (maternal grand mother’s house), there was a time when every night dinner had a special dish. Deep fried fish (rohu or Katla most of the times) was deboned, mashed with hands with added lemon or vinegar and chopped onions. Machh Puda was a very close to this sans the onions and vinegar and something which I would like to try on a regular basis. There was a whole range of pithas like the Muan Pitha, Enduri Pitha, Khola Pitha, Sora Pitha but the top draw was Manso Pitha which had chicken as a filling with rice flat breads cooked in sal leaves. We often speak, glorify, go tom tom about innovations, fusion food and modern cooking but one wonders how some of the best innovations happen behind the public gaze, silently and with much success. I would not mind to recommend this dish as a part of the regular course meal for Taj. Chicken Laat Jilu had both a distinct flavour and aroma. One would say it was a flavour and smell of Mustard oil (non refined) but I would say it was an earthy smell, the petrichor which takes you closer and closer to nature. I also tried the Santhali Simjil leto which was supposedly known as Tribal Biryani but did not find it anywhere close to Biryani, other than the ingredients used.  Have never been a dessert person unless depressed and on a weekday lunch, I didn’t bother either. 

Tata Steel Samvaad tribal pop up - 12

Seen here Taj Bengal GM Mr. Samrat Datta and Mr. Biren Bhuta Chief CSR Tata Steel

Tata Steel Samvaad tribal pop up - 11

Gur Pitha

Tata Steel Samvaad tribal pop up -10

Tata Steel Samvaad tribal pop up - 9

Tata Steel Samvaad tribal pop up - 8

Tata Steel Samvaad tribal pop up - 7

Mohua Laddoo

Tata Steel Samvaad tribal pop up - 8

Crab Chutney

Tata Steel Samvaad tribal pop up - 6

The Red Ant chutney or Hao Chutney

Tata Steel Samvaad tribal pop up - 5

Tata Steel Samvaad tribal pop up - 4

Tata Steel Samvaad tribal pop up - 2

Mangsho Pitha

Tata Steel Samvaad tribal pop up - 1

Laat Jilu

Tata Steel Samvaad 2017 tribal food pop up – how it shaped up 

When I got in touch with Tariq Jacob Rego and Revathi Thakur, the brains behind the pop up, very interesting insight came out.  They are working as Hotelier Development Program trainee in Food Production and Human Resources respectively and as a part of their project in CSR, they wanted to link the indigenous cuisines to Taj Business Value chain. They organised a workshop, invited tribal home cooks across 8 tribes and got some 38 dishes showcased. Subsequently, they shortlisted few to showcase them as a part of their pop up iat Taj Bengal Kolkata.

The challenges are the learning

When asked very rightly, they highlighted the challenges faced and these are the areas where the hoteliers, restaurateurs, food lovers and food writers, all should extend their help. 

Lack of information and documentation about tribal cuisines; at most, information is available on the commonly used ingredients, but hardly any mention of individual dishes
– Identifying and shortlisting the selection of tribal dishes to be showcased, without knowing the taste of indigenous ingredients like fermented soybeans (axone)
– Contacting and identifying tribes and tribal cooks from remote locations of the country
While innovation is staircase to the future, archival is confirming the basics and roots. Don’t we need that side by side? After this meal, I feel excited about that there is a goldmine of recipe and cuisine which are lying in the tribal belts of the country. Hopefully and eventually, these should be unearthed and brought to the mainstream cuisine. I will definitely look forward to seeing some of these dishes finding a place in the mainstream menu, so that it spreads awareness as well as helps the tribals to feel connected with the mainstream. Food divides and food also connects. 
Cheers to this wonderful initiative.