How do we begin to explore Mizo food identity and culture - start with a bowl of Bai of course!
Dec 04, 2020 · 2 min read
“Chibai!” (hello!) - Even the popular greeting in Mizo contains the name of the dish that is universal across Mizoram.
What is Bai?
Bai, simply put, is a stew. But there is nothing simple about the numerous variations of Bai that could possibly be made!
Bai can be made any number of combinations of vegetables or meat, leaves or spices/herbs and is a prominent element in any Mizo Chawhmeh (Mizo Food)
In an Interview with Chef Zoe (a home cook who is cataloguing and reviving Mizo recipes), she tells us that Bai would be the one dish from Mizoram that should be represented on the world stage.
“Bai is one of the most preferred side dishes throughout the whole state. There can be a lot of recipe variations depending on one's location or preference. For some who like it really pungent like in the southern areas, a lot of fermented stuff is used viz.,soy beans, pork lard, fish and/or prawns, etc. Then comes the chilli, the degree of hotness is according to preference again.”
Bai also becomes one of the main representatives of the traditional Mizo fare, highlighting the use of traditional cooking methods such as boiling/stewing and ingredients - whatever was available at the time.
“Traditional Mizo fare is cooked in a simple manner, typically boiled, stewed, smoked, steamed, or fermented. The only cooking oil available was when a pig was slaughtered and its fat preserved in the form of lard, which was then re-heated for frying purposes. Most families could not afford to kill more than one pig in a year, and with neither the means of preserving the meat nor the lard in modern freezers, families had very few occasions in which to eat fried or fatty foods.”
Zoe is a home cook that actively runs & participates in the Mizo traditional indigenous cooking group on Facebook called 'Ei-in Siamna leh Hmangchang' /The Art of Cooking and Improvisation, wherein everyone shares his/her recipes in an effort to keep alive traditional and indigenous Mizo food.
Dr. Cherrie L Chhangte
Dr. Cherrie L Chhangte is an Associate Professor in the Department of English, Mizo University. She is keenly interested in folk and culture studies, including food culture. She is also a creative writer and dabbles in poetry, translation, and fiction.