“Growing up, while home food was comforting, I remember not being fully proud of it. I associated it with being smelly and fishy. It was only when I moved out of home and met people from other parts of North-East (India) that I began to identify with that ‘smell’.”

Brought up in Tripura to a Bishnupriya Manipuri family, Nishant grew up hating the smell of fish. “Of course, let me clarify, I didn't hate dry fish -  it’s too integral to the Manipuri plate. Especially the Bishnupriya Manipuri plate!” 

Nishant’s reflection on his food identity was sparked by his travels into the heart of North East India. “I realized that while one often hears of North-East being a mystery to most Indians, I too knew very little. And as I traveled, I began unpacking my biases. I would travel and stay with local tribes, sharing their food and stories. It was then that I realized that food is such a big part of accessing culture, and without being open to it, one leaves with an incomplete experience.”

The Bishnupriya Manipuri cuisine, far from being mainstream in mainland India, is a unique cuisine that traditionally permits the use of fish but restricts garlic or onions. Nishant goes on to explain, “a traditional Bishnupirya Manaipuri plate would have a mound of rice, erol-pa (a dish made by mixing boiled and mashed vegetables or bamboo shoot with dry fish and lots of chilies) or paltoi (a hot side dish made with fermented fish and sometimes mashed potatoes), sagol khoi (black urad dal), met-pa (mashed potatoes in red chilies, mustard oil, salt), fritters of different seasonal vegetables, khar (a quintessential north-eastern dish with a chief component being an alkaline solution), chamthong (vegetable stew with or with added dry fish) and finally all of this is finished with some bironchowl or sticky rice milk pudding.”

The Bishnupriya Manipuris, Nishant goes on to explain, are indigenous to the state of Manipur. Though today, the Meitei community makes up the majority of modern-day Manipur. At one point, both communities occupied the valley of Imphal, near the Loktak lake. However, around the 18th century, fleeing local oppression, the Bishnupriya Community moved out to neighboring states of Assam, West Bengal, Tripura, and across the border to Bangladesh. “So today, while the history of Manipur is mostly the Meitei version, the Bishnupriya Manipuris in many ways carry fragments of their Manipuri identity in language and food.”, shares Nishant.

If the more accessible ‘valley’ food of Manipur seems new and foreign, tribal food sits further out of the conventional realm of imagination. The tribes of Manipur, occupying the hilly parts of the state, are diverse within their own rights. While promises of development threaten the erasure of culture and ancient customs, foraging for food remains a prominent source of survival. “Spending time with these tribes, understanding their relationship with their land, experiencing the warmth of their generosity - I soon became an “eats-everything-guy!” shares Nishant.

The question of culinary hierarchy, however, remains. Our food lexicon subtly creates a hierarchy of cuisines in our minds, deftly separating the yummy from the smelly. So much of what is met with disgust in mainland India is everyday food for people who live on nothing but what the land provides. Many of these ‘smells’ are, in fact, evidence of creative ways to preserve and honour produce.

Today, Nishant brings a cherished recipe to the table. “When I think of home,” shares Nishant, “I think of all the little dishes that make up the plate. Whether nutritionally, historically, politically, or culturally, each dish has so much to say. Many of these dishes have changed and morphed along the way, taking on new meaning and adjusting to new realities - much like the Bishnupriya Manipuris. But there is some comfort in the thought that no matter where you are, a mound of rice and paltoi will always make the Bishnupriya Manipuri heart sing -  a thread that binds us all.”

Aatha Paltoi ︎ Aatha Paltoi ︎Aatha Paltoi ︎

︎ Aatha (dry) Paltoi ︎

This recipe truly belongs to the Bishnupriya Manipuri community.  Giving us comfort in sickness - both of the body and heart, the paltoi, had with a mountain of rice is truly special. 


  • Hidol 1tsp (fermented paste of dry fish and taro stem that's fermented for about a day with mustard oil. That's a long process, so I'm probably making it sound easier than it actually is!)
  • Mokchi or green chilies - 10
  • Nun or salt to taste
  • Awa phagidom or herby coriander for garnish
  • Boiled potatoes
  • Miyangpa (spicy globe basil)
  • Water - 1-2tbps


Mix all the above ingredients, ensuring the potatoes are all mashed up. You can make it watery by adding more water or leaving it as is.

Eat with steamed white rice!