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This New Year, Will You Take the Taste Test? 

What are the hottest, sweetest, sourest, saltiest and bitterest foods? Take the taste test this Traditional New Year.

Updated
Blogs
4 min read
Happy Tamil-Odissi-Bangla-Assamese-Punjabi-Malayali New Year! (Photo: Liju Joseph /<b>The Quint</b>)

The Thing About the New Year Thali

What’s special about the New Year Thali is that unlike the feasts of other seasons/festivals, all five tastes mark explicit attendance. The traditional significance is that the rest of the year too, must be equally replete with a good, even mix of experiences.

The Traditional New Year Thali is about a complete culinary experience. No taste is left out. (Photo: iStockphoto)
The Traditional New Year Thali is about a complete culinary experience. No taste is left out. (Photo: iStockphoto)
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The Hottest, Sweetest, Bitterest, Sourest Saltiest New Year!

What better ode to a traditional New Years’ than a (not so) traditional listicle?

You could test your mettle against these raw ingredients that top the charts in their categories. Or, just go for the delectable recipes. Dig in!

The Hottest

Assam wins this one, hands down. There’s this little chilly that grows there, called the ‘Bhut Jolokia’. Cute name, huh? It’s also known as ‘Raja Mirchi’, and happens to be the spiciest chilli in the world. It scores over 1 million on the Scoville Scale (a measure of ‘hotness’). Jalapenos measure a measly 5,000.

Yes, it’s rather shy. But once you get to know each other, it’ll get you pretty hot and bothered. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Yes, it’s rather shy. But once you get to know each other, it’ll get you pretty hot and bothered. (Photo: iStockphoto)

The traditional Assamese dish made of the Jolokia, is the Bhut Jolokia Asaar (pickle). These deadly conical spice grenades are combined with garlic, salt, mustard seeds, vinegar and mustard oil. Before you taste, consider this; a single drop of the mixture is enough to spice up your entire curry. New Year explosives guaranteed! From which end? Aah, that’s the suspense.

The flavour is further enhanced with tender bamboo shoots. Beware! taste with caution. (Photo: iStockphoto)
The flavour is further enhanced with tender bamboo shoots. Beware! taste with caution. (Photo: iStockphoto)
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The Sweetest

Honey. There’s evidence in 5,000-year-old Indian manuscripts of the use of honey in cooking and as medicine. Sugar, in comparison, is both a newbie (less than 2,000 years old) and also less sweet.

Indian honeys are typically darker and have a stronger flavour. Unadulterated honey gets chewy when you pour it on ice cream. Try it! (Photo: iStockphoto)
Indian honeys are typically darker and have a stronger flavour. Unadulterated honey gets chewy when you pour it on ice cream. Try it! (Photo: iStockphoto)

There may not be ballads about it, nor will you find flowery praise in folklore, but nothing cools the heart like the lassi on a midsummer day in Punjab. If you haven’t tried the saffron lassi sweetened with honey, you’re not a foodie yet.

A truly transcendental gastronomic experience. (Photo: iStockphoto)
A truly transcendental gastronomic experience. (Photo: iStockphoto)

The Bitterest

Neem flowers. They’re one up over the childhood home-cooked bane – bitter-gourd curry. It’s almost impossible to eat them without adding a sweetener like jaggery or honey. But the health benefits and medicinal applications range from handling irritable bowels to safe contraception in women.

Neem flowers remind you of the true potency of the bitter taste. They’re also one of the quintessential cultural icons in India. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Neem flowers remind you of the true potency of the bitter taste. They’re also one of the quintessential cultural icons in India. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Neem flowers are added to Tamil Nadu’s Mango Pachadi, a thick reduction of raw mango in jaggery syrup. It’s to die for.

It may not be much to look at, but if you missed everything on the menu except this, you will not have missed much. (Photo Courtesy: Enveetu Kitchen)
It may not be much to look at, but if you missed everything on the menu except this, you will not have missed much. (Photo Courtesy: Enveetu Kitchen)
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The Sourest

Tamarind has tarted up Indian cuisine for over 10,000 years now. Except in parts of the South West coastline (where ‘kokum’ is used), it has a monopoly over the rest of the country, when it comes to all dishes sour.

The name means <i>Indian Date</i>. True to the name, a date with India isn’t complete without tasting the tamarind! (Photo: iStockphoto)
The name means Indian Date. True to the name, a date with India isn’t complete without tasting the tamarind! (Photo: iStockphoto)

Let’s head to Bengal for the reticent, but delectable ‘Machcher Tak’. It takes the freshest pieces of Rohu or Katla (and occasionally the tiny ‘Mourala’ whole) to get this dish right. Tamarind pulp is added almost at the end for lip-smacking goodness.

The image does no justice to the actual, mouth-watering, aromatic fair that is the Machcher Tak. (Photo: iStockphoto)
The image does no justice to the actual, mouth-watering, aromatic fair that is the Machcher Tak. (Photo: iStockphoto)

The Saltiest

Sambhar lake. Yep. The sea is 4.5 percent saline. The Sambhar lake is over 30 percent saline, next only to the dead sea, at 37 percent. A single glass of water from this lake, and you’re ready to be embalmed.

For generations, the women of Rajasthan have worked the Sambhar lake for salt. And yet, the reserves seem endless. (Photo: iStockphoto)
For generations, the women of Rajasthan have worked the Sambhar lake for salt. And yet, the reserves seem endless. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Nevertheless, we need salt in our diet, so let’s look to the ‘Uperi’ from Kerala to complete the experience.

The banana chips are now used as currency in board meetings and to clinch major deals. They’re all round (hehe) awesome. (Photo: iStockphoto)
The banana chips are now used as currency in board meetings and to clinch major deals. They’re all round (hehe) awesome. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Want to add to this delectable list? Show your love in the comments section below.

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(Vikram Venkateswaran is a freelance writer, TV producer and media consultant. Headings, titles and captions are his kryptonite. He just moved to Chennai and hopes the city likes him and is nice to him.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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