What is the connection between Manipur in the North East to Chettinad in Tamil Nadu in the South of India ? Most Indians will scratch their head since there is hardly any historical connection. Anyone aware of evolution of the Chettiars of Chettinad will realise they had set up flourishing businesses in Burma in 19th and early 20th century and they had business ties with the other countries in the far east as far as China. Okay so where does Manipur fit in this puzzle; Manipur has a long border with Burma now Myanmar. Manipur is the doorway to the far east and has always shared some amount of cultural proximity with Myanmar and Thailand.
The culinary threads emerged between 2 states geographically dispersed, historically disconnected and sociologically entwined through business and passage ways living the legacy of their forefathers who brought in the best of the Far East into their kitchens !! The saga of Black Rice Kheer !!
Business interactions pave the way for cultural and culinary connections and evolution of a cuisine and when business ceases to exist; the culinary connections remain deeply entrenched into the lives as memories of yore. The Chak Hao of Manipur and the Kavuni Arisi of Chettinad are examples of this connection. These sweet deserts cooked from the famed black rice from the far east specially China is a treasured delicacy in each of these states and no feast is complete unless you have served it to your guests.
While the Chak Hao is cooked in milk and laced with cardamom powder, sugar, ghee and cashew; Kavuni Arisi is cooked with water instead of milk; all other ingredients remaining the same. Both dishes attain a deep purple hue when cooked giving it that exotic look. Chak Hao(pic on top) has a liquid consistency whereas Kavuni Arisi(pic below) is slightly pasty.
Black rice is cultivated in small proportion in these states and not so widely found in India. Packed with anti oxidants, it is a favourite with health freaks looking for Thai or Chinese black rice. Long after the Chettiar ships stopped sailing in the Bay of Bengal, long after the Chettiars were routed from Myanmar after nationalization of businesses; when the memory of how the black rice reached the Metei Kitchen in Manipur has faded; the connection with Far East remains through these signature dishes which are now integral part of Indian cuisine.