Few of us are familiar with the nuances of Assamese cuisine – the perfect blend of fermented foods with local ingredients, the piquant flavour of the famed bhut jolokia, the underlying simplicity of Assamese food, and the authenticity of khar, a traditional Assamese preparation made from the ash extract of banana peel. Alas, it’s an unfortunate reality that most people understand Northeastern cuisines as an umbrella of extremely meat-heavy preparations. When in fact they’re so much more than that. The past few years have witnessed the sudden cropping up of many food ventures that are run by people from the Northeast region of India. O’Tenga is one such initiative that is painstakingly bringing the best of Assam’s local flavours to the bustling metropolis of Mumbai.
More than a year ago, Priyangi Borthakur and Joyee Mahanta, both residents of Andheri, decided to join forces after constantly bonding over the familiar nostalgia of home – particularly the Assamese food they grew up eating. Having spent more than a decade in Mumbai, they often felt the lack of restaurants that served authentic Assamese fare in the city. So the two decided to come together and fill this culinary void by setting up O’Tenga – named after a fruit from Assam. Of course, Joyee’s knack for experimentation and Priyangi’s passion for food eventually spread the word and soon, O’Tenga’s phone was buzzing non stop. “Actually Joyee’s husband is the one who kind of gave us the whole idea to start O’Tenga because he is obsessed with the Assamese food we make, while we just underestimated our own food” Priyangi reveals.
An exclusive delivery joint that works out of a kitchen in Oshiwara, O’Tenga was initially just an experiment the two operated from their homes in Andheri. What started with a few pop-ups here and there has now evolved into a full-fledged delivery kitchen operating out of Oshiwara. And the response has been phenomenal, as the duo explains “We thought we were doing this for the Assamese people who were missing out on the flavours of their home but it was surprising to see that it was the non-Assamese people who started ordering from us the most.”
O’Tenga’s menu is nothing short of culinary bliss – even for the uninitiated who might tread more apprehensively. From vegetarian options like Omita Khar, a raw papaya and khar preparation, and Assamese mashed potatoes (called Aloo Pitika) to non-vegetarian delicacies like Pork chilli fry and Lau bilahi masor tenga – a mouthwatering fish curry known for its tanginess, O’Tenga’s menu is a delight to sift through. Priyangi and Joyee also serve pork, chicken, mutton, fish, and veg meals - their veg meals are a favourite amongst their customers. Other favourites include a traditional Assamese pork curry which is made with bamboo shoot and bhut jolokia, fish tenga, and the mashed potatoes. “Our food is not very spicy. It’s very simple and mild, and bhut jolokia is the only spicy side to it”, adds Priyangi.
Being one of the few kitchens that dish out traditional Assamese food is not easy, even if you hail from Assam itself. In order to get the flavours right and keep the quality of their food consistently divine, the two are always experimenting with recipes that have long been a part of their individual family legacies. “We spent 4-5 months just working with different recipes; recipes that belonged to our aunts and mothers-in-law and grandmothers. Because even within Assamese cuisine, there’s a huge variety of food and we wanted to focus on the food that we grew up with”, they tell Homegrown.
Moreover, Priyangi and Joyee try to keep the entire affair as authentic as possible from the very beginning. Over the past year, they’ve managed to track down suppliers from Assam who help them source local ingredients from the hills, including Bhut jolokia chillies. Alternatively, it’s also their close-knit circle of friends and family who help them carry these authentic flavours from one corner of the country to another. Their family and relatives often carry certain ingredients with them whenever they’re visiting Mumbai. Kaji Nemu, bhut jolokia, jaggery, and bamboo shoot are some of the locally sourced ingredients.
While sending hot, home-cooked Assamese food to doorsteps is Priyangi and Joyee’s speciality, their homemade pickles, which are another secret to O’Tenga’s flourishing success and popularity. The pickles that are made and consumed in the Northeast region of India are very different from the regular store-bought ones. They’re fresh, full of local ingredients, and bursting with flavours. O’Tenga serves four delicious varieties of the same – black sesame pickle, chickpea pickle, banana flower pickle, and radish pickle.
Of course, while ordering from O’tenga you can be rest assured that the food will not disappoint. Their loyalists can vouch for the scrumptious flavours and extremely generous portions – both of which are a testament to the fact that O’tenga is, at the end of the day, a labour of love and effort. An attempt by two women who are not just finding joy in simplicity but also trying to make space for themselves and their unique culture in the overwhelming chaos of Mumbai.
O’Tenga delivers throughout Mumbai. However, for deliveries outside Andheri, orders need to be placed a day in advance. They also accept catering orders.
You can place orders by visiting their Zomato page.
Feature image credit: hpssociety.info
If you enjoyed this article, we suggest you read: