Food is an essential part of every wedding. But the amount of food and beverages that is served in Meitei weddings is enormous in quantity and varied in taste. From the popular boxed food served at the engagement ceremony and the heijingpot rituals to the lavish 11- 13 dish meal served at wedding receptions, the food served is the centre of everything! Thus wedding catering for a Meitei wedding consists of food-on-the-go types, the sit down dinner/luncheon style and the buffet style.
This is the type on-the-go food and not so healthy (or may be) snacks which are served mostly at Heijingpot or waroipot. These are small packed food served in a box or a basket which is served to each and every wedding guest. The package largely contain 7-11 different types of sweet varieties for the heijingpot and 5-7 types for the waroipot. On the other hand, the food packages distributed on the wedding day after the ceremony is largely a small on the go meal which comprises of a rice item, one or two vegetarian item, a non-vegetarian item (mostly fish item), a sweet and some fruit served with a beverage.
These on-the-go items are mostly prepared by a group of local cooks namely bamon (the brahmin cooks) or by friends and families of the community. Considering the number of people invited and the amount of food distributed, the entire village or community contribute in cash and in kind. Some help in preparations for cooking while others help in the packing of food items.
The food items prepared for the waroipot or the heijingpot are packed a day or two before the main event and distributed on the day of the event. While on the other hand the food for the Luhongba is prepared on the same day and served hot.
On the day of the Mangani Chakouba or the reception of the newly-married couple at the Bride’s place, the Bride’s family host a traditional lunch. This lunch comprises of mainly fish dishes which is again prepared by designated cooks (called ‘bamon’) of the community. The community cook inevitably belongs to the Brahmin caste (although a strict caste system is not in practice in Manipur, certain aspects of the society like religious rituals and cooking for the community is a designated job of the Brahmin.) These community cooks are helped out by the family members and relatives of the host.
The sit-down lunches are the more lavish ones. The meal which mostly comprise of high-protein dishes like several fish dishes, pulses, boiled vegetables, sautéed as well as fried veggies is a very heavy meal which is served in a span of 45- 60 mins. The meal starts with normal pulses and grams curry, basically a variety of dal, boiled veggies, fried vegetables to fish curry in three to four different styles. Then it moves on to the desserts like the milk-rice pudding or kheer and steamed black rice. The meal concludes with hei-thongba or seasonal fruits cooked in caramelised water and a hint of salt.
Here are some of the dishes, Meiteis can’t do without!
While the fish dishes are mainly popular among the Meiteis in the Imphal valley and other nearby districts, the people in Phayeng, Andro, Sekmai, etc serve pork dishes along with distilled liquor made from rice. An elaborate post on the traditional luncheon style of the Sekmai will be updated in the near future.
The Advent of Catering Services
The boom in the service industry have made a headway to Manipur and the changes can be seen in the food industry as well. The last few years saw a drastic change in the food and catering industry scene. The catering industry which was largely dominated by the big hotels and restaurants has now moved to the neighbourhood with the local bamon’s taking up the cause.
Takogi Chaksang: a catering service in Manipur
The community cooks (referring to bamon) who use to provide only cooking services only have started standardising their services by including end-to-end services like preparations, cooking, home delivery and serving. They serve buffets, sit-down lunches and dinners as well as take-aways. Unlike the earlier tradition of just cooking at the venue, these community cooks have set up shop in their own homes and employ at least 30-40 people who can take care of the food preparation, cooking, cleaning and serving. They take orders in bulk and charge a standard rate for particular combinations.
Thus with the advent of the catering services, the food items distributed during weddings has become more and more elaborate due it’s easy execution and accessibility to a variety of services.
Bakery Items and Dessert Bars
One other important change we have seen in the food items served during the wedding is the inclusion of bakery items. The continuous attempt at making a heijingpot and wedding special has brought in some innovative and delicious ideas in the food that we serve. The age-old tradition of serving an assortment of greasy sweetmeats has given way to a combination of sweet, salty, juicy and healthy items. The health-conscious generation is constantly trying to make changes to the favour box/ the sweet box which is distributed during heijingpots.
The earlier combinations of 7 sweetmeats and one juice has made way for dry fruits, juices, bakery products like muffins, puffs and other bakery items which can cater to a non-sweet loving crowd too. On the other hand, brides are consciously trying to include fancy details like the dessert bar which serves several types of both sugary and non-sugar items which the guest can choose from.
Food culture by and large is a huge area. This post is just an introduction to the different types and ways in which food is served during Meitei weddings. You can find out more about catering and food trends in our upcoming posts.
We would like to Thank Sangeeta Nameirakpam for letting us use her food pictures for this post. You can follow her Instagram page @flavoursofmanipur to learn about Manipuri Cuisine and also for some lovely food photography.
PC: Sangeeta Nameirakpam, Epic Films Imphal, RK Aribam and Cream and Frost