It’s hard to imagine an Assamese meal without Masor Tenga being served at the table. The light fish curry has many versions and is a beloved comfort food of the Assamese people. ‘Tenga’ meaning ‘sour’, is added to the curry using a variety of souring agents such as kazi nemu (an elongated lemon, known as Gondhoraj in Bengali), pati nemu (small, round lemon), thekera tenga (kokum or mangosteen), ou tenga (elephant apple), kon bilahi (resembling cherry tomatoes but very sour in taste), and certain indigenous herbs like shuka xaak, tenga mora and tengesi. The most commonly used souring agent is of course lemon, and now some have also started using lime.
Assamese food as such has very less to do with masalas, and this dish is a perfect example of that culinary philosophy because the only spices used are turmeric, and a few fenugreek seeds (methi) in some of the tenga recipes. The flavours are built using fresh, seasonal vegetables like ridge gourd (zika), bottle gourd (lau), potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, etc. My favourite of all is the zika bilahi tenga (ridge gourd and tomatoes), where I squeeze some kazi nemu into the curry right before serving.
Because of the humid climate, this fish curry turns out to be the perfect meal to go with the staple – rice, as it is refreshing. For those who like a little spice, you can break a fresh green chilli while mixing the rice with the curry to make it hot and sour.
With the mighty Brahmaputra running through the state, the people enjoy a huge bounty of delicious river fish. Rohu and Bahu are some of most commonly used river fish for this preparation, but plenty of other small fish, some even from nearby ponds, are used in the making.
Masor Tenga is a simpe and easy recipe that can be made at home using just a handful of ingredients. Here’s a recipe you can try – click here.