Chubitchi or chubok is a traditional rice based alcoholic beverage of the Garo tribe. The Garos living in the Khasi Hills, Garo Hills and Ri Bhoi district in Meghalaya have a unique food culture indicative of their ethnicity. Chubitchi is paramount to the Garo diet that normally is made up of rice, vegetables and meat. This staple drink is offered to their God, Saljong (Sun God) during the Wangala festival, marriage ceremonies and even funerals. When rice is in short supply or during lean years, millets form part of their daily diet and is used in the preparation of the beverage.
Three important medicinal plants namely the leaves of achetra (Plumbago zeylanica L), leaves and roots of samaki (Clerodendrum cordatum D. Don) and leaves of the fern sarath (Thelypteris clarkei (Bedd.) C.F.Reed) are used in the preparation of this local brew.
The rice beverage is mostly prepared from a locally available glutinous rice called menil because of its sweet taste and aroma. The first step is the preparation of the rice cakes called as wanti. The rice cake known as a starter cake is prepared by mixing an appropriate amount of rice that has been washed and cleaned, medicinal herbs, chillies and old rice cakes (made in the previous year).
The mixture of rice, herbs and chillies are first pounded nicely and mixed with the old rice cakes. A little quantity of water is added and the dough is kneaded till it is smooth. Small balls are made from the dough and flattened. They are sundried on clean dry straw placed in the traditional bamboo baskets called dokee dona for at least five to seven days. Once the wanti has dried, it is stored and preserved in dried bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria Standl) in the kitchen near the fireplace for future use.
Menil, a local sticky rice variety is first soaked and cooked. Both polished and unpolished varieties are used with each lending the final product a distinctive taste and aroma. The red variety gives a sweet taste while it is found that roasting the rice adds a smoky flavour to the drink. The cooked rice is cooled indoors on a bamboo mat.
It is then mixed with the ready wanti in specific proportions. Large earthen pots called dika that have previously been washed thoroughly with water and sundried and further kept over the fireplace for drying and smoking are used for the fermentation of the rice mixture. The prepared mixture is tightly packed around a bamboo sieve placed inside the earthen pot and sealed with banana leaves and a clean cloth and left for fermentation. The bamboo sieve kept inside eases the process of fermentation.
The process takes about a week in summer and sometimes up to a month in winter. The rice beverage is left inside the earthen pot for complete maturation after fermentation. The drink is carefully extracted when desired using dried bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria Standl) called pong which have a hole in the bulbous portion of the dried mature fruits. The beverage can be kept for about a month in the earthen pots after which it is transferred into clean bottles wherein it can be stored for four to five years. The undiluted rice beverage is called chubitchi and the beverage consumed by diluting in water is called chubok.
This drink is found to possess medicinal and therapeutic properties. The Garos believe that the leaves of the achetra (Plumbago zeylanica L) behaves like an aspirin. A paste of the leaves is applied in the affected region to relieve headaches and body aches. It also exhibits antiseptic properties similar to turmeric.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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