The Rabha tribe of Assam, largely found in Lower Assam and south bank of the Brahmaputra River prepare their own unique rice brew called Choko or Jonga–mod (Jongamod). This popular rice beverage is made from ten medicinal herbs that are found locally.
The starter cake known as bakhor or surachi or phap is prepared from the locally available sticky rice and medicinal herbs namely pineapple (Ananas comosus), jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), crown flower (Calotropis gigantea), wild pepper or tabasco pepper (Capsicum frutescens), bhat or hill glory bower (Clerodendrum infortunatum), a fern (Dennstaedtia scabra), (Ochthochloa coracana), Indian leadwort (Plumbago indica), Saccharum (Saccharum officinarum) and licorice weed (Scoparia dulcis).
A considerable amount of old starter cakes are mixed along with the medicinal herbs to prepare fresh cakes and left to dry. Locally available sticky rice is cleaned and cooked with very little water. The fresh rice is spread out on a bamboo mat to cool.
Old starter cakes are powdered and mixed with the fresh rice. The mixture is tightly packed into an earthen pot known as jonga. A special cylinder-like device made of bamboo called janthi is placed inside the pot to facilitate the fermentation.
The mouth of the jonga is tightly sealed with banana leaves that have previously been warmed in the fire and kept in a dark place. A small amount of charcoal is placed over the lid of the jonga to ward off evil elements.
The Choka or jonga–mod is ready after 4 to 5 days of fermentation. A small quantity of water is added again to allow further fermentation and the Choka is collected after 3 to 4 days. It is distilled using three earthen pots by placing them one on top of the other. This is an indigenous mechanism using jute and mud to make it airtight.
The fresh brew is stored in fully matured bottle gourd fruits (Lagenaria siceraria Standl) after making a hole in its dried shells. This distilled drink is a strong liquor known as Fotika.
The Rabha tribe believe that this drink has curative and medicinal properties. It is known to cure mental illness, promote better sleep, relieve headache, stomach ache and body ache, used as a treatment for urinary problems, diarrhoea and constipation. This drink is also given as a health tonic to bulls to improve their body strength and cure swelling of the legs in cattle.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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