Have you ever wondered why a dog’s sense of smell is so good?
If you were to ask this question to any Khasi, they would attribute it to ‘Tungrymbai’ or fermented beans!
Tungrymbai is a popular indigenous Khasi food prepared by fermenting soybeans. Fermented beans are actually a popular food item in the culinary tradition of Northeast India. It is known as ‘kinema’ among the Nepalis of Darjeeling and Sikkim, ‘axone’ among the Sema Nagas and ‘hawaijar’ in Manipur.
For fermenting the Khasi Tungrymbai, dried beans are washed and boiled for about 1-3 hours till they soften. The beans are then placed on fresh salem leaves spread inside a bamboo basket. The beans are wrapped, and hot red charcoals put on top of it. The beans are covered again with another layer of salem. Finally, the beans are put inside a jute sack, which is placed near the fire hearth and left to ferment for around three days.
The fermented soybeans are mashed lightly using a ‘thlong’ and ‘shynrei’ (mortar and pestle). Tungrymbai is now ready to be sold in the market. Tungrymbai is available and had primarily during the winters where it added to meals prepared with meat or served as a pickle.
As a result of fermentation, Tungrymbai has a distinctive fetid odor, which is why it is perceived as unpleasant by anyone who comes across it for the first time!
So, the story goes…
In the age when men and animals spoke one and the same language, they gathered in a big weekly market called ‘Iew Luri Lura’ (market of chaos). They would come here to sell and buy their goods.
One day a dog called Dom brought the fermented Tungrymbai to sell in the market. Disgusted by its foul smell, the other animals accused him of selling dirt in the market. Furious, they hurled and stamped on the basket in which the Tungrymbai was kept. The dog ran away from there in shame and disgrace!
The dog approached the lion, the king of the jungle, to intervene in the matter. The lion asked to see the Tungrymbai by himself. But when the dog brought the Tungrymbai, all the animals, including the lion, were repulsed by its odor. They threw away and violently stamped on the Tungrymbai again. Insulted, the dog left the company of animals in humiliation.
The ridiculed dog finally approached a man. The dog narrated everything that happened with him and the “Tungrymbai’. He requested man to allow him to stay with him. The man took sympathy on the dog and offered the dog a place to stay. In return, the dog promised to guard him and his property against all harm.
Since then, men and dogs are best friends! The dog also vowed to take revenge on the animals that had insulted it. So, starting from that time onwards, dogs help us to track down other animals during a hunting expedition. To this day, the Khasis believe, dogs can smell the Tungrymbai that is attached to the paws and hoofs of animals!
Hope that answers the riddle!
There is evidence that attests to the truth of this story. Iew Luri Lura, the fabled marketplace of animals is situated near Mawlyngba village about 15 km from Mawsynram in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya. The market has long been abandoned, but there are still conspicuous impressions of what looks like animal hoof and paw marks at the site of Iew Lura Luri.
The story of Iew Lura Luri shows how a whole cultural narrative is weaved around the food we eat. Thus, Tungrymbai is not merely any food item consumed by the Khasis, but a living cultural signifier of tradition passed down from one generation to the other. Food, in this sense, goes beyond the physical act of eating and internalized through the telling of narratives like ‘Iew Lura Luri’.
Do you have a dog who you consider to be your best friend?