Santhal Marinade

January 25th, 2010

The Santhals are the largest tribal community in India. They are found mainly in the States of Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. These people prefer to live by the forests and rivers with their own unique religion and culture. They speak a language called Santhali. They are mostly hunters and fishermen. These tribes are very happy among themselves. They have a tribal leader or Chief  who settles any disputes. After they hunt and kill animals they make sacrifices to their Gods and then while they are cooking it they play drums, dance around the fire and drink locally made alcohol.

During summer holidays our families all came together in the remote village of Natu Mohanpur in Burdwan District. My father practiced Ayurvedic Medicine there part time. One of my uncles who lived in the village was a Homeopathic doctor. The Santhal tribes living in that village came to my uncle for medicines.

Many years ago when I was about six years old and my brother was eighteen we visited Burdwan as a family. Many of our relatives came together and because of the crowd no one was paying much attention to us. We heard from somebody that there was some Santhal Tribe festival and dancing going on some three miles away. My brother and I sneaked out and walked three miles to their camp. It was just getting dark and the whole village was dark and there were only oil lamps, no electricity. The Santhals were gathered around the fire as usual, food smell was there, and they were singing their melodious songs, playing their drums, and dancing around the fire. Somebody in the group recognized us and he and his family respected my uncle. He came and guided us to the front. We were seated on the grass with them and this was so much fun being away from all the boring stuff at home. They treated us like gods and I saw them marinate the Meat and the Fish. The marinade was in some big bowls and as far as I can remember there was Mustard Oil, Salt, Green Chilies and lots of Chili Powder. Some woman was grinding Garlic and Onions on a big flat stone. The whole place was lit by little oil lamps and everything seemed so enchanting. I was in an imaginary land of fairies. Some ladies came and talked to me in broken Bengali language and I had the most fun time on earth.

There were two or three big bon fires built and some wire was hanging above the fires. The people started picking up the food from the marinade and sticking it all on the wires to cook from the heat of the fire below. This was really jungle life I experienced for the first time. I forgot my past and present and just enjoyed. There were Chickens, Ducks, Fish, wild Pigs, Snakes, Rabbits and on one side I remember big Rats hanging over the fire. There was rice cooking in big pots over fire. I really had no appetite to eat but they brought me some Rice and Fish and it tasted wild with Mustard Oil and Chilies roasted over open fire. I did not look and will not go into what my brother ate. Later on we became concerned that we might be missed at home and then we expressed our desire to walk back. These folks were so happy that we came from the city to visit them. They send us back to our house with two guards on either side carrying swords. That I thought was a royal experience. When we got home we had to face the angry eyes and lectures from our grandfather. What a little piece of heaven on earth that was, it was well worth our reception back home!

I still remember the marinade, Mustard Oil, Salt, Onions, Chili Powder and Garlic and sometimes I use it when I broil or grill fish and meat. Mustard Oil is available at any Indian or Asian Grocery Store.

The Santhal Marinade

1 Cup Mustard Oil available at Asian or Indian Grocery Stores
12 Hot Green Chilies
2 Tablespoon Cayenne Pepper
16 Cloves of Garlic Crushed
2 Cups Onion Chopped and crushed
1 Tablespoon Salt

Marinate your five pounds of meat or fish or any decent edible animal for at least five hours while you sing and dance. This singing and dancing is another part of the marinade and it makes it better. Then grill or broil till cooked. Enjoy!

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