I didn’t realise just how typically Assamese my eating habits were until I came to Gujarat and couldn’t stomach even a sprinkle of red chilli powder in my dal. It becomes more and more difficult as each semester progresses, and you just have to get creative with your meals. I was so determined to find Assamese food, any food even slightly similar to what I had grown up eating, that I ended up joining (and subsequently leaving) the college mess committee just so I can convince the caterers not to put red chilli powder in the dal they make (which didn’t work out all that well either).

So obviously, when I came across Project Otenga’s Facebook page in my third year, I was excited. They were initially located somewhere nearby in Gandhinagar, but they planned to shift their café to Ahmedabad. So we waited till it finally opened again inside the campus of Ahmedabad University.

I have been to that place twice in the last year.

My first time there, I got really, really excited about being able to order my food in Assamese, and I also learnt that if you wanted to eat meat, you had to call in advance and ask them to prepare it for you (AU is apprehensive of meat for consumption, which you’ll find is true of many places in Gujarat). The second time I went there, it was Bohag Bihu, and I was told that there was a feast of sorts they had planned so I should go during lunchtime. So a few of my friends and I turned up for this feast of sorts this late afternoon in April, but probably only to be mildly disappointed by it.

What this place is all about

Project Otenga is a café. Its menu consists of sandwiches, pasta and juices, just like your typical café menus. The menu’s meal section, however, is what really captures the idea behind them naming the place so. “Otenga” or elephant apple is a very common ingredient in Assamese cuisine. It’s used in preparations of maasor tenga (tangy fish stew) and mati dail (urad dal), to name a few. The café’s meals are basically typical Assamese meals (including some items common to other North-Eastern States too) prepared by the chef.

The food you can expect

The first time I went there, we had a typical Assamese vegetarian meal, and also a stew made of dried fish which we were told was a Manipuri dish. The second time it was an entirely Assamese meal complete with a serving of jolpaan (puffed rice, cream, curd and jaggery). They prepared maati dail (urad daal), fried papaya with potatoes, fried white gourd and deep-fried fish; all served with steamed rice. They also made khar which is a stir-fry of sorts made from the head of a fish, with xaak (leaves of mustard), and to which an alkaline substance (also called khar) typically found in banana plants is added; and of course, aloo pitika (mashed potatoes). These are what you would find in a meal served in any typical Assamese house.

An Honest Review

I do wish that the fish had been fried for longer because I found a piece which was still raw on the inside and had to tell them to fry it for longer so that it would be edible. And the fish could have also used a bit more salt.

The coop or rather, the lack thereof, is where my main complaint lies. You see, I had called the place in advance asking them to prepare chicken like I was told I had to. I had originally made plans for dinner but I was told to come for the feast during lunch instead, where they said they would be serving chicken.

Yet, when we arrived and placed our order for 5 non-vegetarian meals and 1 vegetarian, the staff told us how preparing chicken would take around 30-45 minutes. We decided the wait would be worth it, so we asked them to prepare the chicken too. But, for the two hours that we spent in the café, the staff kept telling us that preparing the chicken would take 30-45 minutes, to the point that we were done with the rest of the meal and we were still told that’s how long the chicken would take.

So yes, we didn’t get to eat chicken that day, but what was really disappointing was the attitude of the staff in the café. We ended the meal with jolpaan, which in my opinion was absolutely overpriced for the measly quantity that they served. This place momentarily took care of my craving for Assamese food (devoid of red chilli powder), while also reminding me of typical Assamese habits which I abhor. Whether I go back there will now only depend on just how strongly I want Assamese food again, because little else was really attractive to me about that place after this experience.