Discovering Meghalaya's Culinary Depth And Diversity From Delhi's Cowbelt - Eastern Mirror
Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Discovering Meghalaya’s culinary depth and diversity from Delhi’s cowbelt

By IANS Updated: May 04, 2024 8:42 pm
Photo: IANS

NEW DELHI — Now that this is the election season, let us juxtapose Meghalaya’s cuisine with the places of origin of three candidates who are getting a lot of attention — the Shillong MP, who’s up for re-election, is Vincent Pala of the Congress and he’s from Jaintia hills; his challenger, Anapareen Lyngdoh of the National People’s Party, is Khasi; and in the state’s other parliamentary constituency, Tura, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s sister and a prominent face on national television, Agatha Sangma, is in the fray — she’s from the fertile Garo Hills, the state’s bread basket.

Even a state that appears to be so small on the map of India has a culinary tradition that spans three cultures with their distinctive food preferences and ingredients. Those who’ve grown up in the Garo Hills swear by their fermented fish paste, Tung Tap, for instance, but Khasis are partial to Jadoh, a standout dish prepared with red rice and pork, and in Jaintia Hills, Dakharang, or smoked fish used in salads, curries and chutneys, is the king of the table.

Now, imagine getting this lip-smackingly diverse cuisine in the far end of one of Delhi’s urban villages, Ghitorni, where contemporary style and rustic timelessness seem to coexist in harmony. It was at journalist-turned-gastronomer Damini Ralleigh’s Indica, a space for sharing food knowledge, where Tanisha Phanbuh, Meghalaya’s passionate culinary ambassador in Delhi, showcased the depth and diversity of her state’s cuisine.

Tanisha had first come to Delhi to study fashion designing, then she went back to Shillong, only to return to the national capital in 2015 to work at Ek Bar, which made quite a splash when it opened. Over the years, she has mastered the art of avant garde cooking, without playing with the ingredients and original tastes, and becoming an articulate speaker, which has been her ticket to cookery shows such as MasterChef India and Femme Foodies.

It was at Femme Foodies that celebrity chef Ranveer Brar described her as the Tribal Gourmet, which she carries now as her calling card.

Opening the experiential afternoon with Phanbuh, a dainty dish made with crispy potato skin popping out of a potato espuma, Tanisha moved on to serve cured fish served on a bed of cold tree tomato sauce (tree tomatoes are common across the north-east).

Featured in the medley of gentle flavours were perilla leaves, which the world associates with Japanese cuisine (they call it shiso and you’re supposed to wrap a sashimi in a leaf, dip it in soy sauce and then eat it). Perilla seeds are commonly used for cooking in Meghalaya, but Tanisha has put the leaves to good use as well.

From fish, we moved to jackfruit dumplings that came wrapped in perilla leaves with a dollop of chilli oil on top, and then to pan-fried chicken with a ‘bomb’ aioli (it wasn’t as dangerous as it sounded!). As she served the dish, Tanisha talked about Shillong’s tea shops (‘dukan sha’), where people have tea with a host of savoury delicacies, including delicately fried chicken and pork. Again, what stood out was the way Tanisha presented the dish.

Then came the sorbet — or ‘chuski’, as Tanisha put it — made with a ‘soh shang’ coulis. The people of Meghalaya love their soh shang, a berry-like fruit that’s both tart and sweet. And then, finally, arrived what Tanisha called the Jadoh risotto, her take on the Khasi speciality.

It was served in a tea stall-style plate with long fish or pork, tea-pickled egg (we had always believed they made them only in China, but how wrong we were!), ‘tungrymbai’ (fermented soybean paste) and chilli oil. A memorable melange of flavours and textures.

The meal officially came to an end with a serving of churros — Meghalaya is not famous for desserts — rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with a cashew nut (a major export of the state) praline and smoked sesame (another Meghalayan touch!) chocolate sauce. And we had coffee from Meghalaya (another revelation of the day!) to wash all this down.

It was a culinary tour of Meghalaya we won’t forget in a hurry — and we did it from an unlikely venue in Delhi’s cowbelt, talking all the while about the good things of life with fellow foodies,

By IANS Updated: May 04, 2024 8:42:17 pm
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