The best thing about travelling to new places is the discoveries that one makes about local food. On a recent visit to Shillong, Curtain Call Adventures introduced us to Vivek Wahlang, an entrepreneur and a die-hard foodie, whose passion is to bring travelers the best food from his region. Vivek and his family host travelers from all across the country and take them on a food experience that is truly unique. We were halfway through our stay in Shillong when we were lucky to be invited into their home for an authentic Khasi meal.
We were a group of four, of whom, two of us were vegetarians. Vegetarianism is not common among Khasi people, however, Vivek and his family had used local produce and put together a delicious array of Khasi food, so unique in flavour and spice, it was the best food experience I’ve ever had.
We began our meal with a welcome drink, made from a local citrus fruit, delicious and refreshing; it was vaguely comparable to a kokum drink. This was followed by a more generic vegetable clear soup, appetizers such as vegetable croquets and shredded chicken canapés.
Next came an elaborate main course which showed us the versatility and richness of Khasi cuisine.
Pashor kait, a banana flower salad with white sesame seeds and the muli khleh, radish with white sesame seeds were a refreshing change from the regular salads that one makes at home. There was also a mixed tossed salad with traditional Khasi herbs. The rynsun Khasi, a pungent root vegetable resembling a spring onion but in fact part of the garlic family, added a nice zing to it.
Sohsaw Dieng, a tree tomato looked nothing like the tomatoes we’re used to in the South and had raw, it tasted like a bland persimmon. It surprisingly redeemed itself in the form of a chutney and we simply couldn’t get enough of it. Tangy, sweet and mildly spicy, it was a great accompaniment to the Putharo, a steamed rice pancake, soft and fluffy and resembling a bao.
While we were devouring these, we were served with a plain red local rice and yellow rice called jastem. The yellow rice is traditionally prepared with gravy of pork, ginger, onions and turmeric; however, for the benefit of us vegetarian guests, the yellow rice was cooked simply in turmeric and ginger. Both varieties of rice had their own unique flavour, and were delicious.
My travel companions, originally from Mangalore particularly enjoyed the tungtap, fermented dry fish chutney similar to dry fish chutneys made in coastal areas in the South. Among the other non-vegetarian dishes were the chicken curry Mylliem style, a fish curry with broad beans which they claim were to die for!
The dai nei-iong, a type of dal cooked with black sesame seeds was definitely my personal favourite. This went very well with both the red as well as the yellow rice. A stir fried mixed vegetable or jhur sdieh and slow cooked banana stem, called khoit kait were equally good. A similar banana stem dish is prepared in many parts of Karnataka but the spices used are vastly different in each state.
Our meal concluded with an orange flavoured rice dumpling with custard. Not a traditional dessert but certainly prepared using ingredients unique to the Khasis. The rice dumpling was made from the local red rice; it was interesting to see how the red rice lent itself so easily to a sweet dish. The dumpling itself was bland and rough in texture but when cut in half, the orange, with bits of rind oozed out of it making it a delectable dessert.
This was an amazing food experience, and an immensely informative one that made it all the more pleasurable. Right from the beginning, we felt very welcomed. Warm, friendly and talkative, Vivek gave us a lot of insight on Khasi people, their history and culture. His mother, an incredible and utterly delightful woman sat at the head of the table, and made sure we were each doing justice to the food from her region! She regaled us with funny anecdotes from her travels across the country and showed equal interest in learning more about her guests and where they were from.
We were truly in the company of great food, wonderful people in a beautiful State such as Meghalaya. What more can one ask on a holiday?
Article written by Sriranjani Vadiraj. She visited Meghalaya in April 2017 on a trip customised by Curtain Call Adventures.
Images by author, clients and our own.