By Priyan R Naik
Travel is incomplete without food. When I was coming to Shillong, I knew that dishes in Meghalaya were going to be different from those found elsewhere. My culinary expedition began on arriving in Shillong at lunch hour. My first stop was at the Trelly Restaurant, a Chinese food joint in Laban. “Try our American chopsuey and chicken fried rice platter with momos,” a smart and helpful girl at the counter told me. Although well presented and delicious, it wasn’t authentic Chinese. The chicken momos were a Shillong specialty, which are dumplings with chicken or other meat filling extremely moist and juicy, having a distinct flavour of its own. Along with it came a mild red sauce, and raw onions and chillies, that added to the overall lip smacking taste. I noticed that raw onions and chillies were served in all restaurants and stalls; an accompaniment that is typical of Shillong.
In the evening, my gastronomic adventure took me to a restaurant serving ‘Jadoh’ which I was told is Meghalaya’s signature dish. A staple dish, this short grained rice cooked with a generous amount of pork is somewhat similar to a non-veg biryani. Since I do not eat pork, the chef agreed to substitute the pork with chicken and even offered to demonstrate his culinary skills. A mix of green chilies, onions, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, and bay leaves were fried with chicken and yellow rice. Turmeric, the ingredient that is abundantly grown in the hilly state, imparts a rich yellow colour and was primarily responsible for the dish’s aromatic fragrance and flavour.
Dinner time found me at the City Hut Dhaba, close to Police Bazaar or Khyndailad. With a warm and relaxed vibe, the menu offered an array of palatable options ranging from Indian, Chinese, with seating arrangements in four different rooms, (I chose the least crowded one). I opted for Shahi Paneer, cubes of cottage cheese tossed with kadai gravy cooked in Mughlai style accompanied with crisp naan for bread.
Wanting to leave for Cherrapunjee early next morning, it occurred to me that although the locals are early risers, getting hold of breakfast before ‘working hours’ was a challenge. Fortunately, the well known eatery, Delhi Mistan Bhandar in the heart of the city was open, and exceptionally crowded. Reputedly one of Shillong’s old heritage places, I was not going to miss grabbing a bite of ‘puri – sabji’ and their celebrated hot jalebis. While savouring the delights, the busy ambiance with their staff members running helter-skelter, took me back to the rushed mornings in the big city life.
While travelling to key tourist spots in Meghalaya, two restaurants strategically turn up when one is ravenous. On the scenic State Highway to Cherrapunjee, is the imposing Misty Hills restaurant standing tall among the Khasi Hills. I hurriedly ordered some aloo parathas served with locally made pickle, and even got two parathas packed for the long drive ahead. Similarly enroute Dawki to Mawlynnong, is the amazing KBR Vegetarian restaurant. The only grand structure seen from miles afar, where I gorged on their vegetable and paneer pakoras simultaneously taking in the breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys.
Back in Shillong, I also ventured out to a place called Kitchen Xpress in Malki. Spoilt for Chinese food, I ordered their ‘Latlu Lawmien and Se-Chuan Fried Noodles’ as spelt-out in their menu and was served huge portions that I could barely finish! The generosity of the restaurateurs and the appetite of the people (I’m guessing) were both plentiful.
By this time, yearning for home-made food I straightaway headed to Madras Cafe in the vicinity of Police Bazaar and treated myself to Idly, Vadas, Uthappams and Dosas accompanied with coconut chutney and sambar quite similar to the ones served in Bengaluru. I was not disappointed. I thought of home and the intense connection between food and nostalgia.
My culinary adventures were replete with the sensational tastes of Meghalaya. Mouthwatering dishes were to be had from Shillong’s restaurants to the many street food joints with their colourful food items and beverages. Bengaluru too has its fair share of renowned places serving authentic Dosas, like ‘Vidyarthi Bhavan’ and the ‘Mavalli Tiffin Rooms’ (MTR) but unlike Shillong, one needs to wait for hours before getting a place to sit down and order. Incidentally, I have yet to locate a place in Bengaluru that serves ‘Jadoh‘!
The writer is a Bengaluru based contributor to The Shillong Times .