The moment anyone gets to know about the trip we recently undertook to parts of North-East India, the first question they usually ask is – ‘What did you eat there? I have heard there is no vegetarian food to be found there!’. Now, after our brief sojourn in the North-East, I know that this is a myth – of course, there is vegetarian food to be found there! The husband and I had the same doubts, the same apprehensions, before we undertook this journey – all laid to rest now.
Finding vegetarian food in the North-East, Shillong included
Yes, the North-East is predominantly a meat-eating province. People here are used to eating animals of all sorts, every part of the animal, without wasting anything. That doesn’t mean that there are no vegetarians at all here. There are locals and tourists in the North-East who prefer vegetarian food, and consequently, there are restaurants there that cater to them. Pure-vegetarian places might be tough to come across, but you will surely find vegetarian food in places that serve non-vegetarian food – you should be okay with that before you undertake a trip to the North-East. Also, if you are going to be constantly on the go, flitting from one place to the other, you might not be able to find a purely vegetarian eatery where you are.
Shillong, in Meghalaya, being a major tourist attraction and a town, has a generous smattering of restaurants, small and big. Most of these eateries are located around Laitmukhrah and Police Bazaar. There are several stalls selling eatables of all sorts around tourist spots in and around Shillong, like Umiam Lake, Don Bosco Cathedral, Ward’s Lake, the Don Bosco Centre For Indigenous Culture, and Lady Hydari Park. Walk around any of these areas, and explore the local foods at your pace, that’s what I would recommend!
Our foodie sojourn in Shillong, Meghalaya
Now that that is off my chest, let me tell you all about the vegetarian fare we enjoyed in Shillong, one of the places we stayed at in the course of our holiday.
Indian sweets at a nameless sweet shop in Laitmukhrah
Post our sojourn at the ancient Don Bosco Cathedral in Laitmukhrah, Shillong, we headed to a little sweet shop without a name, nearby, for cups of tea. It was tea ‘o clock too, but the husband and I got fascinated by the Indian sweets on display in the glass showcase at the front of the shop. We ended up ordering some, and getting delighted by one of them in particular.
The gulab jamun here was average, and the mishti doi was sour and utterly forgettable. The malai chamcham was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, though – so very well done, fresh and light and mildly sweet. The rasmalai here was exquisite, too.
I don’t remember exactly how much we paid here, but I do remember that it wasn’t much. The grub here was far, far less expensive than it would have been in a place like Bangalore.
Vegetarian Khasi fare at Red Rice, Police Bazaar
In the bustling Police Bazaar area in Shillong, restaurants are aplenty. You’ll find pure vegetarian food here, as well as eateries serving a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare. Then, there’s the plethora of street food available here – in the evenings, this area veritably turns into a street food haven, especially for meat lovers.
We wanted to sample some Khasi fare, the food of the Khasi tribe that majorly inhabits Shillong. At our tour operator’s suggestion, we headed to Red Rice in Police Bazaar, a place that prides itself on serving authentic vegetarian and non-vegetarian Khasi food. We ended up thoroughly enjoying our meal here.
The husband had a vegetarian Khasi thali that was an extremely simple, yet hearty affair. The daal cooked with greens was simply beautiful, as was the mustard-y onion salad. The mixed vegetable curry and chutney that were part of the thali were oh-so-flavourful, too!
I got myself a bowl of Khasi-style red rice and one of Buddha’s Delight, the last one being a mix of soup, thin noodles and veggies. The Buddha’s Delight was, again, such a simple thing, but so very flavourful – adding oodles of oomph to the plain red rice.
It was, sort of, marvellous to see how a meal could be cooked up with so little ingredients and yet be fulfilling. We, city-dwellers, do have a lot to learn from people like the Khasis, who live every day in the face of hardships.
We paid about INR 250 for this meal, as far as I can remember.
A blah dinner at Cafe Shillong
Most of the travel guides we read about Shillong seemed to mention Cafe Shillong, all praises for the local bands that play here over the weekend and the wonderful food the cafe serves. When we visited, though, it was a week day, and there was no band.
The food here, sadly, didn’t meet the high expectations that we had had. The vegetable clear soup we ordered was strictly okay – watery and lacking in taste. The Pasta Arabiatta was just average, too, as was the Singapore Fried Rice. Well, maybe, this isn’t a great place for vegetarians, I am guessing!
Cafe Shillong happens to be an expensive place, with prices at par with several high-end cafes in Bangalore. I think we paid about INR 900 for this meal.
Pav bhaji and aloo chop at a nameless shop in Laban
Walking around the streets of Laban in Shillong, we came across this small shop run by a Marwari gentleman, a place without a name that sold only vegetarian food. Apart from regular fare like parathas, chowmein and fried rice, this eatery also sold tea, aloo chop, pav bhaji and a variety of chaats.
We had lunch at this little shop one day, and absolutely loved the aloo chops that we tried out. The tangy, spicy, mustard-y sauce that was served with the aloo chops was just brilliant – it was a Shillong special version that tastes both like chilli sauce and kasundi. Must try!
The pav bhaji we had at this shop wasn’t mind-blowing, but was definitely good.
A beautifully simple Khasi meal at Dew Drop In
While in Shillong, we had the opportunity of staying at Dew Drop In, a lovely place owned by a Khasi family. Our Khasi hosts were more than happy to cook us an authentic local meal with vegetarian ingredients. Here, we got to sample Khasi daal (made with greens), mixed vegetable curry, ja stem (a Khasi dish of rice cooked with turmeric, green peas and onion), a pickle made with local sour berries, along with rotis, curd and green salad. Every single dish that was a part of this meal was absolutely delicious – simple but hearty, well cooked and flavourful.
(Read more about Dew Drop In in my post here!)
I know for sure that I am going to try making the Khasi daal and jado stey at home!
Gorgeous juicy pineapples en route to Shillong
On the way to Shillong from Guwahati, you will come across many little stalls that sell a variety of things, from pickles made the old-fashioned way to local varieties of bananas, jackfruit, banana flowers, pineapples and arum root.
We made a pit-stop at a couple of these stores, and the beautiful pineapples here were what caught our fancy the most. We ate the loveliest ever pineapples here – perfectly ripe, so sweet the slices felt like they were dipped in sugar syrup, so juicy the juice ran down to our elbows when we bit into them. The taste of these pineapples still lingers on in my mind, and I now realise how much the fruit available in Bangalore pales in comparison to this gorgeousness.
Apparently, the weather, the rolling slopes of the hills, the soil all over Meghalaya are extremely conducive to growing pineapples, and they abound in the state, lovely ones at that.
An utterly forgettable dinner at Lamee’s
One of the days we stayed in Shillong, we dined at Lamee’s – a big, multi-cuisine eatery that offers both vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare – at Police Bazaar. Sadly, the meal was utterly forgettable, with everything that we tried out lacking in flavour.
The vegetarian chowmein at Lamee’s was nothing special, and neither was the burnt garlic fried rice.
The prices at Lamee’s are on the higher side, though. I remember paying about INR 700 or so for our meal.
Vegetarian momos and jhalmuri near Ward’s Lake
We tried out the vegetarian momos from one of the street-side stalls outside Ward’s Lake, for all of INR 20. The momos had a thick, floury shell (as opposed to the thin covering I am used to in momos in Bangalore), but the filling was delicious. The same was the case with the vegetarian momos we tried out at a street-side stall in Police Bazaar, too.
The jhalmuri we had from another street stall at Ward’s Lake was not great, though.
Local berries at Golf Course
We came across this lady selling assorted local berries, while walking around the Golf Course in Shillong. She was sweet enough to oblige us for some photographs, and sweeter to offer the bub a toffee!
We had a good time trying out this berry and that. Most were lip-puckeringly sour, though, and, I am sure, would have made for gorgeous pickles. I forget the local names, though.
You can find these berries on sale at Police Bazaar, too, in case you are interested, along with oranges, apples, bananas, strawberries and litchis.
The lovely litchi drink from Bangladesh
Our cab driver suggested that we should try our this litchi drink from Bangladesh, commonly available in Shillong. We picked up a couple of bottles, for INR 10 each, and they were absolutely delightful!
Well, that was all about the food (and drink) that we tried out while in Shillong. So, you see, vegetarians aren’t exactly in a position to starve to death in this part of the world, at least not in Shillong? 🙂
I hope you have been reading and enjoying my other posts about our trip to North-East India! If you haven’t, here are the links for you!