Kavuni Arisi Adai| Indian Black Rice Pancakes

Have you ever cooked with black rice? It is an ingredient very new to my kitchen, for I started cooking with black rice fairly recently. These Indian Black Rice Pancakes are something I used it in a while back, and they were so much loved by everyone at home!

Some quick facts about Black Rice

  1. Black rice has a deep black colour, which comes from the anthocyanins present in them. Anthocyanins are a family of antioxidants that are present in foods with a similar colour, such as blackberries and blueberries.
  2. The anthocyanins in black rice help in preventing cancer and heart disease, regulate blood sugar, and reduce the absorption of cholesterol. This rice is higher in fibre and protein than ordinary white rice, too. It has a high level of iron and Vitamin E. It has a lower number of calories than brown rice.
  3. Black rice has a mild, nutty taste that lends itself well to both sweet and savoury dishes. The rice turns purplish in hue when cooked.
  4. Black rice is majorly grown in tropical areas like North-East region in India, as well as in China, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar. There might be variations in the types of black rice grown at each of these places.
  5. Considering that black rice is so high in nutrition, it was once reserved only for royalty in China. Only rulers and their families would be allowed to eat it, due to which it was given the name ‘Forbidden Rice’. Though the rice is still referred to as Forbidden Rice at times, it is now widely available in supermarkets and health stores across India.
  6. In spite of its high nutritional content, black rice still remains a largely unexplored ingredient in India. The Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu, though, has been using this rice since ages. The Chettiars or the locals of this region, mostly traders, would often travel for business to Indonesia and Burma (now Myanmar), and would bring back packets of black rice with them. The Chettiars call this rice Burma Rice or ‘Kavuni Arisi‘, and largely use it in a sweet preparation called ‘Kavuni Arisi Halwa‘.
  7. Black rice is also referred to as Purple Rice or Magic Rice.
  8. It is different from Wild Rice.
  9. For best results, black rice should be soaked overnight before cooking. It is best cooked in a pan, covered, with twice the amount of water. Care should be taken to ensure that it is cooked just enough, as overcooking will make it quite sticky and mushy.
  10. In North-East India, black rice is commonly used to make a sweet dish called Chak-hao.

Recipe for Indian Black Rice Pancakes

In Bangalore, black rice has been making an appearance lately on the menus of new-age cafes, mostly in the forms of salad and pudding. I decided to use it in a savoury preparation, a very South Indian one at that – Indian-style pancakes or adai.

The Kavuni Arisi Adai tasted lovely, and the addition of onions took the taste higher by several notches. Thanks to the urad daal in it, it turned out super soft too. Actually, I added in a variety of lentils to the batter – even some of the black moth daal that I picked up in Kashmir. Super nutritious, with all those whole grains in!

 

Here’s how I made the Indian Black Rice pancakes or Kavuni Arisi Adai.

Ingredients (yields 28-30 pancakes):

For the batter:

  1. 1 cup black rice or kavuni arisi
  2. 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek (methi) seeds
  3. 1/2 cup raw rice
  4. 1/2 cup Kashmiri black moth daal
  5. 1/2 cup chana daal
  6. 1/2 cup split black urad daal
  7. 1/2 cup toor daal
  8. Salt, to taste
  9. 7-8 dry red chillies
  10. 6-7 cloves of garlic, peeled
  11. A 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped finely
  12. 2 sprigs fresh curry leaves

To make the pancakes:

  1. Oil, as needed
  2. Finely chopped onion, as needed (optional)
  3. Finely chopped coriander, as needed (optional)

Method:

  1. Place the black rice, chana daal, fenugreek seeds, urad daal, raw rice, toor daal and Kashmiri moth daal together in a large vessel. Wash these ingredients well under running water a couple of times. Then, drain out all the water.
  2. Add in enough fresh water to cover all of these ingredients. Cover the vessel with a lid. Let the ingredients soak for 8-10 hours or overnight.
  3. When the soaking time is over, drain out the excess water from these ingredients. Grind half of the ingredients to a coarse batter, in a mixer jar. Transfer the ground batter to a large vessel.
  4. Now, take the rest of the soaked ingredients in the mixer jar. Add in dry red chillies, peeled garlic cloves, and peeled and chopped ginger. Grind coarsely. Add this batter to the one we ground earlier.
  5. Add salt to taste to the batter, as well as curry leaves. Mix well. The batter is now ready to use to make pancakes or adai.
  6. When you are ready to make the adai, add finely chopped onion and coriander to the batter (optional), as needed. You may even add in finely chopped green chillies, as needed. To make the adai, heat a dosa pan well on high flame. Now, reduce the flame to medium. Place a ladleful of the batter in the centre of the pan, and spread it out. Add some oil all around the adai. When cooked on the bottom, flip it over. Cook on the other side too, on medium flame. Serve immediately.

Notes:

1. I used Sona Masoori raw rice in the batter. You can use any type of raw rice that you prefer.

2. I used Manipuri black rice from Happy Healthy Me, to make these adai.

3. If you do not have Kashmiri black moth daal, you can entirely skip adding that to the batter.

4. This batter does not need any fermenting, and can be used immediately after grinding. However, if you want a slight sourness to the adai, you may set aside the batter, covered, at room temperature for fermenting for a few hours.

5. If you do not plan on using the batter immediately, you can store it in the refrigerator. It keeps well for 2-3 days.

6. Add the onion, coriander and green chillies (if using) just before you begin preparing the adai. It is totally optional to add these, but I would highly recommend that you do.

7. I had a bit of batter left over after making these adai, with onion and coriander added, and used it to make kuzhi paniyaram. Those also turned out absolutely lovely, soft and delicious!

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8. These Kavuni Arisi Adai do not really need an accompaniment. However, they go well with powdered jaggery or a simple South Indian coconut chutney.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

Also, would you like to see more black rice recipes on my blog?

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I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #236. The co-hosts this week are Julianna @ Foodie on Board and Debanita @ Canvassed Recipes.

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Postcards From Cherrapunji, The Wet And Gorgeous Land

 

‘Cherrapunji is the wettest place on earth. It gets the highest amount of rainfall in the world,‘ I remember reading time and time again in my geography textbooks at school. Like many, that was my first introduction to Cherrapunji, via school books.

Well, the mantle of ‘wettest place on earth’ has now been passed to the neighbouring village of Mawsynram. Still, I am so thrilled to have had a chance to actually visit Cherrapunji aka Sohra, this place straight out of my school books, on our holiday to North-East India! And, guess what? We happened to visit Cherrapunji right in the midst of the monsoon, when it was at its wettest, wild, gorgeous best!

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A winding highway, in the midst of mountains, in Cherrapunji

Cherrapunjee from my eyes

We didn’t have any preconceived notions about Cherrapunji when we visited, and went with an open mind. The place charmed the socks right off us. We were thrilled to meet the sleepy, laid-back, small town that Cherrapunjee is, literally in the midst of the clouds. This land of many waterfalls and lush, lush greenery is still off-the-beaten track for many tourists.

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A quaint structure we came across in Cherrapunjee

Most tourists who do come here stay for just a day or so. They opt only to visit the Double-Decker Living Root Bridge and, at the most, a couple of tourist destinations. Cherrapunjee, however, is the sort of place you explore at a leisurely place. It is the kind of place where you stay put and do nothing, just sitting in the porch of your hotel with a cup of tea warming your hands, soaking in the prettiness around you. It is the kind of place where you take long walks on the winding streets, on misty mornings. You watch whole mountains being swallowed up by the clouds and mist. You let the clouds and mist envelop you, too, and you disappear into a private, magical space all of your own. Here, you begin to understand why Meghalaya (‘the abode of the clouds’ is called so), and why Rabindranath Tagore was moved to poetry here. You even write some poetry of your own, here. There is a lot to see and do and feel and explore in Cherrapunjee, if you take the time to do it.

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We stopped here to watch this breath-taking landscape, en route to Cherrapunji from Shillong. Later, we learnt that the landscape is like this, wherever you go, in Cherrapunji!

Exploring Cherrapunji

We stayed in Cherrapunji for 3 days, and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. We skipped the famous Double-Decker Root Bridge, as we were told it wasn’t a wise thing to attempt with a toddler in tow. We checked out many other spots here, and yet, I have this feeling that we have just barely scratched the surface.

When we visited, it would rain heavily in the early mornings, and everywhere would be filled with mist. At times like these, we would go for a leisurely stroll, just to get ourselves acquainted with the place, gawping at the pretty pastel-coloured houses, the local Ja-Sha (tea & rice) shops, and the many remnants of British culture. We would head for a relaxed breakfast then, the weather beginning to turn very pleasant. A day of exploration would follow. By 5.30 PM or so, it would start getting dark, and we would return to our hotel to rest and recoup. I grew so very fond of these do-nothing sort of days in Cherrapunjee – I would do it all over again in a flash!

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We missed lunch, the day we drove from Shillong to Cherrapunji. Our cabbie took us to this little shop in Cherrapunji, which made the best-ever vegetable Maggi we’ve ever had! There’s something extraordinarily charming about Maggi in the hills, right?

Relics from the times of the British Raj

Our cab driver told us fascinating stories of how the British were charmed by Cherrapunjee. ‘The Britishers wanted to make this place their capital,’ he said, adding, ‘but they found life here extremely tough. It was difficult to maintain any sort of records – the rain would wash away the ink on all their official papers. Finally, they gave up, and made Shillong their capital.’

I’m not sure how far this is true, but Cherrapunji does still possess some relics from the time the Britishers spent here. There are some very beautiful ancient churches here, and a few schools that the British set up. Apparently, during the British rule in Meghalaya, many of the local Khasi tribespeople converted to Christianity, which is still the most-favoured religion in the state, Cherrapunjee included.

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A pretty, pretty church that we came across in the course of our explorations in Cherrapunji

Wahkaba Falls

Neither the husband nor me are enamoured with waterfalls. I mean, we do love the sound of the gushing water – it never fails to soothe and relax us – but apart from that, we aren’t particularly fascinated by them. The waterfalls of Cherrapunji, however, made us fall in love with them! Wahkaba is one such beautiful waterfall we visited here, and absolutely adored. Abundant, powerful, pretty, we stared and stared at this waterfall for a long, long time. Then, the sun came out and made a rainbow in the Wahkaba, magic right before our eyes!

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The Wahkaba Falls in Cherrapunji

Arwah Caves

There are quite a few caves and caverns in Cherrapunji, many of them boasting of exotic rock formations and fossils. Mawsmai and Arwah are two of the best-known caves in the area. We decided not to do Mawsmai, as our tour guide suggested against it – it would be a difficult trek with a baby. We went to Arwah instead, and it turned out to be a fascinating experience.

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The gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous climb up to Arwah Caves in Cherrapunji

The climb up to Arwah Caves itself is magical. You get to see some amazing, amazing vistas, as you ascend.

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Mist-engulfed, during the ascent to Arwah Caves

You can choose to sit and rest at any of the stops during the climb, and take in the beauty around you. We did the climb real slow, soaking in every moment of it.

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A jaw-dropping vista, captured during the ascent to Arwah Caves

Good we did that, too, because when we got to the caves, we found we couldn’t get in too deep while carrying the kid – parts of it are real narrow and you need to double over to enter.

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The entrance to the Arwah Caves

We were so drunk on nature by then that we didn’t mind this one bit. Not exploring the cave meant more time for us to lounge around and breathe in more of that gorgeous, fresh air.

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Another absolutely amazing vista spotted during the climb up to Arwah Caves. Can you tell how crazy we went taking pictures here? 🙂

Nohkalikai Falls

Nohkalikai is another amazingly beautiful waterfall in Cherrapunji. When we visited, the water was abundant and gushing. At this spot, we fell in love with waterfalls all over again.

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The very beautiful Nohkalikai Falls in Cherrapunji

This brilliant waterfall has a rather gruesome story behind it, associated with a young local lady called Ka Likai (‘Ka‘ is a prefix given to women in general in Khasi). After Ka Likai’s husband died, she remarried, as is customary in this part of the world. Ka Likai had a baby daughter by her first husband, and would spend a lot of time with the little one after she got back home from work. Local legend says this made her new husband so jealous and furious that he killed the baby, and used the meat to cook a meal for his wife. That evening, the wife, hungry after her work, ate the meal. It was only later, when Ka Likai discovered a little finger lying in the house that she realised what had happened. Overcome with grief, she ran off the edge of a nearby cliff and died. Since then, the waterfall emanating from this particular place began to be called the Nohkalikai Falls, after her.

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Fresh cinnamon and bay leaves being sold at Nohkalikai Falls, Cherrapunji. I had never seen cinnamon sticks this huge before!

Sad as the story behind Nohkalikai Falls is, the place is quite the tourist attraction now. The atmosphere at the site resembles a small village fair, with everything from local handicrafts, woollen garments and toys to forest honey, a variety of pickles, fresh cinnamon bark and bay leaves on sale. I loved this part – I walked around the fair to my heart’s content, took pictures and shopped till we almost dropped!

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A variety of pickles and forest-fresh honey on sale, at Nohkalikai Falls, Cherrapunji

Ramkrishna Mission

The Ramakrishna Mission, set up in Cherrapunji in 1924 by Swami Vivekananda, is a big-time tourist attraction here. We found it just like the Mission in other places, nothing extraordinary. I loved the museum within the Mission premises, though, which is full of information and models depicting life in the North-East Indian states and their history.

Photography is not permitted here, and so, I don’t have any pictures of this place to show.

Eco Park

A large park maintained by the government, Eco Park is something of a tourist attraction in Cherrapunji. It isn’t much, to be honest, sort of poorly maintained, but it does offer some amazing views. We enjoyed walking around the park, photographing the breath-taking Missing Falls (named so because the source of the waterfall is untraceable). The kiddo had a grand time having a go at the swings in the children’s play area here!

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The spell-binding Missing Falls, as visible from Eco Park, Cherrapunji

Seven Sisters Falls

The Nohsngithiang Falls in Cherrapunji is popularly called the Seven Sisters Falls, because it is segmented into seven parts, naturally. Considered one of India’s tallest falls, this is supposed to be quite a beautiful spot. When we visited, however, we found only very thin streams of water cascading into the valley below, a kind of disappointment after the gorgeous falls we had been witness to in Cherrapunji earlier.

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So, that’s about all that we managed to do in Cherrapunji. Like I said before, I believe we have only just scratched the surface of all that the place has to offer. Well, next time..

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Getting there:

The best way to visit Cherrapunji is to reach Guwahati, either by air or train. Cherrapunji, about 180km from Guwahati, can be reached via state transport buses or private cabs. Alternatively, you could travel to Shillong from Guwahati (via bus or cab), and then travel ahead to Cherrapunji.

Getting around:

Private cabs are the best way to cover all the major tourist destinations in Cherrapunji. It is a great place to walk leisurely around in, but you really need a cab to sight-see. Our entire North-East trip was planned and managed by North East Explorers.

Stay:

There are a handful of good homestays, guest houses, hotels and resorts in Cherrapunji. Polo Orchid Resort, Cherrapunjee Holiday Resorts, Sohra Plaza, D Cloud Guesthouse are some stay options available here.

Eat:

Orange Roots, Halari, 7 Sisters Falls View Inn, Cafe Cherrapunjee & Inn and Rain Cafe are some of the popular eateries here.

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I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and found it useful! Please do tell me in your comments!

 

 

Enchanted At The Mawphlang Sacred Grove, Meghalaya

This is no ordinary forest you are about to enter. This is a sacred grove, home to La Basa, a protective deity who safeguards all of us. He watches over this forest. Anyone who enters with bad intentions will have to face dire consequences. You can be inside for as long as you want, but please remember that you cannot take away anything from this forest – not even a single leaf or a dried twig,” our guide warns the husband and me, in no uncertain terms.

We are about to enter the Mawphlang Sacred Grove, in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, a bare 25 km or so away from Shillong. From the outside, we can see absolutely nothing of the forest – all we can see is a huge open plain, with a tall grassy hedge covering most part of it. A little man-sized opening in the hedge indicates the entrance to the sacred grove.

We gulp, sort of nervous of getting inside with the bub.

Don’t worry one bit, please. This place is 100% safe. There are hundreds of tourists who visit here every day, and not even a single untoward incident has happened,” the guide is  quick to reassure us, probably noticing our slight discomfort. “The Basa protects,” he adds.

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Stones of Khasi symbolism, just outside the Mawphlang Sacred Grove. This indicates the importance of family, we are told.

Chin up, we step into the man-sized clearing, the husband baby-wearing the bub, me walking close behind. We set foot into the Mawphlang Sacred Grove. And it is then that magic happens.

We find we have stepped into a beautiful, beautiful forest, straight out of an Enid Blyton book or from the movie Avatar. The scenery around us is nature at its best, pure, untouched, non-commercialised. At the very first glimpse of the Mawphlang Sacred Grove, we are enchanted.

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Walking into the Mawphlang Sacred Grove, our guide leading the way

The Mawphlang Sacred Grove, covering about 80 hectares, has stood the test of time – it is a place that is over 1000 years old. The forest is home to several scores of species of birds and animals. It is a treasure trove of rare plants and trees, several of them bearing immense medicinal properties,” our guide says. “The Khasi community here takes care of this forest. The Khasis believe in nature. They revere nature. Any ailment we suffer from, we believe nature can cure. All of these cures are right here, within this sacred grove,” he adds.

We have been lucky to find a guide who speaks very good English, in a community that speaks, mostly, only the local dialect of Khasi. As we walk deeper into the forest, he points out natural wonders that we must absolutely see, telling us about the history of the place. We lap all of it up, eyes agape in wonder, mouths slightly open. The path through the forest is uneven, slippery at places, but it is definitely not a difficult trek.

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Left: A plant that bears flowers which look exactly like a cobra’s raised hood; Right: A little bird’s nest; inside the Mawphlang Sacred Grove

We get up, close and personal with bird’s nests, a variety of mushrooms, flowers that look like the hoods of cobras, different types of orchids, herbs that cure skin diseases and headaches, leaves that help in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. We check out Helicopter Flowers – flowers that rotate like helicopters before landing on the ground – and plants that are shaped like baskets.

Left: The Helicopter Flower. Right: A pretty thing our guide picked up from the forest floor for us to see. I forget what this is, now.

Mawphlang‘ is Khasi for ‘land of the grassy stone’ (‘Maw‘ is ‘stone’, while ‘phlang‘ is ‘grassy’, in Khasi). True to its name, and thanks to the legendary rains in Meghalaya, everywhere we look inside the forest, it is green, green, green. The branches of trees all around us, many of the rocks on the forest floor, are covered with dense green moss.

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New life in an ancient forest. Orchids coming into life on a mossy tree branch, in the Mawphlang Sacred Grove.

The forest is dense, alive, impressive, but surely not gloomy. Rays of bright sunlight pierce through the trees, create a sort of magical space, where we stand and pose for photographs. Being the nature lovers that we are, being inside the forest fills us with an immense sense of peace. The calls of various birds from the trees around us help a great deal, too. Our shoulders relax, and we begin to breathe deeply of the pristine air within the forest, beginning to forget our worries and soaking in the sights and sounds before us. And, as we do this, we fall deeper and deeper and deeper in love with the bountiful, gorgeous forest spread out all around us.

There is always something or the other happening inside the forest, irrespective of whether you are able to see it or not,” our guide tells us. “There is new life coming up, old trees and plants are withering and dying, just like the cycles of our life. There is so much happening below the surface, beyond our sight and wisdom,” he says, and we cannot help but nod along at this.

Here are some out of the multitude of mushrooms we spotted inside the Mawphlang Sacred Grove. Apparently, it takes an expert eye to figure out which ones are poisonous and which ones aren’t.

Closely following the footsteps of our guide, we arrive at a gurgling stream deep inside the forest. The water is pristine, crystal clear, and naturally cold. It is pure enough to drink, the guide tells us, but advises us not to do so. There are animals drinking from the stream all the time, he says, and he is not sure if the water will agree with the stomachs of city-dwellers like us. So, we refrain, and walk ahead, after clicking a few pictures at this hugely beautiful spot.

The clear, clear, clear stream in the midst of Mawphlang Sacred Grove

While we are leaving, we hear a rustle and turn back to spot an extremely beautiful green snake skimming the waters. A couple of beautiful birds fly out from the nearby trees. We hadn’t even known these creatures were around us! In the blink of an eye, before I can fumble to switch my camera on, they are gone. “You are good, kind souls. You are very lucky. Most people who come here don’t get to see any animals,” our guide remarks.

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Our young and very passionate guide (on the left), chatting with a worker inside the Mawphlang Sacred Grove. Notice the bamboo basket on the worker’s back? These baskets are used everywhere in Meghalaya.

Kings no longer exist in Meghalaya, but when they did, they would regularly visit the Mawphlang Sacred Grove, we are told. Our guide points out to us various spots within the forest – the place where the king apparently held discussions with his wise men, the place where lambs or cocks would be sacrificed to appease the Basa, the place where the sacrificial meat would be cooked and eaten. To novices like us, these bits of history (tales? folklore?) are utterly fascinating.

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The spot, deep within the Mawphlang Sacred Grove, where the King used to convene with his wise men, once upon a time
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The spot where the King would eat the sacrificial meat, along with his courtiers
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The spot where the King would, apparently, rest after his meal

All too soon, we realise we are at the end of our tour. With our hearts full, refreshed and rejuvenated by our tete-a-tete with nature, we follow the guide back out of the forest. This time around, we take a shorter, less winding route and are back at the entrance in absolutely no time at all.

As we pay the guide for his services and thank him profusely for his energetic presence with us, he advises us to check out the Model Khasi Village just outside the Mawphlang Sacred Grove. We do just that, and thoroughly love the little village constructed to explain to tourists the concept of an actual habitat of the Khasi community.

Part of the pretty little Khasi Model Village, just outside the Mawphlang Sacred Grove

We head back to our cab, thoroughly sated, so very glad that we decided to visit this beautiful place that is still slightly off the beaten track.

If you find yourself in Meghalaya, I would urge you not to give the Mawphlang Sacred Grove a miss, but to embrace it with an open heart. It is one of the most peaceful, untouched places we have been to in a while, and I am sure you will love it too.

Notes for travellers

  1. The Mawphlang grove is sacred to the Khasis. Please do ensure that you respect the rules here, and treat the place with the same reverence that the Khasis do.
  2. This place can be covered en route to Shillong, Mawlynnong or Cherrapunjee.
  3. Please do hire a guide if you wish to take a walking tour within the forest. The trails are winding and confusing, and I would not really recommend going inside on your own. Moreover, you need a guide to point out various species of plants and trees to you, to suggest which ones can be poisonous and which ones are not.
  4. The Mawphlang Sacred Grove is open to tourists every day, from about 9 AM to 5 PM. Photography is permitted. The entrance fees need to be paid at the tourist office right there. Guide charges and camera fees are separate.
  5. There are two kinds of walking tours available here – a half-hour one and a full-hour one. I would personally recommend the full one hour tour.
  6. The forest is, indeed, a safe place to visit for kids and adults alike. The walking trail is not very tough, and anyone with average fitness can undertake it.
  7. Make sure you leave most of your belongings in your cab, if possible. Get into the forest with just a jacket or umbrella (in case of rain), a water bottle and your camera, to facilitate easy walking.
  8. You can request for a guide at the tourist office on the Mawphlang Sacred Grove premises. Most of the guides speak heavily Khasi-accented English.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Less Than Awe-Inspiring Boat Ride On River Umngot, Dawki

I’m sure many of you would have seen pictures of a green, green, green crystal-clear river in Meghalaya, a rustic boat floating gently on its surface, the water so transparent that one can even see the rocks and vegetation below. The place looks magical, other-worldly, like Fairyland. Have you?

Well, the river in question is Umngot, which flows through the little village of Dawki in Meghalaya, barely 95 km from Shillong. Right next door is Tamabil, the land border between India and Bangladesh, manned by extremely friendly army jawans. The specialty of the Umngot is its pristine water, so clean and clear that you can see right through to the river bed in spite of it being about 20 feet deep. The water here usually has a beautiful greenish hue, and is so transparent that the boats plying on it look as if they are floating in mid-air. So, it was but natural that when the husband and I visited Dawki in May 2017, we came with huge expectations. Sadly, the sight we met with was less than magical and our boat ride across the Umngot was definitely not the awe-inspiring thing that we had imagined it would be.

Our first sight of the Umngot

Our visit to the Umngot was scheduled en route to Shillong, after spending a day in Mawlyynong, touted as the ‘cleanest village in Asia’. The drive was beautiful, across scenic vistas, with gushing waterfalls taking us by surprise every now and then, barely any vehicle crossing our path. As we got nearer and nearer to Dawki and to the Umngot river, though, the atmosphere changed – the surroundings were still beautiful, but hordes and hordes of tourists started appearing. It was, after all, the month of May, the start of monsoon in Meghalaya, when the state is at its best, supposedly tourist season.

Our cab driver dropped us at the spot designated for drop-offs, where we were met by our tour guide. He led us through the winding maze of tourists, and we had our first sight of the Umngot. The river looked muddy and in no way clear as crystal, and was FULL of boats. To me, the water looked angry, almost threatening to overflow its banks. We were told this was because of heavy rainfall the previous day – apparently, the water is pristine only when you visit in the summers. Disappointment seeped in.

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Our first sight of the Umngot, with lots of boats waiting to pick up tourists, and tourists haggling over the fare

The husband and I decided to go ahead with the boat ride, as scheduled. A visit to Meghalaya does not happen frequently, after all! Thankfully, we did not have to bargain over the fare for the boat ride, as we saw so many other tourists doing – since we had booked a complete package, everything had already been arranged for us.

Getting down to the boat

We climbed down some very narrow stairs, rendered slippery with rain and slush, as careful as could be, holding hands, tightly gripping the bub’s hand in ours. Under normal circumstances, I am guessing, the descent would not have been so harrowing.

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The descent to the river Umngot and the boat docking area. See those narrow steps?

The boat ride

Soon enough, we were introduced to our boatman, a sweet guy called Joseph. We were seated in a pretty, old-fashioned boat that seemed quite sturdy. Joseph began to row us across the Umngot – quite a long stretch, actually – and we began to relax slowly.

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Joseph, our companion on the boat ride across the Umngot

The husband and I began to take note of the beautiful surroundings around us. My camera came out, and I began clicking away. If the place could look this beautiful with muddy waters, just how pretty would it be on dry days?, we wondered aloud.

One of the many beautiful vistas we encountered during our boat ride on the Umngot. That there is the Dawki bridge that connects India and Bangladesh.

We passed through nooks and crannies in the hills, the sunlight playing hide-and-seek with the rocks.

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A tourist boat plying along the Umngot, in a relatively quieter spot

Little waterfalls along the route sprayed water on us, providing us relief from the stiflingly humid weather.

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A waterfall we encountered in the midst of our boat ride

All the while, the water lapped impatiently against our boat. We wondered if we had taken a huge risk in deciding to undertake the boat ride when the river was so very full, but at that point there was not much we could do about it. We sent up a silent prayer to keep us safe.

The island of rocks

After a while, Joseph anchored the boat near a small island in the midst of the Umngot river. The island – full of rocks in all shapes, sizes and colours – It was a pretty little spot. It would have been just perfect for pitching a tent or lying down and gazing at the sky, on a cooler day, I think. No wonder people all around us were going crazy taking selfies!

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The rock island, in the midst of the Umngot river

We took a few pictures here too, and sat dangling our feet in the water. The water around the island is very shallow, and the bub had a fun time letting the little waves lap over her feet.

As we got ready to leave the island, we picked up a few pebbles, to bring back home with us as keepsakes.

The Bangladeshi side of the Umngot

We cruised along the river some more and came to the border between India and Bangladesh, right there in the waters. The spot was marked by a string of plastic bottles, bobbing merrily in the waves. ‘This side of the bottles is India, and that side is Bangladesh,’ Joseph told us. Precisely how this demarcation was arrived at, I am curious to understand.

Bangladeshi tourists enjoying themselves on their side of the Umngot

In spite of being a small village, Dawki is a busy place, I understand, thanks to its strategic location. Trucks pass through it all the time, ferrying goods for trade between India and Bangladesh, two countries which have friendly relations with each other. Dawki is a fishing village too, with a number of fishermen operating on the Umngot river on a daily basis.

‘Earlier, there used to be free movement of boats between the Indian side and the Bangladeshi side, on the Umngot,’ Joseph told us. ‘That is no longer the case,’ he added.

The end of the boat ride

After about 25 minutes on the river, we were brought back to the boat docking area, and escorted safely back on level ground. Thankful to be safe, we bid adieu to Joseph and Dawki.

This particular boat ride had been less than satisfying.Now, however, we have had a glimpse of just how magical the place can be in a different clime, different time. We cannot wait to visit again, to see the Umngot in all its crystal-clear beauty.

Tips for travellers

  1. If the clear waters of the Umngot are what you want to see, please do plan your visit in drier weather, between October and April. In May, the monsoon begins in Meghalaya, and the Umngot turns angry and muddy.
  2. In hindsight, we think we should have skipped the boat ride, considering the river was threatening to overflow its banks. If you are in a similar situation, I would suggest that you follow your gut instinct.
  3. Be sure to enquire about a reasonable charge for boating on the Umngot river, from your tour guide or hotel help desk.
  4. Make sure you leave your belongings in your cab as you descend for boating, keeping just the bare minimum with you. The steps are safe, but quite narrow. The descent can be a bit steep for very young children, the aged and infirm.
  5. Do visit the India-Bangladesh border at Tamabil, which is just adjacent to Dawki.
  6. Dawki can be covered as a day trip from Mawlynnong or Shillong. Do request your tour guide or hotel to help you plan the trip.
  7. Considering that Dawki is quite a small village, there is no reliable public transport to and from the place. A private cab hired from Mawlynnong or Shillong would be your best bet.
  8. You can shop for little Bangladeshi articles in the little shops around Dawki. We tried out a Bangladeshi litchi drink here, which was absolutely delicious, priced at a princely sum of INR 10. Our cab driver also suggested we pick up a soap from Bangladesh here, just for the fun of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postcards From Meghalaya: Pineapples In The Wild

I don’t think you can go to Meghalaya and not fall in love with the pineapples. We did too, when we were holidaying in the state, earlier this year.

The fruits are everywhere, on flat ground, on hilly slopes, in people’s backyards, even out in the wild, in the middle of nowhere.

The pineapples simply love the soil and the weather here, and grow, grow, grow. They are food for the local people here, as well as a means of earning a livelihood.

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A home in Mawlynnong, touted as the cleanest village in Asia. Don’t miss the pineapples stacked up at the entrance!

The husband and I had never before seen pineapples growing on a plant. The first-ever glimpse we caught of one was at Mawylnnong, growing in someone’s bountiful garden.

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A pineapple growing in someone’s home garden, in Mawlynnong

The pineapples of Meghalaya are so not your regular fruits that you buy off a shelf in a store. They are ambrosial, beauties to look at, so sweet that you wonder if they have been dipped in sugar syrup – which they haven’t, of course, because they were cut right then and there, in front of you. One bite into them, and the juice gushes out of them, runs down your cheeks and elbows. You don’t mind the messiness one bit, of course.

While we were in Meghalaya, we ate pineapples whenever and wherever we could. We gorged on them to our heart’s content. They weren’t exactly cheap, but not over-the-moon pricey as well. On the drive from Mawlynnong to the Indo-Bangladesh border at Tamabil, we had the luxury of eating a wild pineapple, sitting by a waterfall, listening to it croon beautiful music in our ears. At how many places in India can you do *that*?

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The gushing waterfall that provided us music as we gorged on wild pineapples, en route to the Tamabil border from Mawlynnong

So, we were driving down when we came upon this pretty little place – almost forest-like, full of green, a place where you can hear water gushing and birds chirping, with no vehicles passing by. A lone armyman patrolled the area, looking out for infiltrators from the nearby Bangladesh and, of course, for anyone creating a nuisance, generally. There appeared to be no one else there, but then we spotted this little boy, a local, selling pineapples that he had plucked from plants out there in the wild. We had to have one, of course.

Our cab driver haggled with the boy in the local dialect, and they agreed upon a price. A gorgeous, sun-ripened pineapple was chosen.

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Isn’t that a beauty?!

The boy went on to expertly shave off the thorns from the fruit.

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The pineapple being readied for us

The pineapple was then cut into slices of just the right thickness, under the careful eye of our driver. We were handed the slices wrapped in a couple of banana leaves, and we pounced on them. Meanwhile, the waterfall nearby gushed on, the birds continued chirping, and insects twittered in the trees. The army man on patrol gave us a warm smile.

It was an experience we will cherish for ever, being one with nature at a place where it abounds.

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The pineapple being chopped under the expert tutelage of our cab driver

When we left, one pineapple down, drunk on nature, stomachs and hearts sated, the boy offered us a peek into the lunch he had been having when we arrived there. It was a stunningly simple meal that I absolutely had to click – and, of course, there was pineapple in it too!

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The boy’s stunningly simple meal that had a certain beauty to it

As we drove off, we waved to the little boy and the army man.

They waved us off with smiles.

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I hope you have read and enjoyed my other posts about our trip to North-East India. If you haven’t, here are the links for you:

 

 

Anggur Asinba Athumba Thongba| Manipuri Grape Relish 

Anggur Asinba Athumba Thongba is a Manipuri sweet-and-sour relish made with sour grapes. It is amazing, how beautiful this relish tastes and, yet, how very simple it is to prepare.

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This dish is apparently served at the end of a Manipuri meal, just before dessert. I think it would go really well as part of a South Indian banana-leaf meal as well. We have been thoroughly enjoying this relish with rotis, dosas and various rice preparations, as an accompaniment.

Here’s how the Anggur Asinba Athumba Thongba is prepared.

Ingredients (makes about 1 cup):

  1. 300 grams seedless grapes
  2. Salt, to taste
  3. 1 bay leaf
  4. 1 tablespoon oil
  5. 1/2 teaspoon kalonji (onion seeds)
  6. 1/2 teaspoon jeera (cumin seeds)
  7. 1/3 cup sugar
  8. Red chilli powder, to taste

Method:

1. Wash the grapes and pat them dry, using a cotton cloth. Cut each grape into half. Keep aside.

2. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the cumin seeds, onion seeds and bay leaf. Let the seeds sputter.

3. Add in the chopped grapes, salt, red chilli powder and sugar. Mix well. Cook on medium flame till the sugar melts, stirring gently intermittently.

4. Add in about 100 ml water. Mix well. Let simmer on low-medium flame till the grapes get cooked. Switch off gas and allow the relish to cool down completely before transferring to a clean, dry, air-tight bottle.

Notes:

1. Jaggery powder can be used in place of refined sugar. I have used the latter here.

2. Use seedless sour grapes for best results. I have used purple grapes here.

3. Use any odourless oil to make this dish. I used refined oil.

4. Adding a 1-inch cinnamon stick would also add a lot of flavour to the relish, I think.

5. Increase or decrease the quantity of sugar/jaggery you use, depending upon your taste preferences.

You like? I hope you will try out this sweet-and-sour grape relish too, and that you will love it as much as we did!

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Foodie Monday Blog Hop

This dish is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. This week, all of us are cooking dishes from Pushpita’s Chakhum, authored by fellow food blogger Pushpita. Her blog is a repository of traditional Manipuri recipes, something so exotic to me. The above recipe is from her blog, too, with a few minor variations of my own.

Massor Dailor Boror Tenga| Assamese Sour Curry With Potatoes And Lentil Dumplings

When the Shhhhh Cooking Challenge group that I am part of finalised ‘Assamese cuisine’ as the theme for this month, I couldn’t help being all excited. I would be getting the opportunity to cook the simple yet hearty food that I enjoyed at Guwahati, during our trip to North-East India earlier this year!

For the challenge, I was paired with the talented Veena, who blogs at Veena’s Veg Nation. She assigned me one secret ingredient – potatoes – and asked me to use any other ingredients that I wanted to. After a bit of reading up, I decided to make Massor Dailor Boror Tenga, an Assamese sour-tasting curry with potatoes and lentil (masoor daal) dumplings. This sweet girl helped me with an authentic recipe for the tenga, which I customised a bit to suit my family’s taste buds, also keeping in mind locally available ingredients. And, everyone at home loved it to bits too! This is a recipe for keeps, for sure, and I’m sure I’ll be making this again in the times to come. The curry isn’t very tough to make and is, yet, so very flavourful!

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For the uninitiated, ‘tenga‘ refers to any sour-tasting curry served as part of an Assamese thali. Garcinia indica (kokum) or thekera (the Assamese name for mangosteen) are the most commonly used souring agents, while some people are also known to use tomatoes, tamarind and lemon juice instead. The tenga is seasoned with ‘pas phoron‘ (the Assamese name for panch phoron, a pungent mix of five spices that is commonly used in Bengali, Oriya and North-Eastern cooking).

Here’s how I made the massor dailor borar tenga.

Ingredients (serves 4):

For the masoor bora:

  1. 1/2 cup split masoor daal
  2. Salt, to taste
  3. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  4. 2 dry red chillies
  5. Red chilli powder, to taste
  6. Oil, as needed for deep frying the bora

For the tadka:

  1. 1 tablespoon mustard oil
  2. 2 dry red chillies
  3. 2 pinches of asafoetida (hing)
  4. 1/4 teaspoon mustard (rai)
  5. 1/4 teaspoon nigella seeds (kalonji)
  6. 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds (jeera)
  7. 1/8 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi dana)
  8. 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (saunf)

Other ingredients:

  1. 6 medium-sized potatoes
  2. 3 medium-sized tomatoes
  3. 1 medium-sized onion
  4. Lemon juice, to taste
  5. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  6. Red chilli powder, to taste
  7. Salt, to taste
  8. 1-1/2 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
  9. 1 tablespoon gram flour (besan)
  10. A few stalks of fresh coriander leaves

Method:

First, we will make preparations for the bora.

  1. Wash the masoor daal well under running water.
  2. Soak it in just enough water to cover it, for about 1/2 hour.

Now, we will prep the veggies that will be needed.

  1. Chop the potatoes into halves. Pressure cook them for 5 whistles. When the pressure has released completely, let the potatoes cool down and then peel them. Mash roughly. Keep aside.
  2. Chop onions finely. Keep aside.
  3. Chop coriander finely. Keep aside.
  4. Keep the lemon juice handy.

Now, get the bora ready.

  1. After soaking, discard all the excess water from the masoor daal. Add salt and red chilli powder to taste, turmeric powder and dried red chillies. Grind coarsely in a mixer, without adding any water.
  2. Heat oil in a pan till it smokes. Then, lower the flame and drop little balls of the masoor daal mixture into the hot oil, a few at a time. Deep fry evenly, and transfer the balls onto a plate. Keep aside.

Now, we will prepare the masoor borar tenga.

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon mustard oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the mustard seeds, cumin, fenugreek, nigella seeds, fennel, dried red chillies and the asafoetida. Let the mustard pop.
  2. Add the chopped onions. Fry on medium flame till they turn brownish. Take care to ensure that they do not burn.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes, along with a little salt and water. Cook on medium flame till the tomatoes turn mushy.
  4. Now, add the mashed potatoes, along with about 1 cup of water. Add salt and red chilli powder to taste, turmeric powder and sugar. Mix well. Cook on medium flame till everything is well incorporated together – 3-4 minutes.
  5. Mix the gram flour in about 2 tablespoons water, ensuring that there are no lumps. Add this mixture to the pan.
  6. Now, add the masoor bora. Mix well. Let everything cook together for 1-2 minutes more, on medium flame. Switch off gas.
  7. Mix in lemon juice to taste and finely chopped coriander leaves. Serve immediately with rotis.

Notes:

  1. I used refined oil to fry the bora and mustard oil to make the gravy.
  2. I used orange split masoor daal to make the bora.
  3. If you have panch phoron ready, use it in the garnish. I didn’t have any, so I used mustard, nigella seeds, cumin, fenugreek and fennel separately.
  4. Traditionally, this dish is made with a mix of bottle gourd (lauki) and mashed potatoes. I did not use bottle gourd, keeping my family’s taste preferences in mind.
  5. Kokum (garcinia indica) or thekera (mangosteen) is traditionally used in this curry, for sourness. Some people, however, also use tomatoes and lemon juice for the purpose. I didn’t have any kokum and, hence, used tomatoes and lemon juice as the souring agents.
  6. Using sugar is purely optional. Omit it if you want to, but I personally think it adds a nice depth of flavour to the curry. You can use jaggery powder instead, too.
  7. Add more water to the curry while cooking, if you think it is getting too thick.
  8. The masoor bora soak up all the liquid from the curry, making it quite thick. Hence, it is crucial that you serve the curry immediately after making it.
  9. The gram flour mixed in water acts as a thickening agent for the curry. If you feel the curry is thick enough as is, you can skip adding the gram flour.
  10. Traditionally, this curry is kept quite watery, with just one mashed potato mixed into the gravy for thickness. I kept the curry slightly thick because I was planning to serve this with rotis. My curry is also on the thicker side considering the addition of besan and the fact that I made this curry entirely with potatoes.

I’m loving how this challenge is taking me places, quite literally!

Did you like the sound of this dish? I hope you will try this out too, and that you will love it as much as we did!

 

 

 

 

Thoughts At Tamabil, The Indo-Bangladesh Border

Panchhi, nadiyaan, pawan ke jhonke, koi sarhad na inhe roke…
Sarhad insaanon ke liye hain, socho tumne aur maine kya paya insaan hoke

This song from Refugee plays in a loop in my head as we reach the land border that separates India and Bangladesh at Tamabil, during the course of our trip to North-East India.

Roughly translated, this is what the above lines mean: No borders stop birds, rivers and gusts of wind. Borders are for humans. Think – what did you and I gain by being born as humans?

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Signboards at the border

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A little stretch of land – the ‘no man’s land’ – lies between the boundaries of India and Bangladesh, at Tamabil. We walk up to the last point on the India side, Indian and Bangladeshi soldiers standing guard protectively on either side of the border.

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Left: A signboard near the border, proclaiming the point beyond which tourist vehicles are not allowed; Right: The no man’s land between the Indian and Bangladeshi borders

Just beyond the border, we can spot some Bangladeshi shops, a vendor selling Bangladeshi ber (sour plums, which are very famous, apparently), and some men and women lounging around. A goat walks over – unencumbered – from the Bangladeshi side to the Indian side. Ducks swim through from India to the Bangladeshi side, in the little stream that flows around the border.

We watch on as an Indian lady tourist, busy looking around, is mistakenly about to step into Bangladesh. The jawans immediately stop her, telling her that the Indian boundary ends right where she is standing.

An Indian jawan on duty at the Tamabil border

We spot the ‘First Line Of Defence’ or the camp of Indian soldiers that would be the first to deal with any infiltrators or attackers crossing over from the other side. We take pictures with some of the jawans, that typical touristy thing, alongside a signboard that proclaimed ‘Welcome to India’.

‘There is not much fanfare here, just a matter-of-fact posting,’ our cab driver tells us as we board, ready to drive back to our hotel. ‘We have friendly relations with Bangladesh, and that is why tourists are even allowed near the border,’ he adds.

Emotional fool that I am, the experience leaves me saddened. It leaves me thinking about various ‘what ifs’ – What if we lived in a world with no borders? Would it work? What if we could freely walk into any country, without being questioned or feeling threatened? Boundaries weren’t really nature’s way, were they? Surely, there were no boundaries when the earth first came into existence? I have no answers.

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I hope you have read and enjoyed my other posts about our trip to North-East India. If you haven’t, here are the links for you:

 

 

 

Vegetarian Thukpa| Tibetan/North Eastern Vegetarian Noodle Soup 

This month, the theme for the Shhhhh Cooking Secretly Facebook group that I am part of is ‘cuisine from Arunachal Pradesh’. I was teamed up with Sharanya Palanisshamy, who blogs at Sara’s Tasty Buds,  for the challenge. My partner gave me two ingredients to build a recipe on – chilli sauce and ginger – which I decided to use to make Vegetarian Thukpa, a kind of noodle soup.

The thukpa is actually a dish of Tibetan origin, but some research on the Internet told me that it is quite popular in Arunachal Pradesh, too. I found several variations to the recipe on the Internet and, in the end, went ahead with making it the way I have seen it being done at street food stalls here in Bangalore.

Whether the recipe is authentic or not, I’m not sure (I’d love some validation on that!). What I can say for sure is that the thukpa turned out absolutely delish, and we loved it to bits. It made for a hearty lunch for the husband and me, a lovely change from the usual. It’s the perfect thing to make right now, considering the chilly weather in Bangalore presently. All in all, I’m glad I’m a little closer to the cuisine of Arunachal Pradesh today than I used to be earlier.

Here’s how I made the thukpa.
Ingredients (makes 2 servings):

  1. 75 grams flat rice noodles
  2. Salt, to taste
  3. Sweet red chilli sauce, to taste (I use Thai Herirage)
  4. 1 teaspoon garam masala
  5. Soya sauce, to taste (I use Thai Heritage)
  6. A small piece of cabbage
  7. A small carrot
  8. 1 small capsicum
  9. 1/4 cup shelled green peas
  10. 1 small onion
  11. 1/4 cup sweet corn, shelled
  12. A few stalks of fresh coriander
  13. 4 cloves of garlic
  14. A 1-inch piece of ginger
  15. 2 cups vegetable stock, or as needed
  16. Juice of 1/2 lemon, or as per taste
  17. 1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon of oil

Method:

1. Take the noodles in a heavy-bottomed vessel, and add just enough water to cover them. Add a bit of salt and 1 teaspoon oil. Let cook on high flame till the noodles are done, but not overly mushy. Transfer to a colander, and run cold water over the noodles immediately. Keep aside, and let all the excess water drain out.

2. Peel the ginger and garlic and chop finely. Crush coarsely, using a mortar and pestle. Keep aside.

3. Prep the veggies you will need for the thukpa. Finely chop the carrot, cabbage, capsicum and onion. Steam the sweet corn for a minute and drain out the excess water. Keep aside.

4. Finely chop the coriander, and keep aside. We will be using it for garnishing.

5. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the chopped onion, cabbage, capsicum and carrot, as well as the shelled green peas and steamed corn. Add the crushed ginger and garlic. Add salt to taste. Cook on medium flame till the veggies are cooked, but still retain a bit of a crunch.

6. Add vegetable stock as needed, as well as red chilli sauce and soya sauce as needed. Add the cooked noodles. Mix well.

7. Cook on low-medium flame for a couple of minutes. Switch off gas.

8. Add lemon juice to taste and finely chopped coriander. Mix well. Serve immediately.

Notes:

1. Plain water can be used in place of vegetable stock. In that case, if you want to thicken the soup, add in a little corn flour or wheat flour mixed with a bit of water, and let simmer for a couple of minutes.

2. For a spicier version, use green chilli sauce to taste, in place of sweet chilli sauce.

3. You can add in any vegetables of your choice – beans, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. I used the veggies that I had in stock, to make the thukpa.

4. You can use any kind of noodles of your choice. I have used flat Thai-style rice noodles here.

5. Daal water can be used in place of vegetable stock. You may even add a dash of tomato puree for flavour.

You like? I hope you will try out this recipe for vegetarian thukpa too, and that you will love it as much as we did! 

Our Vegetarian Food And Drink Journey In Shillong

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.

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Top left: Rasmalai, Bottom left: Mishti doi, Top right: Gulab jamun, Bottom right: Malai chamcham – the sweets we sampled at the shop

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.

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Left: The vegetarian Khasi thali that we had, Centre: Buddha’s Delight, Right: Khasi-style red rice, at Red Rice

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.

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Part of the decor at the famed Cafe Shillong

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!

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Left: Vegetable clear soup, Centre: Pasta Arabiatta, Right: Singapore fried rice, at Cafe Shillong

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!

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Left: Pav bhaji, Right: Aloo chops with mustard-chilli sauce and tomato sauce, at the nameless shop in Laban

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, jado stey (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!)

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The delicious meal we had at Dew Drop In. Centre: Rotis, From top left, in clock-wise direction: Khasi daal made with greens, mixed vegetable curry, jado stey, pickle, curd and green salad

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.

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Left: One of the little shops selling pickles, pineapples and a variety of other things, en route to Shillong from Guwahati, Right: The gorgeous pineapples that we sampled at one of these stores

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.

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Left: Green salad, Centre: Vegetarian chowmein, Right: Burnt garlic fried rice, at Lamee’s

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.

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Left: A plate of vegetarian momos, Right: Jhalmuri, outside Ward’s Lake

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.

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Left: The lady selling local berries at the Golf Course, Centre: The assorted berries the lady had on offer, Right: One of the types of berries that we sampled – sour, sour, sour!

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!

We even got some of these bottles back to Bangalore as souvenirs!

In conclusion…

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? 🙂

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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!

The beginning of school, and a schoolmoon

Visiting the abode of Kamakhya, the powerful menstruating Goddess

10 reasons to plan for at least a day’s stay in Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village

Playing hide-and-seek with the clouds in Meghalaya

10 experiences we thoroughly enjoyed in Shillong

The living root bridge of Nohwet village, near Mawlynnong