It’s been over a month since I got back from my whirlwind trip around North East India this summer. We spent most of the holidays in my husband’s hometown of Shillong (Meghalaya), and I am really missing the cooler weather, the lazy midday siestas and the food… oh the glorious street food!
I believe the food offerings of a city are a direct reflection of the cultural norms of the region, and what better way to explore Shillong than to take to the streets and eat like the locals? Being a Shillong boy himself, my husband was my most trusty food-exploring guide.
Shillong’s Best Loved Aloo Muri
I was introduced to him over a decade ago when I first got engaged to my husband. A middle-aged man with a very likeable, rounded face and cheery disposition, Rajendra Shah has been selling Aloo Muri at the very same spot right outside the gates of Shillong’s Lady Hydari Park for over 3 decades.
My husband spent a great portion of his limited school-boy pocket money buying his much-loved spicy concoction. Aloo Muri consists of a mixture of finely sliced boiled potatoes (‘aloo’), puffed rice (‘muri’), onions, cilantro, green chilies, a squeeze of lemon, shredded raw papaya, mustard oil and a very special mix of deep, dark roasted spices.
Served in a disposable foil bowl with toothpicks, Shillong dwellers rate this as the most loved street food of Shillong. Better still, Rajendra Shah himself has the biggest fan following from all his Aloo Muri compatriots. My husband looks him up every time he visits, an old school friend of his booked Mr. Shah for his son’s birthday bash, and even though there are lines of other Aloo Muri vendors in the vicinity, his always has a queue.
Interestingly, even though my husband and his childhood croonies have been the most loyal of his customers, none of them knew his name till I asked the man! I had an animated chat with him. Originally hailing from Bihar, Mr. Shah now calls Shillong home. He tells me he perfected his Aloo Muri making skills in the Aloo Muri making capital of India; Kolkota West Bengal. He then moved to Shillong over 30 years ago.
Don’t be deceived by his humble little stall. The man has been interviewed by the Shillong Times, his humble earnings has bought him a palatial-style home in Bihar, he drives one of India’s most sought after 4-wheelers (the Scorpio), and has managed to put three sons through college. Pretty phenomenal if you ask me!
An Assortment of Chops
Shillong has a very hilly landscape that makes evening walks a great workout. My husband and I used to venture out in the evenings, and discovered this tiny little ‘hole in the wall’ eatery right in the corner of Last Stop, Laban.
The eatery has no signboard, no name and is tucked into a wee residential corner of a slanted slope. A dark, wrinkled man with a constrained smile sits here by a giant frier and churns out a whole array of deep-fried treats.
If you are too finicky about the hygiene, you’ll probably walk right past. Being a true-blue foodie, I am pretty accepting and tend to take pride in my adventurous palate! I also reassure myself anything deep-fried will have any nasties fizzled out in boiling heat of the oil.
He has Chicken Chops, Egg Chops, Potato Chops… and my favorite, a Dried Fish Chop. Eating dried fish is an acquired taste, and many get put off by the pungent smell. I for one am a great fan of this fishy (oftentimes overly spicy) concoction, and absolutely loved this chop. It is a dumpling of dried fish wrapped in taro leaves, battered in a chickpea flour paste, and deep fried to a crisp golden brown.
It is served with a very spicy green coriander chutney, a pile of chopped onion and a sprinkle of a special masala blend. One bite of this extra spicy, greasy dumpling puts fire into my mouth. Such a lovely feeling in the chilled evening air of Shillong!
Really, Really Hot Chips!
Simply labelled ‘Hot Chips’ and sold at all leading grocery stores around Shillong, these tapioca chips, coated with a deceptively light looking coating of chili powder, are absolutely deathly! You can taste that characteristic hit of chili all the way out, if you know what I mean!
I’ve seen young school-going girls munching on these packets. The locals here have a palate of steel!
Momos at Every Corner
With an impressively large Nepali migrant population, Shillong has has particular fondness for this steamed dumpling. You can find Momo vendors at every corner of the streets. Choose from vegetarian, chicken or pork and have it with a fiery hot chili sauce.
One of the best Momo’s I had in Shillong was actually off the streets, and in the beautifully restored heritage site of Tripura Castle, Shillong. Beautifully moist and generously stuffed with the traditional mix of minced chicken and vegetables, I especially liked the Chili Jam that was served with it on the side.
On the outer edge of Police Bazar (on the same line as Goenka Motors), is an entire line of little food stalls. They have a bigger, cleaner looking shop selling rolls but locals will advise on giving that one a miss and heading to the original little hole on the wall with its faded signboard that reads ‘Chaat House’.
This is a deceptive name as this little place only sells rolls, and churns out a huge number of these to feed the never-ending crowds that queue up at its entrance at every given hour of the day.
You can choose to have Chicken Rolls, but I strongly suggest the Egg Rolls instead. The chicken ones are stuffed with a not so appetizing pate-like mash whereas the egg variation has a generously thick layer of scrambled egg basted pan-fried and coated into the greasy hot paratha itself.
The rolls are garnished with generous sprinkles of finely chopped raw onion, green chilies, salt and a mildly hot spice mix, rolled up expertly in seconds, and wrapped in a thin paper.
The Egg Roll is steaming hot, decadently greasy and a tad bit on the spicy side. A perfect treat to munch on while strolling the busy streets of Police Bazar (central Shillong).
Shillong’s Love for Chow
Shillong has always been known for its Indo-Chinese restaurants. One of the oldest establishments was Abba (owned and operated by a Chinese immigrant family who had settled into Shillong many generations ago). Sadly they have now packed their bags and transferred their business to Bangalore.
You can see chow vendors selling mountains of chow in the middle of the busy streets of Shillong. However, given they are left uncovered all day long, even I, the adventurous foodie, have my reservations about eating chow from them. Best to head indoors to a proper restaurant!
In Shillong, any form of stir-fried Chinese noodles is referred to as ‘Chow’ and locals love to munch on raw onions and green chili when diving into it.
The best chow I had on this trip was the Chili Chicken Chow at The Wok.
The Wok has proven to be very popular with the locals, and in a short span of 7 years it has branched out to 4 chains across the city (a mean feat by Shillong standards).
Apart from their chow, The Wok does lip-smacking good Chili Chicken (a must-try with every chow order).
All images in this post were taken using the Panasonic Lumix GF7K. See more of my clicks using this amazingly compact yet feature-heavy camera on Instagram under the hashtag #TezzyLumix