A Feast of the Senses

Food

Khasi cuisine is distinct, rooted in the traditions of Meghalaya and delicious, writes Queeneerich Kharmawlong

The Khasis are the dominant tribe of Meghalaya and have a small presence in neighbouring Assam and Bangladesh too. But their cuisine is barely known outside Meghalaya and is quite distinct from the others major flavour palettes of the state or even the northeast. It’s rich in texture and taste but not particularly spicy. 

It’s a food culture centred on pork and fermented beans, but the main diet of the Khasi people consists of boiled rice with meat, either smoked or boiled, mixed with green and ground vegetables. 

Khasi recipes range from pork with black sesame seeds, varieties of salads, fermented fish chutney, smoked pork and beef, pork or beef salad, wild vegetables and some medicinal plants that are used to flavour food like jamyrdoh or Houttuynia Cordata or jajew (Begonia Josephii). 

Every Khasi dish has a story or folktale behind it, how it was discovered, consumed, cooked or how the recipes were invented. A typical Khasi meal consists of jadoh (red rice cooked with pork, beef, chicken or fish) and smoked dried beef, pork, fish, or chicken. Tungtap, a very spicy and pungent chutney of dried fish, green chillies, onions and jaiur (type of red chilli), is a common accompaniment. 

Traditional ingredients are key to creating the flavours in Khasi food and they centre around the lavish use of onions, garlic and ginger and chillies. Khasi snacks, usually eaten at teatime, offer whole different universe of taste. 

Duh who makes Khasi snacks at Mawlai, a locality in Shillong, says she and her family members primarily bake three local snacks: Pu-maloi, a steamed rice cake made of ground red rice which has a hint of dryness, Pu-doh, a steamed rice cake made of red rice and pork strips and Pu-tharo, a steamed white rice cake. 

“We still use the traditional way to cook the snacks, which can be tiring at times as we do not use any machine to grind the rice. Crushing the rice can take up a lot of energy and stamina, but it is worth it at the end in order to get the perfect flavour for the snack,” says Duh. Most Khasi snacks are bland, but one can taste their subtle flavours once you get to savour them. They are extremely healthy good recommended for diabetic patients. 

The pandemic has taken its toll on Duh’s small business, with sales having drastically fallen this past year, she says. “It is a family business and almost every one of us relies on the income from the business for our daily sustenance,” she says.

L Warjri has been selling Khasi ingredients for almost 25 years. Her shop, which she runs with her sister ,sells almost all the Khasi food staples like jadoh, jastem (rice cooked with ground paste of ginger & onion in cooking oil or animal fats), tungrymbai (a paste of fermented soyabean), tungtap, smoked, fried, and roasted pork and beef, salad and phan stieh (fried potato). She says running the shop requires a lot of dedication and hard work. 

She loves to cook and running this shop is what she loves most in the world. “Khasi food is not like any other cuisine, it is very different as we don’t use spices mostly used in north India. It takes times for someone who has not eaten Khasi food to familiarise themselves with the flavours,” she says.

Red tea is a common drink and Kwai (areca nuts wrapped in betel leaves) is a common treat eaten by the locals after every meal and often shared among friends as a social lubricant and energy booster.

queeneerich.k@iijnm.org

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