I went to Shillong again, last week. Needed a break, was rummaging through places I could run away to, and not face the summer heat or a bad weather, and preferably a place that had enough pork to sustain my urges. Shillong stood out as a clear choice. Of course, the trip eventually stretched itself to accommodate a visit home but then that’s another story. For now, I was just super excited about Shillong because I realised I had not clicked any food pics during my previous long stints there, and this was my golden chance to show off what one of my favorite places has to offer in the name of food.
I had pledged to start my journey with Khasi food, so, hungry as I was when I landed in Guwahati, I waited with baited breath till we crossed Jorabat and entered Meghalaya. And pounced at the first tea stall I saw. As always, our Assamese driver was taken aback at our choice of breakfast place and tried dissuading us by saying ‘aage Jowai mein achha dhaba hai’. I snorted ‘Woodlands Dhaba? No thank you”. Woodlands dhaba reminds me of my boring ex colleague who made it his favorite haunt because they served chole bhature (which was crap). I am personally biased against people who order for a punjabi breakfast in Meghalaya and then gulp it down matter-of-factly as if nothing has happened. Anyhow, coming to the point, I was thrilled to dig into my first Jadoh and Doh Jem.
Several meals followed, we tried sticking to the local Jadoh stalls, and there are so many of them. The best part was, every stall has a different unique taste of the same dish, and the most unassuming of the stall gave out the best tasting items. My favorite khasi food of the trip was this Pudoh (steamed rice powder stuffed with pork chunks) and Putharo (steamed rice cakes). Both these items were made of red rice (unlike all others I’ve had) and were extremely soft and fluffy. Excellent accompaniments to the laal cha or the red tea Khasis are so fond of.
The only slightly upmarket ‘Jadoh’ at Laitumkhrah did not dissapoint. Both the mixed meat platter (which is basically Doh Jem) as well as the pork platter (pork in sesame gravy) were simple and tasty, as always. So was Wong Garden at Police Bazar, with its pork and vegetable stew with Joha rice (my staple order). Interestingly, while the vegetables are boiled in the stew, the pork added is salted and crispy fried, adding to the unique texture and taste of this hotpot.
I did manage to cover quite a bit of new places this time. The famous broadway has opened up a much plush place opposite the old restaurant, called Lamee. And then there was this Soylina hut where we had lunch on our way back from Cherrapunji. But I would still maintain that the smaller places in Shillong are the best in terms of quality and taste.
There was of course a time when we hit the wall with the constant pork assault and chose to head for some simple dosa at a place called Mr and Mrs Iyer. Was surprised to also find some KFC styled fried chicken that they have named Shillong fried chicken. Served with spicy momo chutney and a cream cheese dip, we enjoyed the deviation.
When you are in this part of the country,
1. Do keep an open mind to trying out the local Khasi cuisine. It is simple, healthy and delicious.
3. Must have Khasi ‘jingbam’ (snacks) with the laal chaa. Must have local chicken (instead of the usual broiler) and local black mushrooms whenever you chance upon them. Must have the juicy pineapples sold with peppery masala sold abundantly on the streets.
4. Carry some Shillong tea back home. Especially the green tea. It is sparsely available, but is totally worth it. I got mine from a big grocery store as you enter Barabazaar (from Police Bazar).
5. Do try and check out the live music scene, several pubs have live music nights on weekends. Cafe Shillong at Laitumkhrah has live nights 8pm onwards every Sunday. Their food is pretty good too, so it their free wifi.
6. Do carry your walking shoes. Shillong is best seen on foot if you ask around and explore the numerous shortcuts (magical secret staircases leading you vertically up and down a locality). Commuting can be both expensive and time consuming if you depend on the shuttle taxis (which are the only easy mode of transport).
7. Be adventurous and visit the place in the monsoons. I’ve been here in all seasons and trust me, this is the time I found it the most beautiful. The skies looked gorgeous, the otherwise barren fields of Cherrapunji turned into lush green meadows.
8. Do check out the museums. But ensure they are open before you head out to them. It could be frustrating to go all the way out of time to discover the Rhino museum is closed for renovation and the Airforce Museum is closed on Mondays.
9. If you have the time, and the energy to walk, do not miss trekking down the extremely picturesque David Scott trail. Contact the Mawphlang Ecotourism society for very informed guides who would lead you along the trail.
10. If you find Police Bazar too crowded and overwhelming for shopping, try the Glory’s market down the alley adjacent Hotel Centre Point. It may look unassuming from outside, but enter and find several floors of garment and shoe shops.
11. Do visit the Umiam lake at Barapani. The boat rides are ridiculously expensive, but I would still suggest you take one.