From Punjab’s chole bhature and Rajasthan’s dal bati to Tamil Nadu’s appams and Maharashtra’s misal pav, India’s culinary diversity is nothing short of an enigma. Our flavours are many and our dishes come in all shapes and sizes (even colours, actually). And while not every gastronomical wonder finds its way into our mainstream discourse, there are some cuisines that remain particularly ignored despite contributing a sizeable chunk to India’s cultural heterogeneity. The Northeast is one of them.
While many minds automatically jump to visuals of steaming momos and noodles when asked about northeastern cuisine, others can’t help but back off with fear of the searing spice levels and watery eyes. There are some others who are of the strong belief that people from the northeast only consume meat-based dishes. When in reality, the region is home to some of the most garden-fresh produce that is both diverse and delicious. Ghost pepper, also known as Bhut Jolokia—the hottest chilli in the world—is grown in Nagaland. Another lesser-known fact is that milk is not a important a part of the diet in North East India, as it is in the rest of the world. Even today, when we have access to indefinite information at the touch of a button, these stereotypes and misconceptions continue to fog our understanding of foods emerging from our own soil.
But it’s never too late to recognise this gap and try to fill it up with a healthy serving of fish tenga or smoked pork preparation. There is no single Northeastern cuisine, so to speak, as the Seven Sisters of India come with their own unique offerings: from Manipur’s fish delicacies to Assam’s tangy flavours and even Nagaland’s bamboo fermentations—there’s nothing quite like the experience of discovering a previously blind spot on your palate. In fact, Mumbai has quite a few places, run by people hailing from the Northeast, that serve authentic northeastern cuisine that is bound to leave you speechless.
Read on for Mumbai’s best food pop-ups, home chefs, restaurants and more that do a wonderful job of serving up authentic northeastern dishes.
I. Thotrin Cafe
Where: Jamlipada, Vidya Nagari, Kalina, Santacruz East, Mumbai
With its linoleum flooring, framed photographs adorning the walls and just four tables, this little cafe is the ideal place to visit if you haven’t yet been introduced to the delights of Naga and Manipuri food. With the scent of bamboo shoot perpetually lingering in the air, Thotrin is run by a family that is Naga but lives in Manipur, making the food as exciting as it can get. From Mayangpai Manak (mashed potato with king chilli and fish) to Ngari (a brown paste that takes over six months to prepare) – Naga and Manipuri cuisines are both well-known for their extensive use of ferments and Thotrin excels in achieving that.
HG Recommends: Even though their menu is bursting with a variety of zesty dishes, we’d recommend asking the cafe owners for recommendations of dishes that are made using seasonal flavours.
Cost: A wholesome Naga meal for two at just Rs 400
II. King Chilli
Where: 2, Koteshwar Palace, Opposite HSBC, Jiva Mahale Road, Near Andheri East Station, Mumbai
If you have ever come across the enticing image of Bhut Jolokia—that fiery, red chilli that can quite literally put you in tears—and have wanted to try it, then King Chilli is what you’re looking for. Recognised as the hottest chilli in the world by The Guiness Book of Records in 2007, the Bhut Jolokia is cultivated in the northeastern states of our country. However, this Andheri-based eatery has managed to bring the flavour to Mumbai.
Run by members of Manipur’s Thangkul tribe, King Chilli offers a plethora of dishes that make up the cuisine of the Meitei and Thangkul tribes. Most of Manipuri cuisine is meat-based with different ferments, Bhut Jolokia being the common ingredient in everything. The King Chilli tries to strike an optimum balance between meat and the greens. So if you aren’t the kind who enjoys searing levels of spice, then we’d suggest heading to King Chilli Chindian Fusion—a new outlet (run by the same people) specialising in Chindian food in Santa Cruz.
HG Recommends: Their Ironba is a lovely preparation of spring onions, boiled potato and fermented fish, with King Chilli of course!
Cost: Rs. 800 for two people
Where: Assam Bhawan, 1st Floor, Opposite Centre One Mall, Vashi, Navi Mumbai
Located in Navi Mumbai’s Assam Bhawan, Bhogdoi is for all your lazy afternoons and Assamese food cravings. Reminiscent of a typical canteen with ‘90s tunes to give you company, Bhogdoi’s interiors are simple and its traditional artefacts transport you to an authentic eatery right in the middle of Assam. As this place is more of a canteen than a restaurant, the service here is quick, with an omnipresent crowd throughout the day, especially the weekends. Although a little far away from the main city, this place is worth the home-like food they serve; they also have some Chinese options but we’d recommend sticking to the Assamese/Bengali dishes for the authentic northeastern experience. Their fish-tenga, a simple tomato-based soupy curry is perfect for a sick night in.
HG Recommends: Hog on their fish thalis for some of the most palatable fish curries and other preparations.
Cost: Only Rs. 400 for Assamese food for two.
IV. New Sernyaa
Where: 185, Oshiwara Link Road, Andheri Lokhandwala, Andheri West
Almost like a hole in the wall, this little food joint in the midst of one of Andheri’s nosiest neighbourhoods is difficult to spot, unless you’ve been there before or are being assisted by technology. New Sernyaa is predominantly a Tibetan food joint known for its thukpas and momos. However, its culinary offering has influences rooted in the northeastern culture of our country. Pork—a widely used ingredient in northeastern cuisine is used in many of the dishes served at Sernyaa. Run by an Uncle John, this eatery’s rice preparation made using Bamboo shoot too is a phenomenal delicacy.
HG Recommends: We’d recommend their pork momos (the perfect blend of Northeastern and Tibetan cuisines) with their special momo sauce made out of coriander and seaweed.
Cost: A hearty meal for two at just Rs. 900
V. Perfect Marketing
Where: A tiny store located in the Khar Danda Fish Market.
From sweet Burmese rice cakes to garden-fresh produce from the hilly regions of Nagaland and Manipur, a little nondescript store in Khar is the one-stop shop for all your northeastern food supplies. Run by Aking Zimmick, a Manipuri brought up in Kohima, Nagaland, who gave up his corporate job in Mumbai to open, Perfect Marketing is located in a tiny by-lane of Khar Danda. Every month, Aking flies down to Nagaland to procure fresh supplies like aiyang thei (a type of brinjal) and ngayung (roots of chameleon plant). Despite that, everything in his store is priced at the market rate. The store also sells a variety of ready-to-eat snacks and savories like Chicken Bhujia, a shrimp paste, and boxes of Aking’s authentic and wicked King Chilli Hot Sauce. Open from 5.30 pm onwards every day, one can also grab some rare northeastern literature here, which is placed right next to the colourful candy jars.
HOME CHEFS AND POP-UPS
VI. Gitika’s Pakghor
If you’re averse to eating in small, cramped restaurants and would prefer a more intimate setup, Gitika Saikia’s culinary home experience is the way to go. Back in 2014, Gitika quit her marketing job to become a home chef and introduce people to the nuances of Northeastern cuisines. An experience that’s not just appetizing but also educational, Gitika’s Pagkhor has added a previously untouched segment to the city’s flourishing culinary scene.
Apart from hosting meals in her own home, Gitika has also held various food pop-ups across the country—she has even gone as far as New York. Her cooking is divided between ‘mainland’ and ‘tribal’—the former consisting of dishes like khar (indigenous soda) and a preparation of fiddlehead fern with potatoes and pork, which are seemingly more acceptable to her urban-dwelling customers. Gitika also has a
Facebook page which she regularly updates with all her cooking experiments. From an exciting variety of meat dishes, like pigeon meat, ant eggs and goose meet, to local ingredients sourced straight from her North Eastern soil—there’s nothing that you won’t get to taste here.
VII. Meraki Bombay
To venture into the wild and gleefully forage for your daily produce is not an experience us city inhabitants are aware, except for Pooja Pangtey and Teiskhem Lynrah—two women who founded the Mumbai-based Northeastern cuisine travelling pop-pup called Meraki. Every Meraki experience is different, not just in the kind of food it offers but also in the little stories it contains. The duo is known for collecting some of the rarest ingredients like kafal (red bayberries) and using them to come up with unusual dishes that are dripping with cultural nuances. Meraki specialises in bringing Kumaon and Khasi food to the table. Currently, in the midst of the stone fruits season in Meghalaya, the duo also promotes their native cuisine in the Northeast itself as well. Make sure to follow their Instagram page for regular foraging updates and more.
VIII. Aal’s Kitchen and Grill
Known for its relatively cleaner beaches, abundant mangroves, and the thriving fishing business, Mumbai’s Madh island has a hidden workshop of Naga delights that resides under the banner of Aal’s Kitchen. Headed by Alistair Lethorn, along with Atika Chohan and Ankit Mehrotra, Aal’s kitchen is for Mumbai’s food enthusiasts who want a taste of authentic Naga cuisine. If you scroll through his Instagram page, you’ll see that Alistair’s talents lie in not just cooking traditional recipes, but also experimenting with ingredients that make up the soul of Naga cuisine. From beef momos to Sweet water fish Rohu, Aal’s kitchen does not use any standardised spices in its food—except for Bhut jolokia, green chilli, ginger and garlic; focusing mostly on ingredients sourced from local northeastern markets. Aal’s Kitchen also accepts orders. To follow Alistair and his food pop-ups, follow his Instagram.
A passion project of Trideep Rabha and Catherin Dohling, former Google employees, The North East Store is an e-commerce website that sells authentic products from the remotest North-Eastern regions of our country. Amongst these indigenous products is a host of ready-to-eat food items like Bamboo shoot pickle, Pork with Axone Chutney, a variety of tea leaves etc. The website also sells unique handicraft and handloom items. A wholesome attempt to bridge the gap between the need for authentic North Eastern products and the vendors living in these regions, The North East Store sources products straight from the makers as well as NGOs and self-help groups who support local farmers and artisans.
An acronym made from the first letters of all the capital cities of North Eastern India (Guwahati/Gangtok, Imphal/Itanagar, Shillong, Kohima, Agartala and Aizwal), Giskaa is a Bangalore-based start-up selling a range of indigenously produced items, including foodstuffs like Manipur’s meat masalas, sengmai Ngari (dry fermented fish), Dry meat with Axone (fermented soya bean), rohu (fish pickle) etc. Though based out of Bangalore, this e-commerce website was founded by Meghanat Singh in 2014—Meghanat originally hails from Manipur. Selling a range of lifestyle and organic products, the website also has a section called ‘Northeast Exclusive’ that includes a wide variety of authentic food and other handicrafts from the region.
Where: 444, Adarsh Nagar, Andheri Lokhandwala, Andheri West
The quintessential Assamese meal, though enthralling, is difficult to find in a city like Mumbai. It begins with a khar dish, which is usually prepared with raw papaya, and ends with tenga, a sour dish. Then, of course, there’s the traditional dessert—Payox, a rice pudding that makes use of edible camphor.
However, O’Tenga, a home delivery venture run by Priyangi Borthalur and Joyee Mahanta, is changing that by serving up an exciting variety of Assamese dishes. Started over a year ago, the duo sources their ingredients straight from Assam, which is also their home state; they’ve managed to identify specific people for all their regular supplies like khar water. An idea that stemmed from their own cravings for home food ever since they stepped foot into the city, O’Tenga’s menu has a variety of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings. From Koldil Bhaji (a scrumptious dry banana flavour preparation) to a colocasia leaves curry with a dash of black pepper (called Xaak Jalukia) to lentil/fish/mutton preparations, O’Tenga’s menu has plenty to choose from. They even have special meals for the hearty eater.
If you’re ordering from Andheri West, the food will reach your doorstep immediately. However, if you’re ordering from anywhere else in Mumbai, it is better to place your order a day in advance. O’Tenga’s operating hours are from 10 am – 10 pm.
Cost: Rs. 600 for two people
XII. Shimon’s Kitchen
Where: 301, Rita Apartments, 16th Road, Linking Road, Bandra West
What started out as a small home-based dessert bakery in Juhu a year ago is today a full-fledged delivery kitchen based out of Bandra. Having shifted base only three months ago, Shimon’s kitchen serves a number of pan-asian cuisines, with a few signature Northeastern dishes made using ingredients sourced from the Northeast itself. Their smoked pork preparations are packed with the most authentic flavours from the region. We’d recommend their Smoked Pork and Bamboo Shoot Meal for anyone who wants to experience the NE flavours in all their glory. Founded by Shimon who is the head chef, along with two more people (all hailing from Manipur), Shimon’s Kitchen specialises in simple, low-fat desserts. Their Japanese Cotton Cheese cake is a light, scrummy 3-inch cake that instantly melts in your mouth. Shimon’s Kitchen delivers only within a 5km radius of their area (7km in case of desserts). They also take party orders for 30-40 people and have interesting lunch subscription plans. You can follow Shimon’s activities on their Instagram page.
Cost: Rs. 700 for two people
Feature Image Courtesy: Outlook Traveller
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