Borders Divide, Food Unites: Befriending North East India, One Meal At A Time

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Students protesting Nido's murder, image courtesy Indian Express
Students protesting Nido’s murder, image courtesy Indian Express

If you don’t already know this piece of news, you ought to; a young boy by the name of Nido Tania was brutally beaten and killed in a racially motivated attack, on the streets of South Delhi. His offence? He dared to look different from your typical local boy, and dared leave his home-town in Arunachal Pradesh to seek education in his own country’s capital.

For too long now the North East of India has been treated like a separate alien entity. It wasn’t until I started dating my partner, who is from Assam, that I began learning about the region. I bet most of you can’t name all the North East Indian states and their capitals. I’m not proud of it, but until 2 years ago I couldn’t either. If we are to ever bridge this cultural gap between the rest of India and the North East, we have to begin with understanding the region.

“If you want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…” Cesar Chavez

A plate of Nagamese food, image courtesy Mark Wiens
A plate of Nagamese food, image courtesy Mark Wiens

It may sounds absurd to switch the subject of food, after having discussed such a grave social issue. But I truly believe that food has the power to bring people together. If I sat at a table with a family from Nagaland and ate with them, I would immediately become sensitized to their way of life. When I travel, I feel like the food of a foreign land connects me to its people. And if I eat enough of it, I become one with them, in some small way.

So (at the risk of sounding shallow) the news of Nido Tania got me thinking about North East Indian culture. And I began my search for North East Indian food in India. I began tweeting, posting questions on Facebook, spoke to all the north easterners I know, spent hours on Burrp! and Zomato, etc. The results of my search, or the lack of them, are a grim reflection of the greater issue at hand. So many people from the NE come to Mumbai to live, study and work. Yet it’s easier to find Peking duck or French foie-gras in this city than it is to find NE Indian food. Thought Mumbai had it all, didn’t you? I did too.

Assamese thaali at Assam Bhavan, image courtesy Mumbai Paused
Assamese thaali at Assam Bhavan, image courtesy Mumbai Paused

There’s an almost invisible light at the end of the tunnel, where the food is concerned. If you’re willing to make the journey to Vashi, opposite Centre One Mall you will be able to sample some delectable Assamese food at Assam Bhavan. It’s the Assamese Government guest house, much like the famed Goa Bhavan and Gujarat Bhavan, also known for their authentic fare. People from Assam who come to Mumbai seeking medical aid or on government business stay at this guesthouse. The attached canteen caters to their palate, and hence serves some very authentic, home-style Assamese food. It’s open to the general public as well.

A Manipuri fish preparation at King Chilli, image courtesy Midday
A Manipuri fish preparation at King Chilli, image courtesy Midday

King Chilli in Kalina, Santacruz East is a Chinese (read: Indo-Chinese) restaurant run by Manipuri staff, who come primarily from the Meitei and Thangkul communities. If you bypass what’s on the menu and make a special request the chef will cook some delicious Manipuri food for you. King Chilli stays true to its name and all their Manipuri dishes have a generous handful of dynamite red chillies called ‘bhut jolokia’; they make grown men weep! Santacruz East happens to have a large Manipuri community; which heads to King Chilli for a taste of home. They also have another older branch on the Air India Road, also in Santacruz East.

At the moment, Mumbai (quite feebly) represents just two of the seven states. I for one hope this changes. If you know of any other restaurants, caterers or home-chefs who specialize in any of the North East Indian cuisines, please leave us a comment. We’d love to know more, at a sit down dinner with the fine people of the North East.

In memoriam: Nido Tania 

Post By Salonee Gadgil (86 Posts)

I'll chat with my imaginary pet dog and perfect a handstand while the rest of you act like grown ups.

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Salonee Gadgil

Salonee Gadgil
I'll chat with my imaginary pet dog and perfect a handstand while the rest of you act like grown ups.