This past week, we met more than a thousand people from over 58 countries who descended in Shillong for the second edition of the Indigenous Terra Madre, where different communities share knowledge about food, nutrition and cooking practices. Together, we crunched our way through 10 insect species; tasted 12 types of honey; drank a gazillion kinds of tea and feasted valiantly on a plate of rice with pig blood.
Bang in the middle of Shillong is Aerodene Cottage, a powder-pink Assam-style home that seems to be held together by flowering vines. Among the blooming orchids and geraniums in the garden, you’ll find the happy faces of proprietor Sharlene, lady-in-charge Rukma and the staff. Each room is a throwback to simpler times bearing beds with ruffled skirts, chairs draped with back knots and hot water bags under blankets.
On Saturdays, Lou Majaw, the Bob Dylan of Shillong, performs old songs here in his signature super short denim cut offs: the local joke is that it isn’t really winter in Shillong until Lou wears pants.
If you’re feeling fancy, try Ri-Kynjai on the Umium Lake (an hour before Shillong town) with its modern interpretation of traditional Khasi architecture and balconies that face East for sunrise views. For big rooms and big hearts, check into Saw Aiom guesthouse whose very enthusiastic owner Anthony drove us to a house party where cops were drummers and everyone was singing along to Norwegian Wood.
Aerodene Cottage, Lower Cleve Colony, Dhankheti, call 97740 65366; Ri-Kynjai, Umniuh Khwan, UCC Road, call 98624 20301; Saw Aiom, Polo Hills, near Shillong Golf Club, Pynthorumkhrah, call 08794707022.
Food At The Workshops
Let’s begin with food from the Indigenous Terra Madre, some of which can’t be found in Shillong ordinarily, so you’ll have to visit the festival next year: spicy-sour weaver ant chutney made by the Siddis of the Western Ghats (contact Vanastree Seed Saving Collective here to source); Naga chef Joel Basumatari’s bamboo worms, carpenter’s worms, spiders, grasshoppers and honeybees spiced with chilli and local basil (available at his restaurant Smokey Joe’s in Nagaland); honey from Nagaland (contact the Nagaland Beekeeping and Honey Mission here) and Nilgiri Biosphere (Keystone Foundation for bulk orders here); and fermented treats including sourdough bread made by the Nordic Food Lab, khao mak Thai sweet rice wine spiced with ginger, Korean rice wine and kimchi.
Food In Shillong
Get lost in the labyrinthine lanes of Iewduh, the largest market in the North East, with stalls selling live eels and catfish, palm-sized ginger, vegetables, fruits, roots, medicinal herbs, pickled bhut jolokias, second-hand jackets and electronic appliances. Brace yourself for the meat market with headless pigs, hearts, trotters, ox tongues, and intestines. There’s also the insect delicacy of the region – eri silkworms – sold for Rs 200 per kilo.
For lunch, eat at any of the countless jadoh shops that dot the undulating streets. We recommend the only one in the Iweduh market with a set lunch of ja snam (rice cooked in pig’s blood) + beef meatballs + dohneiiong (pork with chillies and black sesame) + dohjem (pork liver, intestine and heart) + potatoes fried with turmeric + greens with ginger and garlic + dried fish and red chilly chutney. There’s also the conveniently named Jadoh at Don Bosco Square that’s quite a hit with the locals.
Remember to eat an early dinner, as most restaurants in Shillong shut by 8.30 pm. If you want to hang later, visit Cafe Shillong that serves a mix of continental and Khasi specials. On Saturdays, Lou Majaw, the Bob Dylan of Shillong, performs old songs here in his signature super short denim cut offs: the local joke is that it isn’t really winter in Shillong until Lou wears pants. And if you miss mainland food, there’s City Hut Family Dhaba with soft butter naans and chicken butter masala that is home delivered until late.
Iweduh, Bara Bazaar; Jadoh, Don Bosco Square, Laitumkhrah; Cafe Shillong, LP Building, Laitumkhrah, call 0364 250 5759, find them on Facebook here; City Hut Family Dhaba, Earle Holiday Home, Oakland Road, Police Bazar, call 98630 63494.
Most tourist spots in Shillong are outside town, so we suggest you book a cab for a day. The taxi drivers are friendly and full of information – they’ll probably point out Shillong Cathedral, a 100-year-old church built by Germans and St. Anthony’s Botanical Garden, a walled-off forested area around Ward’s Lake with numerous species of orchids.
If it’s green you seek, head to the town of Mawphlang (forty minutes from Shillong) where residents protect Lawkyntang or the sacred grove, an untouched forest that covers over 100 hectares shrouded in myth, mystery and glow-in-the-dark moss.
En route, our cab driver Michael pointed out Mawngap, a Khasi village that traditionally practices black magic and puts poison in the food of outsiders, whose death they believe will make them rich. No kidding.
And before you leave, make sure you stop by R. Kharumnuid Tea Stall at Mylliem, a 50 year-old jadoh joint that serves the best smoked pork we’ve ever had, made by a lady called Mei, which is Khasi for ‘mother’.
Shillong Cathedral, Lachumiere; St. Anthony’s Botanical Garden, Hopkinson Road, Lachumiere. For a guided tour of Lawkyntang, call Macduff on 9615659483; R. Kharumnuid Tea Stall, Mylliem, call 9089431374.
Special thanks to Shillong friend and college mate Daphimanroi Warjri and her family, our cab driver Michael from Malki Point and Slow Food Kamptal, Austria.
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