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19.07.2017

The new Rosang stands all aglow in dusty Uphaar Cinema Complex. We say “new” even though this soul food restaurant (their words) has been around for 14 years; it moved out of this market last year before moving back in to a more spacious location. It reopened a mere week ago: in fact, part of the dining area is still under renovation and will be functional in a few days.  

We like what we see regardless. The favoured neighbourhood joint has usually been Nagaland’s Kitchen a few doors down, mostly because of the alcohol licenceRosang is more homely, more“family-oriented”. Where the old restaurant was Spartan white and basic, this is all dark wood, cream walls and mood lighting. The interiors are strictly non-region specific, but on the wall hang evocative photographs from the “Northeast" - generic mountainous landscapes, Mizo bamboo dancers, elderly gentlemen in “tribal” attire, young women in traditional headdresses. 

Given the immense diversity of the region, I can’t pinpoint sources exactly, but they’re familiar images, comforting even to the trained eye. We might be far from home, the place seems to say, but home can be brought to you. Over the speakers the Tetseo Sisters, a quartet from Nagaland, sing their lively rendition of “Stupid Cupid” in Nagamese

Unlike Nagaland’s Kitchen, Rosang seeks to bring together cuisine from all the seven northeast states under its roof, reflecting perhaps the owner’s own multi-regional identity. Mary Lalboi is a Mizo who grew up in Manipur and studied in Shillong, Meghalaya: her passion for the food of the region seems tied to how healthy it all is. “There’s hardly any oil,” she tells us- some dishes use none at all. Instead there are plenty of vegetables, “all organic.” 

The menu, a little fold-out pamphlet, is evidence of that. While we decide, we sip wild red rice tea, served with jaggery and lemon, although we prefer it plain, the flavour mild and slightly sweet.  We debate on whether to stick to a particular region—“the dishes might work better together,” companion offers—or to cast our culinary nets wider. Wider wins: a mini tour begins with starters from Manipur and Arunachal. 

First, a plate of snacky maroi bora, deep fried herb fritters (because into each life some oil must fall) dipped into sesame and chilli chutneyThen, nghuingosing, which is devoured at lightning speed. This dish of fish minced with herbs and spices wrapped in banana leaf and burnt, sizzles with fresh, zingy flavour -almost Thai-like with its unmistakable hint of lemongrass. 

We’re keen on pak nam, a traditional Manipuri baked dish of mushroom and banana flower, but it isn’t available yet. Neither, alas, is aa karan, fish marinated in berma paste, or khazing paknam, a shrimp cake from Manipur wrapped in turmeric and banana leaf. We put it down to teething trouble and settle instead on aloo shak, tossed and fried potatoes with peas and crunchy yellow lentils. (Meat eaters, be at ease: the menu still features a tidy assortment of chicken, buff, and pork starters, served mostly dry, with herbs and bamboo shoot.)

Our mains come all the way from Mizoram and Meghalaya. We’re keen to try one of Mary’s “no oil” dishes, and aksa meh, light chicken curry with seasonal herbs and vegetables, lives up to her promise. The broth is clear, the chicken soft and mild, and the greens still crunchy. The jadoh, native to my home state, though, is the star of the meal. Served all over Meghalaya in tiny roadside “jadoh” (literally “rice-meat”) stalls, jadoh is a rich, meaty rice dish cooked in chicken or pork broth with turmeric and meat. 

The jadoh, native to my home state, is the star of the meal. Served all over Meghalaya in tiny roadside “jadoh” (literally “rice-meat”) stalls, jadoh is a rich, meaty rice dish cooked in chicken or pork broth with turmeric and meat. 

The Rosang version is a variation—though not an unwelcome one—with black sesame, mashed chicken liver and pork. It’s so good we’re happy to eat it all by itself, ignoring the sana thonga, a wholesome if forgettable preparation of cottage cheese infused with milk and vegetables and flavoured with chives and spices. The jadoh is heavy: we are vanquished. 

It’s too much to even look at traditional Naga pork curry with bamboo shoot (cooked with both the fresh and dry versions), doh neiiong (pork cooked in black sesame served in Assam and Meghalaya), and kukhura ko masu from Sikkim, flavoured in tamarind, coconut and local herbs. 

“Dessert?” says a friend weakly.

Let me try and summarise my lengthy disquisition on why the “pudding” concept doesn't quite exist in most of the Northeast, with the exception of Assam. In short, our sweets are mostly rice-flour based, and mixed with jaggery, and steamed or baked, and had with tea. In spite of these constraints, another friend insists on a sweet finish. 

And while Rosang’s dessert list stands at a princely three dishes—sesame flat cake, chaak hao kheer, and sweet sticky rice cake—we find out that only the kheer is available, and order one to share. Chaakhao is Manipuri sticky red rice, and the kheer is this distinct colour but overladen with cinnamon, and strangely icy, as though taken out straight from the freezer. 

If home seems a bit far in this moment, it doesn’t quite succeed in dampening our mood. At lunch the next day, a doggy bag from Mary’s kitchen serves as an ample reminder of the things we miss. Welcome back, neighbour. 

Getting thereRosang, S5, near HDFC Bank, Uphaar Cinema market, Green Park. A meal for a novelist costs approximately Rs 2500.

Accessibility: Flight of stairs leads up to entryway; no ramp. 

bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals. 

Janice Pariat is the author of Boats on Land, Seahorse, and The Nine-Chambered Heart (November 2017) and lives in Delhi. 

Image credit: qualia_n / Instagram

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