Although the three tribes of Meghalaya- Khasi, Garo, and Jaintia have a common ancestry, their food habits vary. Only jadoh (rice and meat) or lentils and rice are a common staple across the state; and each tribe has its own favourites. Here is what goes on in a Khasi kitchen.
Driving between various districts in Meghalaya, one of the eight north-eastern states, hunger pangs can only be satisfied at the humble street side restaurants. One does not get a menu to choose from and has to ask for whatever is available. However, there is the option to choose between a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian meal. Boiled rice, yellow daal (lentils), a vegetable, a meat (pork, chicken, fish or beef) are the options to choose from. The food is prepared in a hygienic way and is quintessentially Khasi.
The cooking styles and preferences are not much different in homes. The Khasi are mostly meat eating people with their staple consisting of rice and meat based curries. The rice could be boiled rice or jadoh. Although consumption of chicken, fish, beef, and lamb is common, there is an emphasis on pork.
“In Khasi cuisine, smoked, fried, and roasted pork and beef are all staples. We enjoy dishes like chicken curry, but pork salad is very popular,” says Mayborn Pyngrope who runs Boscobel, a homestay facility in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. “We also make stew from the meats and add vegetables along,” she adds.
Adding meat stew to rice is also a common practice in Khasi hearths. While a rice preparation with meat is called jadoh, (ja means rice and doh is meat) a recipe with only stock is called jastem. “Some people even mix blood in jadoh to give colour to the rice,” says Pyngrope.
All these dishes are delicately prepared, with good care given to make the meat tender and not making the dish supremely spicy.
“Khasi cuisine is not very spicy like that of other north eastern states like Nagaland and Manipur. Those who prefer spicy food can have green chillies separately,” says Pyngrope.
Tungtap a very spicy and pungent chutney of dried fish, green chillies, onions and jayur (type of red chilli) is commonly eaten by the tribe.
There is also tungrymbai (a paste of fermented soyabean), “Which has a very strong smell. Those who are not used to it, take time to get used to it,” says Pyngrope. The sticky food, rich in protein, is a reflection of the ingenious food practice of the community.
Fermentation and smoking are the two ways locals preserve meat. In case of tungrymbai, soyabean is wrapped in lamet leaves, which are found in the state.
The Khasi people also love to eat potatoes, okra and squash for veggies along with yellow daal (lentils). “Unlike the dishes from north India, ingredients like cumin, coriander, asafoetida are not used so much in Khasi cuisine; but we do use a lot of onions, garlic and ginger,” says Pyngrope. Simple cooking is also one reason why the real flavour of a meat can be relished in Khasi cuisine.
Another staple is kwai (areca nuts wrapped in betel leaves), an exchange of which amongst people is a sign of friendship. Kwai is so commonly eaten here that the locals carry small pouches of leaves with them and keep eating them throughout the day for kicks of energy. Kwai is also eaten after meals as it aids digestion but since it could be potent for those not used to it, laal cha or red tea can be consumed after a hearty meal.