During my week long trip to Meghalaya, I explored the cafes and food joints in Shillong and all the other places I visited in search of local flavors and a glimpse into their culinary styles. I compiled this Foodies Guide to Shillong for travelers wanting to eat their way through to understanding the culture of the hill city.
Street Food in Shillong
Street Food is found mostly around the Police Bazaar area which is in the heart of Shillong with shops and other business establishments close by. Breakfast is generally a plate of oil drenched puris served with a liquid potato curry which the locals seem to devour. I had a plate of desi fried noodles for Rs 20/- served with chopped onions which is a very Shillong style presentation. The freshly fried golden eggs smeared with red chilly powder in the next stall was too hard to resist. There are lots of fruits available including oranges, bananas, strawberries and pineapples which are fresh and juicy.
The same area converts into a Kebab Den by evening; with sellers and customers huddling around fire ovens to bite into some freshly grilled chicken and meat.
Khasi and Other Local Cuisine
The cuisines of the North Eastern States remain pretty much unexplored since there are very few specialized restaurants that dish out their specialties in other parts of the country. My liking for Khasi cuisine was pretty much instant, the smoky smell of mustard oil coupled with bay leaves, garam masala and pepper doing the trick. Every Khasi meal ends with popping Kwai (betel leaves, paan) which is quite common across the Eastern and North Eastern States.
- Trattoria in Police Bazaar
My first stop was in Trattoria in a busy lane of Police Bazaar where vehicular traffic is prohibited. I settled for a plate of Jadoh with Pork Curry which is the signature dish of Meghalaya. Trattoria is like a mess with seating resembling school benches. I waited for my turn to be served since I was the first guest as soon as they opened their doors and the pan was still on the flame. The plate of Jadoh was finished off no sooner than it arrived.
Jadoh is a biryani variant made from the local short grained Joha Rice which is slightly sticky. The rice and pork are initially soaked/marinated and then fried along with spices before being boiled in warm water to get that consistency. I ordered for a bowl of Chicken Curry as well which had large potato pieces and tasted very similar to the Bengali variant. As I licked the bowl to the owners pleasure, I realised that the curry was prepared with little of no water and the Chicken was reared in a home poultry and not the artificially fattened broiler one that I am used to.
Jadoh in Latumkhrah
I also sampled the Jadoh in Jadoh which is frequented by students and is very moderately priced. This eatery located in the busy Laitumkhrah area is opposite to Don Bosco Museum. This one was mild flavored compared to Trattoria but was served with Tungtap paste. Tungtap is a paste of dried fish,onion, green chilly and red chilly which fired up the plate of Jadoh.
Red Rice in Police Bazaar
Red Rice in the Police Bazaar area is a slightly upscale place which serves Chinese and Khasi dishes. I had a bowl of the Khasi speciality Doh Kleih that is steamed pork stir fried lightly with onion and green chilly. I quite loved this salad like preparation and would have gone for more if my stay was longer.
Cafe Shillong in Laitumkhrah
I reached Cafe Shillong on a Sunday evening in the hope of digging into some local food while listening to the famous rock tunes of Shillong. My hopes were dashed since both were unavailable and I settled for the Bastenga which is a neighboring Nagaland staple diet. Chicken Bastenga is a steamed chicken curry cooked with fermented bamboo shoots and spiced up with the fiery chilly Bhoot Jalokia. The spice hit me after a couple of spoonfuls of the chicken curry. The Brown rice and glasses of water did little to douse the fire on my tongue which was finally tamed by dollops of ice cream.
Cafe Shillong Heritage near Tripura Castle
The last dinner had to be classy and signature so I trudged all the way to Cafe Shillong Heritage near Tripura Castle the erstwhile summer palace of the Tripura Royals now turned into a heritage hotel. The fine dine cafe was all cosy and warm with the fire place in the corner. The adjoining alfresco area would be a nice place to unwind on a cool summer evening with some great food, mellow music and wine. I relished my plate of Shillong Fried Rice and Chilly Chicken which was served on a leaf. The rice was fine and short grained and Chicken pieces retained a slight crunch even though it was soaked in soya sauce.
Cafes in Shillong
Shillong has a western music tradition which thrives around its many cafes. During my brief visit to Shillong, I managed to visit a few of them to sense the pulse of the place.
Dylan’s Cafe off the Highway; 10 minute walk from Laitumkhrah
Dylan’s Cafe off the highway is an old dance floor converted to a cafe as a tribute to legendary musician Bob Dylan. The ambiance is hip and happening and a must visit in Shillong. I found my way up the stairs with Old Polydor long playing records hanging from the roof doubling up as lamp shades and imprints of Bob Dylan’s album covers framed along the wall.
I settled down with my favorite apple pie as Dylan crooned “The answer my friend is blowin in the wind”. The best thing about the cafe is that they allow patrons to paint their ceiling with graffiti and I saw a bunch of enthusiastic students animatedly discuss what to paint on the ceiling over plates of sandwiches and pastries.
Delhi Mishtan Bhandar in Police Bazaar
The jalebi’s from Delhi Mishtann Bhandar have been daily company during the week long stay. Delhi Mishtann Bhandar is doling out hot jalebis, samosas and other North Indian savories since 1930. However their claim to fame in Limca Book of records is the largest jalebi fried by them in 2008.
Bread Cafe in Police Bazaar
This first floor cafe located right opposite Red Rice in Police Bazaar caught my attention when I saw a patron walk out with a large cake. I quickly climbed up the stairs and after minor deliberation had the choco rich German Pastry which transported me to la la land.
Swish Cafe in Laitumkhrah
After my spicy tryst with Bastenga, I sought refuge in the Banana Split in Swish Cafe in the Laitumkhrah area. This is the first outlet to usher the coffee culture in Shillong. A cosy first floor seating with views of the road below while I sliced through my chocolate and honey bathed banana was quite a breather.
Little Chef Cafe in Laitumkhrah
Little Chef Cafe down the road in Laitumkhrah was more for families with little children. Their gooey rich brownie served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream ensured that the fire on my tongue induced by the Bastenga in Cafe Shillong was completely quelled.
What is the option for a vegetarian or someone who likes traditional fare?
Police Bazaar has a lot of options for the standard Indian Dal, Roti, Paneer, Chicken Curry, Chaats, Dosas and Chinese. Lamees; Hotel Centre Point ,Madras Cafe, QZine, City Hut Dhaba and Delhi Mishtan Bhandar will cater to the need pretty well with the wide range of items on their menu.
Food Walk Trails in Shillong
Shillong is a very small place and most of it can be covered by foot if you are okay to walk up and down undulating hilly tracks. These are two areas where you can do your own little food walk like me and sample the tastes of Shillong. Each walk can be done on your own in Rs 500/- per person.
- Police Bazaar Area : Street Food; Khasi Cuisine, Sweets and Cafes
- Laitumkhrah Area : Khasi Cusine, Signature Cafes
Taste from the Meghalaya Countryside
While on the road driving through the hilly countryside we would often stop at the village Ja-Cha (Rice & Tea) stores and polish off a plate of rice served with dal, chicken or pork curry and steamed lai leaves or at times the stock of boiled lai leaves all for Rs 50-Rs 70 per plate.
The locals tend to have multiple meals during the day hence the portions tend to be small. A meal in Meghalaya specially Shillong is incomplete without biting into onions and green chillies on the side and it tasted heavenly during the exhausting trips. The ladies behind these delicious grub were often overwhelmed with our eagerness to have the local food and would generously serve a second helping and I would grateful respond “Kong Khublei” as in Dear Lady Thank You