What the lord is to people with Jesus in their hearts, lard is to foodies with pork in their hearts. Seasoned pork enthusiasts would agree that with experience and maturity, one tends to seek out dishes and recipes that are less about processed meat (this DOES NOT mean I am letting go of my breakfast bacon) and more about local recipes that incorporate traditional cooking ingredients, sensibilities and style and offer bolder flavor profiles. Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya and home of the Khasi, Garo and Jayantia people, is offering me a tasty look into an array of pork dishes, which have eschewed the continental cold cuts and have embraced the spicy and saucy gravies of Indo-Tibetan cuisine and the tangy and tasty curries from Khasi family staples.
The Police Bazaar Circle
My first stop after reaching Shillong is the town square (or, in this case the town circle) where crowded street food stalls appear like frenzied epicentres of an everyday food festival. The aromas are tantalizing and before I can decide, I am already salivating in front of a stall where cubed pieces of pork are being grilled on skewers on an open flame.
I point out the skewer I want grilled to the guy selling it. The succulent pieces of char-grilled pork are served minced and lathered with spicy mint chutney and chopped red onions. The meat is juicy and tender. At INR 100 a stick, it’s a steal! You can also get chicken skewers at the same price if you want to delve into some hill-poultry. (Take it from me, both poultry and Maggi tastes better in the hills than whatever you get in the flatland cities).
Moving along, I spot local women selling home-cooked style dishes. I find a stall specializing in pork preparations but the lady says she is almost all out of all the dishes she had made that day and offers us some Pork Curry (the oh so sexy Shuorer Jhal) and some Pork Liver Curry.
I skip the plain rice to go along with the curries and set to devouring the curried meats in small, devoted bites. The Pork Curry is aromatic and spicy. In the shivering colds of Meghalaya, it is the classic comfort food! The liver curry has an earthy flavor I would not soon forget. Both dishes cost us around INR 50 together. Effective micro indulgence is what I will term it!
Price Range: $
Shillong Café – Porking in style
After the customary sightseeing, dinnertime calls for some laid-back indulgence and we head to Shillong Café, a popular haunt for the city’s young and trendy, that keeps its doors open relatively late. Recommendations say that both branches of Shillong Café are some of the best places for Indo-Chinese and Indo-Continental Pork specialties in Shillong. We manage to locate the branch near Don Bosco Square and find a musical performance going on inside. I finish my coffee listening to Cohen being played live before ordering the classic: Fried Rice and Chili Pork.
The rice here is the short grain Joha rice that is often used for sticky rice puddings. The sliced pork pieces are all lean and cooked to perfection. I love the fact that the pork here does not rely completely on the accompanying chili gravy and brings its own flavor to the game.
As the night progresses, I also help myself to some Fried Chili Beef with Rice Noodles (the spicy and slightly oily beef preparation imparts seasoning and flavor to the bland noodles) and downed it with some hot chocolate. What do you call this, a good meal, and a good night?
Price Range: $$$
The Eatery Beside Don Bosco Museum – What a discovery!
The eatery right beside the Don Bosco Museum complex is sort of an open secret that all locals are aware of but I never came across it during the internet research sessions that I undertook before arriving here. However, ever since I am here and asking the locals about their favorite pork places, this is a recurring recommendation.
I start with one of their signature dishes called Smoked Meghalayan Pork, a dish in which slices of pork are first lightly roasted and then smoked. This lends a smokey flavor to the meat. And I am not complaining about the abundance of red chilies in the dish either!
Their menu is filled with dishes that come from the seven sister states of the North East and I taste the Meghalayan and the Nagaland thalis. I get the best of their local dishes but the steaming hot bowls of Meghalayan and Naga pork curries are the piece de resistance in the respective thalis. The Naga Pork Curry is made with bamboo shoots and has a sour taste.
The Meghalayan Curry is more mellow and almost earthy in a thick gravy that has been slow cooked. The meat used here is very fatty and less tender. But here, they put special attention to the thick pork skin and it is an absolute delight to chew through the crust with some plain and simple sada bhaat.
Price Range: $$
The Road Side Pork Momos – Tangible Happiness
The greatest of happiness comes in the smallest packages. Local Momo sellers congregate at street corners in tiny shops that are set up and dismantled every day. They make the freshest and greatest of Momos at dirt-cheap prices!
Pork Momos are just INR 30 for 6-8 pieces depending on from whom you are buying. The coating here is a tad thicker than what I am used to but the inside is stuffed with flavorful, well-seasoned minced pork. The meat is juicy and you can taste notes of black pepper, ginger, and garlic in your mouth. If nothing else, you can always survive on Momos when you are in the hills of the North East!
Price Range: $
Trattoria – The Khasi Specialists
If you really want to know about the cuisine of a place, eat where the locals eat! This also saves you a fair bit of money by letting you avoid the tourist traps. I was on the lookout for some Khasi Cuisine and to my dismay, I could only manage to find Trattoria open. Shillong sleeps early and if you want to eat some local delicacies for dinner, make sure your dinner happens by 7’o clock.
I order the Jadoh and the famed Dohsniang nei-iong. The Jadoh is a Khasi staple. It is a rice dish that is slow cooked with pork (usually, but sometimes fish or chicken is used too) and some mildly flavored but highly aromatic spices. Many who are used to spicier fares may not instantly like it but give it time and it will win you over. I pair my Jadoh with the very hard to pronounce curry, Dohsniang nei-iong, which is pork cooked with sesame seeds. The tender, fatty chunks of smokey pork cooked in a delicious sauce wins me over! You should also keep a bit of space in your tummy for the Pork Leg Soup, Pork Balls and Doh khlieh, the local pork mixed curry from Trattoria too.
Price Range: $$
Tibet kitchen – Familiar Love
If you are in Shillong and not haggling for knick-knacks & woolens from the street vendors at Police Bazaar, then you are probably busy in Tibet Kitchen, the grade A hunger solution to all porky needs. Sitting inside makes me reminisce the very Calcuttan Chinese eating-houses located in the back alleys of Poddar Court. Evident from all the murals and wall hangings is that this place stands strong and proud of their Tibetan connection. The same is reflected in the dishes they offer me as well.
I order their Pork Momos (can’t do without them, it seems) and I am instantly bowled over by the serious goodness of the momos. A thin, almost creamy smooth texture of the outer layer is complimented with the inner mince. I miss my good ol’ Dry Chili Pork and order a plate next. Succulent cubes of pork come in a thick gravy of onions and bell peppers. The outer skin is crunchy from the frying and offers minimum resistance as I bite in.
Chomping down, I hear the owner suggesting to try their gravy version of the same dish. I agree immediately and to my surprise, I am greeted soon with not really a gravy but a brothy soupy dish where the meat floats in a soup laced with veggies and lots and lots of green chili. This is an extremely spicy dish but in spite of the searing jhaal, I bite through every last cube of the glorious oink and drink every last drop of the soupy gravy. I go out in a state of euphoric foodgasm and not even the 6-degree centigrade chill of Meghalaya can stop my game tonight.
Price Range: $$
Finishing Notes – A foodies to-do list
There are a few places that I missed out on this time and would surely like to try the next time I manage to come around. Restaurants Jadoh & Red Rice specialize in Khasi Dishes and can be worthy alternatives to Trattoria. I heard that Kim Poo, a Tibetan restaurant within the Police Bazaar area makes some mean Pork Momos that are to die for too. I would also like to visit Phunga Restaurant next time; a place that unfortunately does not serve Pork but offers great authentic Manipuri dishes.
What is your favorite place to binge on some good Pork? Let us know in the comments section!