Monsoon On North-East India’s Plate Part 5: Local Brews & Joys From The Abode of Clouds, Meghalaya

by Tejashee Kashyap

For a long time, the common thread of knowledge connected with Meghalaya has been a state where the heavens open up, and rain pours look heavenly. When in the idyllic hills of the Khasis, Jaintias and Garos, for the natives, monsoon is more of a trip back in time to the land of flavours. “Like the visual image that would appear to our minds, a set of herbs, greens and ferns like the fish mint or heartleaves, water celery, buckwheat, etc. All of these come to life during this time and it enlivens the plate, similar to a dramatic experience in a deep forest,” as local food curator and chef, Ahmedaki Laloo of A’Origins puts it beautifully.  Being a land of many identities, traditions, and dialects, the most exquisite of meals here often emerge from the simplest of ingredients. And they are a celebration of life itself!

Meghalaya, A Bountiful Food Enthusiast’s Paradise

Savouring monsoon food in Meghalaya is an extraordinary journey into a world where culture, nature, and cuisine converge. “Meghalayan food in general is very different than that of regional cuisines of the rest of India. The food of the Northeastern States is devoid of the typical masalas. We depend mostly on fresh herbs or fermented food for flavouring,” explains home chef, Tanisha Phanbuh.  The region’s bountiful ingredients, influenced by a diverse tapestry of cultures, produce a culinary experience that is both comforting and exotic.

Meghalaya is home to a rich tapestry of indigenous tribes, the Garos, Khasis, and Jaintias. Each stands out with their unique culinary traditions deeply rooted in their culture and geography. “We all have similar ingredients and food styles. But at the same time, we have distinguishing tastes and techniques that make each tribe’s food distinctive,” explains Phanbuh.  Although you can find distinct culinary traditions, there are unifying elements in their cuisine. These main three tribes and their food make it a feast for the senses.

Being a culture enthusiast, I had to go to length to understand how distinct tribes contribute to a food culture that is packed with harmony. Ahmedaki explains to me in detail –

  • Khasi: Driven to fresh and smoked meat consumption like of pork and beef, potato is a staple highlight. While specials like roselle, bamboo shoot, banana flower, and taro stem (ka wang) would be the other hallmarks of their cuisine.
  • Jaintia: There’s the influence of trade routes and cultural impressions. Hence, this region connotes sun-dried fish- curries or in the form of broth, black sesame as a comforting spice and salad-driven cuisines (radish with perilla seeds, fern, mushrooms, etc.)
  • Garo: They mostly hold the western part of the state. During monsoons, the region is more familiarised with fish, crabs, eels and soda-lye/khar in the form of broth and curries.

Also Read: Monsoon On North-East India’s Plate Part 4: Assam’s Leafy Greens Rule All The Way

Food Crawl Through Ingredients

As the monsoon clouds gather and the rain nourishes the earth, the region becomes a treasure trove of locally sourced ingredients. This season transforms the landscape into a lush, vibrant paradise. “We have always stuck to eating seasonal and local. We depend on fresh herbs and leafy greens for flavour but also use a lot of dried or fermented food,” Phanbuh says.

Do you know an abundance of wild edibles are foraged from the forests alone? “As per research, there are 250 odd wild edibles, one could imagine the scope of discovery and dining it can bring,” Ahmedaki brings to notice.


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The communities have developed a deep understanding of the seasonal availability of these treasures. All of these come together to judiciously create a harmonious balance of flavours in both traditional and modern recipes. Elders pass down traditional recipes to the younger generation, fostering a strong sense of identity and continuity.

Phanbuh shares, “I feel like light spices brighten the mood but it’s not just me. Among all three tribes too, you’ll find a high use of chillies. A few other spices used are pepper, bay leaves, and turmeric.” While Ahmedaki puts forth an interesting explanation for this. The environment influences the food consumed. Hence, this leads to certain cravings for comforting foods that are hot, therefore chillies are frequently used in food. “Almost 11 varieties are available at this time like the bird’s eye chillies, bhoot jolokhia/king chilly, little tiny bullets, etc.”


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One cannot begin to delve into Meghalaya’s monsoon ingredients without mentioning the importance of bamboo shoots. “Bamboo shoot is available during the monsoons so it is used commonly and across all the tribes. Fresh bamboo shoot is used in multiple ways. We cook bamboo shoots with veggies or meats and we also make pickles. The shoots are shredded and dried or fermented in water. These are our preservation techniques to have it last for longer,” says Phanbuh. Other ingredients available during the season are jamyrdoh (fish mint), swathang (bitter ridged gourd), rosella leaves and more.

Dishes & Cuisines Prepared Are A Time-Honoured Tradition

Coming from one of these northeastern states, for us, savouring local monsoon ingredients is not just a gustatory delight. Similarly in Meghalaya, the food and ingredients hold a profound connection to nature and culture. It’s a deep appreciation for the gifts of the land.

Making quick meals, such as meat and vegetable broth and stew, is common. “Monsoon for me means a good old Khasi stew (syrwa) and a spicy pickle,” says Phanbuh. “ Since the damp weather promotes fungi growth, a lot of mushrooms are also cooked. We mostly consume wild mushrooms and make Jadoh with mushrooms (jadoh is a rice cooked with meat). Other snacks are boiled potatoes eaten with tungtap (fermented fish chutney). The dish is accompanied with fresh seasonal herbs like ja ud, khliang syiar (pennywort), dhonia khlaw (culantro).”


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As the rains drench the hills and valleys, the people gather to create monsoon culinary masterpieces. Similarly, one of them is the beloved chutney. The appeal of chutneys, like in the rest of the subcontinent, is a common element in their cuisine as well. “We use garlic chives or white flowers that give an earthy flavour to the tungtap or sun-dried fish, a fermented and smoky flavoured accompaniment. The black pepper gives a pungent and hot note, szechuan pepper for a playful tongue-tingling sensation. Then, we have lakadong turmeric– which acts as a flavouring agent, ing makhir (wild ginger). These are all the spice marvels profusely grown and used,” Ahmedaki enlightens.

With so many well-liked meals already on the market, there are others that, because of their unique textures, need equal attention. ” A herb called ‘lapong murit’ gives a peppermint note to your yam or taro stems. Another recent discovery is of a seed, ‘sohmar or mar’ that primarily gives a sour taste and is used as a base to prepare curries, salads or as a cooling agent in beverages,” Chef Laloo highlights.

Joys Of Local Brews In Meghalaya


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Moreover, the region boasts not only lush landscapes but also a vibrant tradition of local alcohol brews. The indigenous communities have, for generations, harnessed the bounties of nature to craft a range of unique and distinctive alcoholic beverages.

“Elephant foot yam curry and ginger flower tea would resonate for Garos, sticky rice and roselle tea for Khasis, corn cake and rice wine for Jaintias,” shares Ahmedaki. Additionally, local alcohol made with rice is famous across all states and tribes here. “That would be kiad (Khasi), Sadhiar(Jaintia) and Bitchi (Garo),” Phanbuh adds.

But at the same time, local alcohol in Meghalaya is more than just beverages. “What is more of a cultural profusion is the use of fermented rice wine during several rituals,” Ahmedaki notes. “As for snacks, steamed rice and corn cake wrapped in banana leaves; blanching ferns and greens for side dishes. Then, searing millets after soaking for tea and roasting meat and chillies find mention in common discourse.”

Chef Phanbuh adds that she likes to store the produce for a longer period. Mostly the tribes around this region focus on the perfect conditions for preserving and storage of food. “I enjoy eating stews, rice, and chutney or pickles on their own, but I also prefer to ferment bamboo shoot in order to preserve the food for a longer period of time. Adding lots of garlic, chillies, and mustard oil helps,” she says. “The Garos also preserve rosella leaves by drying them and crushing them into a powder. Then, they deep freeze it which is what I also do mostly.”


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And till this day, this continues to be an integral part of the culinary heritage. “What is majorly factored is shelf life due to a certain humidity and modern refrigeration which is not for all,” Laloo reasons.

The local cuisine of Meghalaya is an enchanting and essential cultural heritage, still waiting to be discovered. After all, a culinary voyage leaves numerous trails and impressions to inspire more, as Ahmedaki beautifully puts it, leaving room for a lingering thought…

Cover image credits: Website/Meghalaya Tourism