Food hacks for vegetarians travelling to Shillong
We must thank the social media which has brought Northeast India to the deserving limelight especially in terms of the boom in tourism gradually. It feels great to see that Northeast India is now on the bucket list of most of the travellers who wish to visit offbeat destinations. But when vegetarians think of visiting Northeast, they are in a fix.
The cultural diversity of northeast India is so vast that we can’t blame outsiders for not being aware of communities in the region who are pure vegetarians who even avoid eating onions or garlic. No, we are not talking about communities from mainland India who have settled here but people indigenous to Northeast. We admit that the region’s food habits especially in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya are predominantly non-vegetarian with a lot of red meat-based preparations. But the states have warmed up to tourists recently and almost every place you visit will provide the Indian staple diet of rice, dal and sabzi, even chapatis if you vegetarians are lucky. The best part is that in this simplicity each state has a unique taste represented by the “highway dhabas” or as we call it locally, “the line hotels”. They are not spoken of in poetic and photographic discussions but trust us, they can make to a Nat Geo traveller prime time spot.
It is a myth that vegetarians who wish to travel in Northeast India will only need to survive on dry fruits and fruits that they carry from their cities. Or just eat rice and dal every day. Veg travellers coming to Meghalaya for the first time, find it difficult to find what to eat here. We have come up with a list of local delicacies, fruits, and some restaurants in Meghalaya which travellers looking for vegetarian food in Shillong may find useful.
A. Local dishes for vegetarians in Shillong:
#Alu Muri in Meghalaya
If you are someone who loves trying different street food, then Alu Muri is one of those local delicacies that you can try as a vegetarian in Shillong. This appetising mixture contains boiled potatoes, puffed rice, papaya skin, oil, roasted spices, and tamarind sauce. You will find this in most of the locals’ stalls in the nook and corner of Shillong, especially near parks and fields where people socialise.
Another local delicacy that vegetarians can eat in Shillong is Putharo. This dish is close to perhaps the idli. It is a simple steamed rice cake where the rice is moulded in an earthen dish and then baked. It can be had as a part of your snacks and it is easy on the tongue. Order a cup of ‘cha-saw’ to go with it.
Like the Putharo, Pumaloi is a rice-based recipe which the Khasis prepare during public celebrations and festivals in Meghalaya. It is a favourite of the locals that even travellers in search of vegetarian food in Shillong can definitely try. Pumaloi is a special rice that comes in powdered form and a unique pot called ‘Khiew rane’ is used to steam or fry the Pumaloi.
The moment you step into Northeast India and if you especially stay at homestays, you soon realise that the locals love their rice. It is now time for you to taste the sweet dish prepared out of powdered rice. Pukhlein is a local delicacy in Meghalaya which is made by mixing jaggery with powdered rice by pan-frying it to give it a golden brown crispy form. Someone who is looking for local vegetarian food in Shillong should try this. Treat it like the authentic dessert?
The Garos of Meghalaya use Sakin Gata or sticky rice to make sweet white rice cake snacks during traditional festivals like Wangala and others. Sakin Gata is powdered and mixed with sugar, roasted sesame seeds and while preparing this delicacy, banana leaves are used to wrap the mixture. The flavour of the banana leaves adds aroma to the dish. Those of you who are in search of vegetarian food in Meghalaya should give this local snack a try.
B. Seasonal fruits that vegetarians can have in Shillong:
You will find the young street vendors carrying baskets filled with light pink coloured beautiful fruit. This fruit is called Sohshang or wild olive which grows on a large woody, evergreen shrub that can be found in almost every locals’ house in Meghalaya. As this fruit is tangy, you can add some salt and eat these. The locals also prepare chutney, jam and jelly from this and even the fruit juice is refreshing. Sohshang is usually available from February to April. When you’re looking for vegetarian food in Shillong, try to taste this too.
So you might see something that resembles an orange and you may think you found oranges of a bigger size. Hold on, these aren’t oranges but they’re almost identical twins of oranges locally known as Soh-Niamtra or commonly called Khasi mandarin. Compared to other mandarins, this has a tighter and smoother skin difficult to peel. However, when the skin is peeled off the aromatic fresh sweet smell will entice your olfactory senses. It is a must-try for all travellers especially if you are looking for vegetarian food in Shillong. Khasi mandarin can be found during the winters from November to March.
Meghalaya’s Cherry or Blackberry, locally known as Sohiong resembles black grapes. It is one of the most underutilised local fruits in the state. When you take a bite of the ripe sohiong, you will feel the mild tangy taste as it colours your tongue purple. It is used to make jam and even fruit juice. The fruit is available from July to September. If you aren’t very fond of sour/tangy food, then perhaps you can try tasting the jam made of Sohiong. A local fruit of Meghalaya that the vegetarian travellers should not miss out on.
The ripened juicy and pulpy lychees are to die for. I and my brother used to eat a lot of these while we grew up in Dharmanagar(North Tripura). But before you say that you have already had lychees and ask what’s special in Meghalaya. We found out something interesting about how litchis came to a village called Umsyiem. According to reports by IDBLP, an old woman named Kong Blissimai Lamin revealed that lychees or soh manir were brought to Umsyiem by a British officer called J. D. Duncan who had stayed with her family as a tenant for 4 to 5 years. He had come there in the 1930s to inspect the Sylhet – Dawki road that was being built and before taking leave of the family he gifted them a sapling of lychee and a wristwatch. So, when you are looking for vegetarian food in Shillong, don’t forget to try the soh manir or the gifted lychee with a history. Lychees are available from June to August.
Yes, we know you have already had pineapples before you landed in Shillong. But trust us when you take a bite of the pineapple in Ri- Bhoi you would know why we asked you to try this. You will find a lot of small shops made of bamboo on the roadside where the vendors sell pineapples locally known as soh trun and a lot of other fruits. If you find the price exorbitant just buy one pineapple and taste it along with your friends and you’ll surely love this. You can find the Soh truns from June to September.
Soh Pyrshong or Carambola also commonly known as Starfruit in many parts of India is available from July to September in Meghalaya. You can eat the fruit raw with a pinch of salt and red chilly to enhance the taste which is usually tangy. You can even have its juice (especially handy after the Nongriat trek) which has medicinal value, or ask your host to make sweet chutney, a light curry out of Soh Pyrshong to have with rice or roti. Even jam/jelly could be made that you can have with some bread. This is one of the fruits that you can try as a part of your vegetarian food in Shillong.
Soh Phoh commonly known as the pear with their slightly sour or bitter taste is available in the hills of Meghalaya from June to August. You can grab this from the market and eat it fresh or the locals of Shillong also make pickles out of Soh Phoh which can be had as a side dish with your meal. If you’re lucky, you might get this on the roadside where the vendors have shops filled with different colourful pickles. Travellers looking for vegetarian food in Shillong can also have it with a bit of salt and chilli powder by cutting Soh Phoh into small pieces.
Read our blog on Eating like a local in Shillong – to know what non-vegetarians can try in Meghalaya
If you are in Shillong, you must try tasting the plums which are a favourite of the locals here at Meghalaya. My mom who grew up in Shillong would often say that they had a mini orchard where plums would grow in abundance. My mother and her 3 brothers along with their neighbours would happily bite into the juicy red plums. My granny would then make a delicious jam out of these plums which could be had with bread or chapatis. So, you can ask your hosts if they could tell you where can you buy local plum jam in Shillong. The locals also make plum wine famous among a lot of travellers who love savouring this drink. Also, the locals call the plums as Soh Plum where plum is pronounced as ‘plom’. The wild plum that grows in the abode of clouds is known as ‘Sohplum-kthang’ where ‘kthang’ means bitter thus giving you a sign of the taste of the fruit. Another variety of plum is known as Soh plum nam which is more reddish in colour.
Soh Pyriam or guava is available from November to March in Meghalaya. The fruit when raw can be had by adding salt and pepper powder to enhance the taste. Ripe guavas are used for making juice which travellers looking for vegetarian food in Shillong should try.
When you visit Shillong between June and August, you must try eating the fresh peaches. If you know what else can be done with peaches, please leave a comment and we would add that in our list which can help people who are looking for vegetarian food in Shillong.
C. Restaurants where you can try vegetarian food in Shillong
If you’re looking for vegetarian food in Shillong, you can also try to eat in the following restaurants:
At Jail road, Police Bazar in Shillong the Madras cafe offers you both North and South Indian vegetarian dishes. Vegetarians must try the Tomato rice, roast dosa, Mysore dosa, fried vada, super-sized idles and the Pongal here.
The Boulevard is a pure vegetarian restaurant within the Boulevard Hotel at Thana road, Police bazar in Shillong. Here, you will mostly find North Indian delicacies like aloo/gobi paratha, puri chola. Travellers looking for vegetarian food in Shillong will also get idli sambhar, masala dosa, vegetable sandwich, and juices.
For those of you who crave of veg food in Shillong, Bistro is a must-visit. At Thana road, Police Bazar it is a multi-cuisine restaurant where North India food is considered the best.
At Police point Laitumkhrah, it is one of the best South Indian restaurants in Shillong. Though it is not a pure veg restaurant, veg food here is something that you’d love.
If you love music and food, you must visit Cafe Shillong which is at L.P. Building, (NIIT Building), Main Road, in Laitumkhrah. Though this is not a vegetarian restaurant, travellers looking for vegetarian food in Shillong will get veg burgers, veg pasta, veg noodles which are in high demand.
#Royal Heritage Tripura Castle Restaurant
Those of you who are looking for vegetarian food in Shillong can visit Royal Heritage Tripura Castle Restaurant in Police Bazar. You will find food ranging from North Indian to South Indian and even Chinese dishes.
Located in Hotel Polo Towers, Polo ground in Shillong, Ginger restaurant has Indian, Chinese and Asian dishes. Vegetarians can try the rotis, naans and kulchas here.
Dopwai restaurant at Laitumkhrah Main Road, Shillong has awesome à la carte where they serve Chinese, North -Indian and South – Indian dishes. So vegetarians can give this place a try. You can enjoy your food in a rooftop dining by looking at nature around.
The City Hut in Earle Holiday home, Oakland Road in Police Bazar has delicious dal makhani and mutter paneer which travellers looking for vegetarian food in Shillong should try. You can also get veg thalis here.
For the ambience that gives you a glance of Manipur through food, photos and architecture. The food may not always be exact, but trying the black rice kheer is definitely a must and going for a traditional Manipuri veg thali would not be a bad idea. The location at Laitumkhrah also makes it a part of your evening walk in Shillong.
We hope this list will help travellers who are looking for vegetarian food in Shillong to plan their trips without the fear of missing out on local food in Shillong. However, this is not an exhaustive list so if you have suggestions that we can add to our list then please let us know in comments :). If you are planning to visit Meghalaya, then you can get in touch with us here.