A taste of home

These northeastern stores in delhi-ncr are readily stocked with authentic ingredients 
Chuimiwon at Machi’s making their special paan for a customer
Chuimiwon at Machi’s making their special paan for a customer

Home food has always carried a special meaning. Nothing can beat the authentic Chak Hao Kheer (black rice pudding) or even a simple stew,” says Jaya P, a native of Manipur who has been living in Delhi for 14 years now. Jaya’s yearning for comfort food is proof that even though leaving one’s hometown in search of opportunities comes with a sense of freedom, the feeling of nostalgia lingers for long. In a city like Delhi, which is a cultural melting pot, the migrant communities living here often try to locate a place with known faces... a place they can call their own.

Arranged in neat clusters, the Northeastern community living in Delhi-NCR has found a sense of familiarity in several such pockets—including Munirka, Humayunpur, and Sikanderpur—in an otherwise-alien region.  

Kim at her Northeastern shop
in Sikandarpur

Flavours of home 
Although Safdarjung is known to be a hub for denizens on the lookout for authentic Northeastern cuisine, the grocery stores here—it also sells local ingredients—founded by migrant owners, is what makes it special. Imported from local farmers of the eight states in Northeast India, the ingredients that feature a variety of fresh native vegetables as well as fermented products. While on a visit to these stores on Friday, we heard from Kim, the owner of Eastern Delights in Munirka, “My parents buy the ingredients from the local markets in my village (in Manipur) and send them over.” 

While most of the shops we visited here stock native vegetables—mostly an array of leafy vegetables—such as small potatoes, green beans, ginger, and raw banana flowers, their unique selling point is the variety of ingredients traditional to Northeastern cuisine. The vegetables sold are usually the sampok or likok (bitter eggplant), yam leaves, thangzing (fox nut), passion fruit, spring onions, the infamous king chilli, and bamboo shoot, to name a few. Helen (48), who owns Machi Indigenous Food and Fresh Veggies in Humayunpur, added that her sister, who knows many local farmers in Manipur and Assam, usually sends her the produce. “Here [in Delhi], people mostly like to eat dal (legumes). People from the Northeast are extremely fond of fresh vegetables and meat,” she says. 

Costing about Rs 50 for 100g, which most will agree is indeed a small price for Northeast residents here to pay so as to get a taste of home. A customer named Sennu, who resides in Mehrauli, mentioned, “When I’m cooking with these ingredients, I don’t feel like I’m in Delhi anymore. These take me back to Manipur.” On scanning the shelves, you also find other fermented products such as dried prawns, sun-dried buffalo skin, Akhone (fermented soybean). There’s also a range of smoked chicken, and live snails, which are usually fried or smoked and a delicacy among the clientele.

An interesting twist
Although primarily a grocery store, the shops in these pockets also have individual specialties. Moite and Kim’s store in Sikandarpur is known to sell traditional homemade pickles and chutneys such as the king chilli oil, sampok pickle, lotus seed chutney, to its customers. Machi, on the other hand, sells its own kind of paan (betel leaf). Unlike the North-Indian version, Helen adds fried coconut and cherries in the betel leaf, along with areca nuts that is soaked in milk, whisky or rum. Kakito, a customer we bumped into at Humayunpur, is a native from Nagaland.

He mentioned how he frequents Machi, adding that the paan made by Helen is his favourite. Helen, who also runs a culinary venture, often provides homemade food—Eromba, a shrimp dish with Shingu, a vegetable salad—for students, who are unable to cook. While it is the ingredients are what these stores are most known for, they also end up providing a sense  of community for those striving to find a feeling of home in Delhi

There is More to explore

  1.  Northeast Grocery Store at Kishangarh Village, Mehrauli
  2.  Shanngam North East Shop at Sector 26, Sikanderpur, Gurugram
  3.  Asha Tangkhul Store at Humayunpur, Safdarjung Enclave
  4.  Northeast Grocery Shop at Chirag Delhi Village
  5.  Chikim North East Shop at GTB Enclave, Dilshad Garden

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