Miles away from home, eating hubs specializing in northeastern food near the Delhi University campus do roaring business, catering to the taste buds of the thousands of students from the region. For the young men and women from Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Tripura who flock to Delhi every year, the handful of eateries are the best links to their home states.
Tucked away on the first floor of a well-known bakery is Kaziranga, an Assamese food joint. There are no loud banners and no fancy advertisements but there is hardly a day when the restaurant is empty.
Serving typical Assamese food, masor tenga (tangy fish curry), aloo pitika and bengena pitika (mashed potato and brinjal), the restaurant is hugely popular with students from the state.
For those who have recently come to the capital seeking admission in Delhi University, it is a big relief.
"I came to Delhi about two weeks back to join DU. One week of rajma chawal and chhole chawal and I started craving for home cooked food," Jahnabi Chakrabarty of Guwahati told IANS.
"Then my sister's friend who has been living here for the past two years told me about Kaziranga. Since then my father and I have been having our meals there. The food is simple and as Assamese as it can be!"
North Indian food doesn't tickle northeastern taste buds because of the generous amount of oil and various spices while northeastern cuisine is more plain.
So while a kadhai chicken or butter chicken might be a treat sometimes, it cannot become everyday fare.
Ekta Subba, manager of the Sikkim restaurant also near the north campus, says that the Sikkimese Thali with plain rice, dal (lentil), boiled vegetables and chicken, mutton, fish or pork is very popular with the students.
"Northeastern students flock to my restaurant every day because they don't mind eating a simple meal which has a taste and flavour similar to the food cooked at home since the cooks are from Sikkim itself," Subba told IANS.
Running houseful for four years now, Subba's food joint is so popular that she has opened another restaurant near the Inter-State Bus Terminus (ISBT) in north Delhi.
"The most popular food item on the menu is the thal' with fish or pork. Since all the items on the menu are not more than Rs 50, it is economical as well," she added.
Chicken fing shya (Rice noodles with meat), thukpa (Noodles and boiled vegetables in a thick soup) and momos (steamed chicken dumplings are the other popular food items.
Less than one kilometre from the Sikkim restaurant is the North East restaurant, another popular food joint. In existence for eight years now, Vijay Lama, the manager, says that his business in Delhi is much more successful than it ever was in Gangtok, Sikkim.
"I easily get more than 100 food orders every day for home delivery. Then there are scores of others who come here. It's a flourishing business," Lama smiled as he sat in his tiny five-table restaurant.
Serving various preparations in bamboo shoot, which is extremely popular in the northeast, fish curry and other delicacies of chicken, mutton and pork, Lama's food joint is very popular among students in the north campus.
Since most students stay in paying guest accommodation, which is, most of the times, without a kitchen, dabba or tiffin service is the only option that they have.
In this regard, 'Naga aunty' is extremely popular among the students. Preferring to be called what the students lovingly refer to her as, she delivers home cooked Naga food to the students.
"The roomba that she serves is simply great. It is a dried fish preparation that is a little spicy. A fried told me about her tiffin service and since then I have been eating her food. It's more of boiled, steamed and less oily food which is typical of Naga food," said Livy Sukhalu, a student from Dimapur, Nagaland.
Not just students but parents, who come for their children's admissions from the northeast during June and July, too flock to these restaurants.
So, to get a flavour of the northeast, all one needs to do is to take a walk on the lanes near the north campus.
(Azera Rahman can be contacted at email@example.com )