A crowd gathered at the counter a few minutes after the shutters went up on Monday. And because they ran out of supplies, this 24x7 eatery shut shop at 11.30 pm on Day One.
“We’re weren’t prepared for the rush, we’ll be open 24 hours,” said a smiling head chef Comfort Khapudang, 32.
Welcome to the northeast dhaba at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Apart from Dilli Haat, this is the only other place in the city that serves traditional food from India’s northeastern states like Manipur, Nagaland and Assam.
With prices ranging from Rs 20 for snacks like khazing bohra (deep fried shrimp balls) to Rs 30 for the fish/chicken curry, it’s easy on the pocket. At Rs 65, the Chinese prawn dish with oyster sauce is the most expensive curry here.
But an ingredient that identifies Naga cuisine — pork — is missing from the menu. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been allowed to serve pork, because of religious concerns,” said 33-year-old Townson YL, owner of North East and Chinese Food Court. “But we’re hoping to increase the items after a few months.”
Townson and Khapudang ran a restaurant in the Delhi University area in north Delhi until the MCD hammer fell on them during the sealing drive.
JNU students are only glad they moved to their campus.
“We had the chicken stew and the ooti (a Manipuri speciality made of peas in which cooking soda is added). It was really good,” said Lipok (who goes by one name), a PhD (History) student. “Many of my friends from other parts of the country also tried the food. They seemed to be enjoying it,” he added.
“I don’t know much about northeast food, but I want to taste it. It’s good this canteen opened,” said international relations student Raj Kumar Sharma.
The owners have tried to make the food as authentic as possible. The stew is cooked in an earthen pot made of black mud found only in a certain village in Manipur. Even the red chilli powder was brought from home, said Khapudang.
“There was a huge rush so I couldn’t order much. I had the Singju (shredded vegetables garnished with sesame, chilli and crushed green peas), but I thought it wasn’t as good as what we get at home. But we’re thrilled about the new dhaba,” said Zingjarwon Nighshen, an MPhil student.
A must-try are the chutneys prepared with bhoot jolokia, officially declared the hottest chilli in the world by the Guinness World Records. It rates 1,041,427 units on the scoville, a scale used for measuring the hotness of a chilli.
In comparison, the Red Savina, the second hottest chilli and a popular ingredient in spicy food especially in Mexico, measures 577,000 units.
The dhaba serves chutney flavoured with dry fish, bamboo shoot, potatoes and even akhoni (fermented soya bean, a favourite with northeasterners, but whose smell can drive others away).
“We have not compromised on the spiciness. We keep a hotter version of every dish, but we’ve toned it down for those who want it milder,” said Townson.
The canteen was to open two years ago, but got stuck in paperwork.