Shillong Festival Showcases North East Indian Organic Food

If you’re keen on exploring Northeast Indian food, keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming seven-part reality series Hills On A Plate, which arrives on Jio Cinema OTT this April. A special screening of this show was held this week, during the first edition of a food festival which explores Meghalaya’s cultural richness. The Hills On A Plate (HOAP) festival which started on March 20 and is concluding today is being held at Shillong's Ward Lake, and is an initiative by the Meghalaya Government.

The festival has been designed to bring together chefs, cultural enthusiasts, and local community members interested in learning more about Meghalaya’s diverse local cuisine. Organised by the state tourism department, the North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS), and a government cultural enterprise named Meghalayan Age, the festival saw a one-of-a-kind event spotlighting some underrated indigenous food traditions and preservation techniques.

Chief Secretary Donald P. Wahlang in his keynote address described the event as a culinary journey, showcasing the region’s organic farming techniques and slow food tradition. The festival has attempted to highlight the vibrant flavours of Meghalaya along with some key traditional farming and cooking methods. 

The festival lined up several speeches and interactive sessions with experts. Jason White, a celebrated fermentation expert who has worked with the three-Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant Noma was a part of the show. 

A few days ago White took to Instagram to talk about Bichi Rice Wine & Wild Yeast Production in Garo Hills. ⁣”A magical & touching experience filled with such passion for the earth & ancient process. Often times in my work I am heavy handed with modern technology, when face to face with this sort of production & natural techniques it’s a true eye opener. I will forever approach my work differently after my time in Meghalaya,” he wrote.

Professor Jyoti Prakash Tamang, who’s an expert on indigenous culinary traditions said, “Examining global food cultures, we see regional variations in staple foods and fermentation practices. For instance, while Eastern cultures favour rice and fermented soybeans, Western diets revolve around wheat and dairy products,” he said.

“Fermented foods embody the wisdom of our ancestors, providing not only nourishment but also promoting health and well-being. Let us cherish and preserve these culinary treasures for future generations.”

Fermentation is actually quite key to local Meghalayan food and many aspects of the region’s fermentation culture are underrated. The festival showcases this aspect of the region’s food tradition by celebrating the fermentation culture. One of the most common fermented numbers from the region is Tungrymbai, which is prized for its umami-rich taste and has garnered interest among chefs from across the world. 

It is a traditional fermentation dish made by Khasi and Jaintia tribes, using soaked and partially crushed soybeans mixed with spices like garlic, ginger, and chilli. It undergoes a natural fermentation process, yielding a unique pungent aroma and robust flavour. The mixture is then packed tightly into bamboo tubes or banana leaves, and left to ferment for several days or weeks. 

The festival also showcased local fermented wines and alcohol, seasonal pickles prepared with native chillies, and some more popular local foods like jadoh, putharo, smoked pork and more. One of the biggest highlights of the festival was a collaborative, invite-only, pop-up between chefs, followed by workshops with fermentation experts, including Niyati Rao from Mumbai’s Ekaa, Aketoli Zhimomi from Dimapur, Kabyashree Borgohain from Project Otenga in Ahmedabad along with Shillong-based chefs Ben Wankhar, Fufu Pamei Mawroh and more. 

The reality series which will start streaming in April is a cooking contest hosted by Gordon Thabah and Abigail Pamei and featuring a judging panel of popular chefs such as Sarah Todd of MasterChef Australia, Ardahun Passah, and William Diengdoh.