This Sister Duo From Shillong Will Make You Forget Everything You Think You Know About Khasi Cuisine

Home chefs Daphi and Daki, the coolest Khasi food ambassadors, get candid about what has kept the cuisine from the much-needed recognition, and their vision for its future.

Published On Jun 16, 2024 | Updated On Jul 04, 2024


Meghalaya and I seem to be destined for a near miss. Every trip I plan gets waylaid by some twist of fate! So, when I heard about the Meghalayan home chefs, Daphimanroi (Daphi) and Dakiwanri (Daki) Warjri, doing a pop-up in town, there was no way I was missing this, even if it wasn't amidst the rolling hills of Meghalaya itself.

The pop-up curated in collaboration with Grand Hyatt Mumbai’s executive sous chef, Rakesh Kamble along with the sister duo in association with Soul On A Plate by Yogita Uchil, aimed to challenge preconceived notions of Khasi cuisine, and it very much did. The chef duo believes most Khasi people think that the flavours are too bland and plain for an otherwise spicy and rich Indian palate and that has kept Khasi cuisine from the much-needed recognition and reaching to patrons across India. 

They say, “But we have seen a shift and people are willing to try more unique and different flavours, especially regional ones. We truly think it is because the Northeastern communities have been marginalised for so long that the people think less of their food and cultures, but it's amazing to see people showcase their own unique food and culture more proudly and the other end receiving it so well. Khasi flavours are uncomplicated and simple."

Driven by the goal of bringing the vibrant flavours of Khasi food to the forefront, the dynamic ladies behind the pop-up phenomenon are seizing patron’s interest, one plate of jadoh (think smoky rice) and doh thad sniang (a smoked porky delight, yes, but we'll get to that later) at a time. Now, you might be picturing yourself chugging a glass of water to tame tongue-searing chillies after every bite. Flavour need not come with spice, grease and meat overload. Yes, there's pork, and while most red meat eaters love a good pork dish, there's a whole lot more minus the meat such as pumpkin with black sesame and pashor khleh (banana flowers in a perilla dressing). They are sure to make you forget everything you think you know about the cuisine of Meghalaya. In reality, Khasi cuisine is all about subtlety. 

Expect clean flavours with surprising lack of spice and oil to weigh you down! So, no greasy spoons. Fresh, local ingredients are the stars of the show, and the focus is on letting them shine. The chefs explain, “It’s the stereotype of what Northeastern food is and that all the States are the same. That is far from the truth. Each State has a unique cuisine and methods of cooking. Most people think the food is spicy and meat-focused, but Khasi food is simple, and we eat a variety of vegetables.”


Think plenty of leafy greens, river fish cooked to perfection, and yes, some pork too (but it's not the only game in town). There’s some delicious doh syiar nei long (chicken in black sesame paste) that marries so well with ja stem (khasi red rice cooked with lakadong turmeric) and ja lieh dai nei-iong (Khasi red rice and dal cooked in black sesame paste). Oh wait! Did we mention the insane Khasi pickles – so unique, I snagged a bottle of each for myself! We're talking stuff like ashar sohmynken, which is this killer red chilli pickle. Then there was ashar soh pie, a bayberry pickle – who knew bayberries were even pickle-able? And lastly, ashar sohkyntoi, a tangy tamarind pickle for those who like things a bit sour.

Reminiscing some of their earliest memories of food and flavours that continue to inspire them even today, the Warjri sisters say, “For us both, one specific dish is 'syrwa tyrso' (mustard leaf and pork soup) that we have grown to love but disliked as kids. Our mom exposed us to the local cuisine at a young age, which I suppose explains our deep love and appreciation for it now. What continues to inspire us is the uniqueness and simplicity of the food vs other Indian cuisines, thus we wish to highlight and showcase that to others as well. We usually work with "jingshoh" (a tadka) and just one other spice in most dishes. We do not use spice blends, and we think this is what makes the cuisine unique.”

And if there’s one indigenous ingredient that they find particularly fascinating to cook with (read obsessed with), it's the black sesame, a no-brainer really. They continue, “The flavour and colour it imparts are truly unmatched, in our opinion. Another ingredient is perilla seeds, which is commonly ground to a paste and used as a dressing. Its nutty flavour aids its versatility, and we've used it to make Symbai signatures like perilla hummus and perilla butter.”

Adding to that, a lesser-known Khasi dish from their repertoire that they think deserves more recognition, is smoked meat. They say, “The smoked pork has been a favourite at every pop-up, and we strongly feel it is at par with Goan sausages and can gain the same popularity. The meats have a very distinct flavour.”

But then, how do they balance staying true to traditional Khasi recipes while incorporating their own creativity and innovation in the kitchen for modern diners, we ask. The chefs explain that most dishes or items on their menus are traditional, but they've been reimagined for a more modern experience, “This includes serving traditional stews as soups and getting creative with salads and desserts (which in our community, we do not eat), all while staying as close and as true to its most original form.” The latest addition to their menu is a yam and honey dessert, a teatime staple, which by the way is one of the most delicious and balanced desserts I have had of late.

With the growing interest in regional Indian cuisine, Khasi food seems poised for a bright future. “We are slowly but surely seeing a warm and positive reception of the cuisine already. We have chefs/cooks who are modernising the cuisine back home and we can safely say that the future looks promising,” concludes the Warjri sisters hoping to do more pop-ups. Their ultimate dream? A permanent Khasi restaurant in Mumbai. 


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article reflects the author(s) opinions and do not necessarily represent the views of the publisher and editor.

Photo: Instagram/Daphimanroi Wajiri and Dakiwanri Warjri