A few years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find axone (pronounced as akhuni), a beautifully pungent Northeastern condiment made with fermented soybean in, Mumbai. Today, however, a growing intrigue in regional cuisines, be it from Uttarakhand or Meghalaya, has propelled food enthusiasts from metro cities towards a new kind of culinary discovery.
For those living in suburban Mumbai's less-talked about neighbourhood Kalina, though, food from the Northeast hasn't been as inaccessible as the rest of the city, given the locality's demographic that includes a sizable population of migrants from India's far East. This comes through in the number of haunts dotting the streets of Kalina, many of which are dishing out authentic Northeastern eats. Of them, we have two favourites—The Sisters, a mini-supermarket of sorts that has all kinds of knick-knacks from the (as the name suggests) seven sister states in the East; and Thotrin Cafe, a small eatery that aside from your regular hakka noodles and burnt chilli fried rice, also serves Northeastern delicacies.
We called in food from the latter for a relatively more happening working lunch than usual. And here's what we thought.
Seisa salad:Seisa, which translates to buff/beef is a staple meat alongside hoksa i.e pork in Sikkim, Meghalaya, Manipur, Assam and the neighbouring states. The seisa salad at Thotrin is a refreshing mix of smoked and shredded buff, cucumbers and hand-pound green beans and raja mircha (a chilli native to the region)
Smoked seisa with aloo: This homely dish has a light, soup-like gravy featuring large and irregularly cut potatoes and chunky pieces of dry buff, flavoured with tons of chillies.
Smoked hoksa with Naga dal: Bursting with umami-goodness, this humble preparation has fatty pieces of pork cooked with spiced and flavoured kidney beans or rajma. It has light undertones of raja mirchi, but has a largely nutty and earthy profile.
Fish gravy Manipuri style: Akin to a Bengali-style maccher jhol or fish curry, this Manipuri-style fish preparation comes with fried pieces of Rohu floating in a runny, turmeric-flavoured gravy, along with chopped potato, cauliflower and green peas.
Seldom have we ordered food from Thotrin and felt let down. This time, it was much the same. We loved the messy fish curry that harked back home (which is in Kolkata) and made for a light lunch on a work-from-home day. The Naga dal, too, came brimming with earthy goodness, with the richness of the pork fat cutting through. We particularly enjoyed the seisa and aloo gravy that packed a punch. Though a friendly disclaimer for those with a lower threshold for spice: this one may not be for you.
Though typically a favourite from Thotrin, this particular iteration of the seisa salad came with poor quality meat. While it retained the friendly smokiness, characteristic to this dish, the buff strips itself lacked freshness and singularly pulled down the dish. We did enjoy the chilli-tossed greens and cucumber, but the truth is, we ordered the preparation mainly for the meat. As for the Naga dal, we would love for the kitchen team to consider giving patrons the option for less fatty meat. As someone who doesn't enjoy it much, we found ourselves spooning more dal onto the plate, than pork.
While the kitchen could focus more on consistency, by and large, they deliver on their promise of authentic, home-style Northeastern fare. And all of this, for a mere pocket pinch too (our bill came to Rs 1,240 for four dishes). Thotrin also deserves a special shout out for making regional food cool before most and managing to preserve the unpretentious wonder of Northeastern cuisine. Are we ordering from there again? Hell yes.
Suman Quazi is a Writer, Host and the Food Editor with India Food Network and Start2Bake. She believes that while food is cultural, societal and intellectual, it is also deeply personal and is keen in contributing towards a dialogue around food in India that's meaningful. Her work has appeared in leading Indian publications like Midday, Living Foodz, Zee Zest, Deccan Chronicle, 101India and DailyO.