City Hangout – Northeast Grocery Shop, Chirag Delhi
Taste of home.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s called Northeast Grocery Shop but it is not in north-east Delhi. It is, in fact, in the southern part of the city, in Chirag Delhi village.
And yet the name has a logic, for the daily-life stuff sold here is usually found in the groceries of the northeastern parts of the country. So, obviously you will find here the fiery hot raja mirchi chilli, the one you might have experienced at the Nagaland food stall in Dilli Haat. The fermented bamboo shoot is available too, and what’s this long green veggie?
“It’s stinky beans…. yongchak,” says Phungreingam Hungyo. He explains that “we call it stinky because of its strong smell.”
Mr Hungyo founded the shop in 2013. The establishment is very small, and looks too simple against the razzmatazz of neighbouring Bengali Sweet House and Chaman General Store. Yet, Northeast is a more important landmark. Because you hardly see such a specialised store elsewhere in the city. Because its very presence highlights Chirag Delhi’s barely-acknowledged cosmopolitanism — there are enough people here from the northeastern parts of the country for this store to stay in business.
In his 30s, Mr Hungyo arrived from his native Kasom Khullen in Manipur in 2005, to pursue his graduation in Delhi University. Like most of us migrants to Delhi, he stayed on, and at one time worked in a Gurugram call center. While living in Khirki Village in south Delhi, he made a survey of various neighbourhoods and concluded that Chirag and the adjacent areas were home to enough people from the northeast to make his new venture viable.
At the moment there is no customer, but then it’s a sleepy afternoon. Mr Hungyo has enough leisure to help identify various items on the counter. “This is yam, which is like arbi. This is yam ka stem. This is smoked fish. This is a kind of rajma. This is fermented fish called Ngari…”
Dressed in shorts and T-shirt, Mr Hungyo confirms that “80 percent of the stuff here comes from Manipur.” The fact that his home state is geographically much closer to India’s bordering countries than to India’s capital reflects in the presence of a coffee powder sachet from Myanmar and a rusk packet from Bangladesh—both of which he says are popular in Manipur.
The shop itself has a very homey feel, and looks like the porch of a house where a family might sit in the evening to watch the street life. The door is scrawled with indecipherable drawings. “That’s the doings of Era, my daughter,” he explains. Mr Hungyo lives 200 meters away from the shop, with his family that also includes his son, Adrian, and wife, Christian.
The shop’s hoarding has “Taste of home” painted on it.
A quick Googling reveals that Manipur is 2,500 kilometres away from Delhi. But from this vantage point, it is Delhi that feels far.
Manipur, 0 km