City Food – Ushop Veg Spl. Thali, Manipur
A food stall in Dilli Haat.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The tables are empty, though it is lunchtime. Manipur is one of the many food stalls in Dilli Haat craft bazar, where each eatery in the food plaza is named after an Indian state, purporting to represent the cuisine of that land.
The menu cover shows a pair of red chilies, crisscrossed, and includes dishes that might not be exclusive to Manipur. Such as paneer momos, Singapore veg. noodles, American chop suey and Chinese chop suey. The friendly attendant—Raju from Jharkhand— points out “Ushop veg spl. thali” and “Ushop non-veg spl thali” as authentically Manipuri. “But the veg. thali is also actually non-veg, it comes with fish,” he politely warns. Turning to the menu’s last page, the attendant mumbles. “This is khaas Manipur ka.” Singju is described as a “traditional Manipuri salad with fine chopped cabbage, lotus stems, fenugreek leaves, herbs, roasted black seasame, roasted besan, red chili powder, and dried fish.”
Outside the menu, the stall evokes Manipur in bits and pieces. The banner atop the counter is painted with a word in an unfamiliar script—must be Manipuri. (The first and last alphabets of the word are shaped like a greeting card’s human heart. )
Otherwise the stall is simple. The principal adornment is the framed poster of a polo game with the tagline, “Manipur: gateway to Southeast Asia.” A longer caption on the bottom right says: “Sport of royal cavaliers of Manipur played the world over.” A severely faded and almost-discoloured laminated photo shows an elderly woman sitting crosslegged by a heap of dried fish. This could be a scene snapped straight out of a pavement mandi in the state capital Imphal, or perhaps any other town or village in the state.
At this moment, all is quiet in the eatery except for the attendant’s mobile phone on the counter, tuned to a YouTube channel beaming live proceedings from the parliament, with MPs debating on the situation in Manipur.
In a few minutes, the veg. thali is served. The attendant patiently explains the dishes arranged around a heap of steamed rice: kangshoi (“made of cabbage, aloo, tamatar”), aloo karela (“it is not Manipuri, it is just aloo and karela”), chhole (“this is our North Indian khana’), ooti (“this is matar dal”), maroi thongba (“made of peanuts, aloo, chaps leaves”), chahou kheer (“made of black rice”) and eromba (“fish with aloo, bamboo shoots, king chilli”).
By now the place is no longer empty. Two diners—Shradha with mother Namita—are sitting on the next table—see photo 1 below.
The stall is next to Tripura, within sight of Bihar, also flanked by Sikkim.
Sense of a place