“Now, it’s time for the silkworms!” exclaimed Gitika Saikia to six eagerly waiting diners who had assembled at her bright Juhu apartment, also known as Gitika’s PakGhor, to partake in the Assamese Jungle Feast lunch pop-up. While we signed up for this pop-up through Trekurious to try the vegetarian fare — that she was serving after a long time (Rs 1,500 for veg, Rs 2,000 for non-veg) — the excitement in the room was infectious. Naturally, we too were eager to see what this dish looked like. And then, it arrived. Wrinkled brownish golden worms — in their pupae stage — stir fried with onion and garlic and served in a bowl without any fancy dressings, quite like a jungle feast. Feeling a bit like the daredevils from Fear Factor, put up to the task of snacking on creepy crawlies, we bit into the worms. It was delish. Crunchy with a probing salty aftertaste, the worms were flavoursome and the sautéed onions too, added to the taste.
Rebecca Ranee's Khasi pop-up features dishes with ingredients sourced from Shillong in Meghalaya. Pic/Nimesh Dave
While we were still savouring this dish, Gitika announced, “The red ant eggs are next.” Resembling a typical egg bhurji, the dish featured red ant eggs mashed along with duck eggs. Of course, the tiny insects were visible in bits; some of the ants had wings! “These ants are usually found in huge nests on trees in Assam. We keep a tub of water under the nests and pour water from above, so that the ants run away and we collect only the eggs. I also make red ants chutney but it is a more cumbersome process, as you have to separate the ants from the eggs by hand. I wear gloves at all times and wash my hands at least seven times through the process,” informed Gitika. Chewing on this bit of information, we dug into the dish. Surprisingly, we were overcome by the strong tangy flavour, intrinsic to the ants. Unusual but zesty.
Red Ant Eggs
While the Silkworm Pupae Stir Fry and the red ant egg dish were the highlights of the meal, some of our other favourites were Dhekia (fiddlehead ferns) vegetable. Available in the North East only during the monsoon season, these worm-like greens tasted a bit woody and went well with Joha Saul (flavoured rice). We also liked the Panch Phoron dal (similar to the Bengali one), cooked to perfection with cherry tomatoes and lightly tempered with cumin and mustard.
Silkworm Pupae Stir Fry
Another favourite was the crunchy Guti Alu (red baby potatoes), that were marble-sized. The non-vegetarian fare included Smoked Duck cooked with Ash Gourd as well as Chicken cooked with Bamboo Shoots.
While we ended up burning our tongues by trying the fiery Bhut Jolokia pickle and the pork pickle, the lovely mauve-coloured Sticky Rice Pudding added the much-needed sweetness to the meal. As the rains lashed by the window outside, we were transported to the hills of Assam, savouring a spicy, sweet and scrumptious unusual fare, all at once, with Gitika’s cheerful tales from the North Eastern state keeping us company.
Tuck into Khasi and Malwa specialties at these pop-up lunches. (Click here to read more)
A glimpse of Meghalaya through its cuisine (Click here to read more)