Not just N-E store
We visited a new one-stop shop for Northeastern food provisions in Kalina that's a treasure trove for unusual ingredients from the region
The afternoon namaz at Kalina Masjid has just got over when we enter the tiny lane that leads to the mosque. A benign rainfall is hardly posing a threat as we make our way to our destination, past the throng of people who have completed their prayers. We are headed to Northeast Groceries. It's about 50 metres from the masjid, and is the newest entrant selling indigenous ingredients in a neighbourhood that has a healthy population of people from the region. But we've been told that unlike its competitors, this one isn't any other grocery store. The air-conditioned space is instead dedicated to all sorts of unusual produce from the Seven Sisters. And that's just what we find out on entering through the sliding door after locating the shop with minimal effort.
The place is smaller than we expected, though. A roughly 50-sq ft area is lined with shelves on two sides, while a couple of fridges housing packed veggies occupy the far end with a cold storage container right next to them. Meme Muivah, who runs the store along with her siblings, is sitting at a compact counter in the near corner. Her helper is kneeling close to her, peeling bamboo shoots when we enter. These will later be fermented and packed for sale. Fermented bamboo shoots, in fact, are one of the most essential ingredients in Northeastern cuisine. They render a certain pungency to dishes typical to the region. And it's an encouraging sign that Muivah makes it from scratch.
Dried meat products
The local from Tangkhul in Manipur shifted to Mumbai 13 years ago to look for a job, eventually joining the staff on a cruise liner. But then this store "just happened" recently, with the family starting it on a whim. All the vegetables and meats are sourced from her hometown, and flown down to the city thrice a week. And there is a certain pride in Muivah's voice when she tells us that each and every item is organic because, well, that's just how things roll in that part of India.
So let's then list out some of the products that the shop offers. There is king chilli, or bhut jolokia, of course (a Northeastern store that doesn't sell bhut jolokia is like a samosa without any filling). Then there's akhuni, or fermented soya beans, banana shoots, cured fish, squash, myriad local spices and a variety of dried meat pickles placed neatly on the two shelves. The fridges contain vegetables like long bean, mustard, pumpkin and passion fruit leaves; yam stems; different offshoots of the brinjal and onion families; wild coriander; and some veggies that are so local to her hometown that Muivah doesn't even know the English names for them. And the cold storage containers, meanwhile, house smoked pork, tripe, or wild buffalo intestines, and duck meat apart from a few frozen ready-to-eat dishes, like a wonderfully fragrant pork curry that we pick up for later. The shop also has some packed goods like Chinese green tea, biscuits, cola, beauty products and the like, but that's not what we find Northeast Groceries to be special for. Instead, it's the fact that there's a steady stream of Northeastern locals flitting in and out of the matchbox place while we are there that, in our eyes, makes the shop stand out. Then there's the fact that the items are extremely reasonable. Most of them, even the meats, are priced between Rs 100 and Rs 300.
But what seems especially endearing to us is the location of the store, in the vicinity of a mosque. We are living in times when certain sections are literally up in arms against the dietary habits of others. But here we have a neighbourhood store peacefully, and openly, selling a wealth of pork items in a Muslim-dominated area. Think about it. The whole exercise is testament to the tolerant diversity that is integral to our country. So, in these increasingly divisive times, isn't the quiet existence of this store something we should all be proud about?
At Northeast Groceries, Majit Gali, Kalina, Santacruz East.
Timings 10 am to 11 pm
Also check out
- Thotrin General Store, which a Northeastern restaurant in the area is named after, is a popular place for regional ingredients in Kalina.
- Khar Danda is another place with a heavy Northeastern population, and Perfect Marketing is a tiny store there that serves their needs.
At Ram Mandir Marg, close to the fish market, Khar Danda
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