If you’re looking for Burmese rice cakes and fresh produce from the gardens of Manipur, Khar Danda is your own own bae area. For some time now, a small but flourishing community of migrants from North-East India have established a base in this village, best-known for its Koli residents and legendary fish market.
Chefs shop here
In a tiny bylane opposite the vegetable stalls on Ram Mandir road, chefs as well as restaurant staff from places such as The Blue seek out Perfect Marketing, a tiny store that opened late last year. Here there are cardboard cartons full of fresh raja mircha; plastic bags overflowing with greens; tree tomatoes, orange and sweet; baby banana shoot and more. Bottles on the counter overflow with candy, produced in South-east Asia and popular with folks who didn’t grow up on Ravalgaon boiled sweets. The ramen nets hanging over the counter heave with Wai-Wai.
Aking Zimik pulls up his shutters every evening around 5.30 or 6 pm and stays open until midnight, seven days a week. “Fresh stocks come in every couple of days from Manipur, where these vegetables are grown in the yards around people’s homes,” he explains.
Here there are cardboard cartons full of fresh raja mircha; plastic bags overflowing with greens; tree tomatoes, orange and sweet; baby banana shoot and more. Bottles on the counter overflow with candy, produced in South-east Asia and popular with folks who didn’t grow up on Ravalgaon boiled sweets.
Zimik’s own roots are in Manipur, but he grew up in Kohima, Nagaland. Cooking and kitchen culture varies widely in the eastern Himalayas, but at Zimik’s store, ingredients may be found to satisfy Meitei pangs for home cooking as well as Naga nostalgia. On one visit, we spot fresh, straight-from-the-soil vegetables packed in transparent bags, whose names are helpfully translated for us as “green brinjals” (bright, tiny and spherical); “garlic” (visually more akin to spring onions), and lemons – not limes, the canary-yellow globes you can buy from the vegetable market outside, but the green oblong stuff they’re so proud of east of Purulia. There are herbs for garnishing, including one no one can find a translation for, as well as types of coriander and fresh green pepper, “stronger than its dried black form.”
What you should add to cart
Glowing red in a carton, close to the fridge and far away from prying fingers, are ripe and ripening raja mircha, the Naga chilli you’ll never forget once you’ve eaten, smelled or touched it. (However, this writer still can’t remember a thing about the 48 hours following a raja mircha Bloody Mary in Delhi’s Nagaland Kitchen).
Curry Brothers chef Auroni Mookerjee, who alerted us to the existence of Zimik’s store, has made chilli oil with these that he reports he’s very pleased with. He also recommends the coriander, “which tastes very much like a Thai herb and lends excellent flavour when you use it in a curry or a broth.”
If you don’t cook, don’t worry. There are always snacks such as Sulay, dried and fried model fish you can chew straight out of the packaging and sweet Burmese rice cakes, crunchy cubes reminiscent – if only slightly – of Malayali achappam.
We come away with pockets of over-the-counter hard candy and a copy of Nandita Haksar’s The Exodus Is Not Over, a book about migration from the North-East, selling fast from its pride of place next to the peanut candy. We’ll be back soon with gloves and a bottle of vodka to do justice to a Bloody Mary that will ensure we forget large parts of this summer.
Getting there: Perfect Marketing, Ram Mandir Marg, Khar Danda. The lane is north of Danda fish market; walk in towards the fishing village, turn left at a corner with a number of shops selling Hindu devotional items, opposite the vegetable stalls. The store is open from 5.30 pm, seven days a week. Rs 10 for a packet of Sulay fried fish.
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