Fascinating Lore & History of Traditional Food of Meghalaya

When we talk of the Indian cuisine, we fail to account for dishes from Northeast India. The dishes that originates from Northeast part of India are deeply rooted in the cultures and traditions of the place. The Meghalaya food traditions are rich and diverse. There are all sorts of food items for everyone.

Before we tell you more about the main traditional food in Meghalaya, won’t you like to know how Zizira is qualified to talk about it?

  • For starters – we are locals – from Meghalaya and know our food.
  • And, we are a food products company operating from the heart of Meghalaya, one of the 8 states that make the pristine region of Northeast of India. Zizira is an offshoot of the first export oriented, services company of Meghalaya. Here is the story of why Zizira was started. Here is where we are now! I hope you agree that we know a lot about the agricultural produce of our region.
  • Food is a favourite subject in our group and we thought it fit to share what we know about the traditional food of Meghalaya!

So, let us get started.

Let us take you on a culinary journey of the Northeastern cuisines, or should I say the ” Meghalaya food diaries”. One of the facets of the traditional food of Meghalaya is the range of delectable cuisines. Each dish has something special to offer. Most of the traditional Meghalayan cuisines are made from locally sourced ingredients.

The Meghalayan cuisine is exotic and not a part of mainstream Indian grub. The rest of India is not well acquainted with the cuisine of Meghalaya. Just like its topographical beauty, the gastronomic Meghalayan cuisine remains hidden from the rest of the country and there is lack of media coverage. Hence, the traditional food of Meghalaya remains appreciated only within the region.

The people of Meghalaya relish pork cooked with fermented soya beans, which is considered to be two of the most famous food of Meghalaya. Besides rice and pork, the locals cannot do without kwai, a local betel nut.

“The first thing they offer a visitor is kwai, it is a symbol of friendships for the locals.” – Zizira team member
Image kwai traditional food meghalaya


Lore Related to Kwai

“There is a legend as old as the rivers and the mountains of Khasi Hills, woven around two friends who remained faithful to each other to the point of dying for each other. A rich man befriended a poor man in a village and with time their friendship grew and transcended all the material barrier. The rich man lavished food and gifts whenever the latter visited him. One day the rich man decided to visit the poor friend who was overjoyed to see him at first but was soon overcome with grief since he did not have anything to offer. He sent his wife to buy or borrow some rice, but she returned empty handed. A pot of water was boiling was boiling over the fire but there was nothing to put into it. Ashamed to face their friend the couple committed suicide. The rich man entered the kitchen to look for them. As soon as he saw their dead bodies, he understood what had happened.  He then killed himself saying that he did not deserve to live when his loyal friend had given his life. All the while, a thief had been a witness to this dramatic affair, and afraid he would be accused of the crimes, he too killed himself. Since then a ritual was born wherein kwai is served in all household. The underlying idea belongs to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. Symbols are also derived from this story. The hard-betel nut represents the rich man while the leaf is the poor man, the lime represents the wife and the tobacco reflect the character of the thief.”

The Diversity of Traditional Food of Meghalaya

As far as food habits are concerned, the folks of Meghalaya are no different from the other Northeast tribes. They prefer pork to beef, but then there are slight variations in their styles of preparation.

The Garos cooking is marked with a generous use of indigenous soda in every dish, whether it is the traditional dish nakham kappa or a pork dish. It acts as a tenderizer and gives a unique flavor to the dish.

The favorite cuisine of the Khasis is pork, which is prepared with fermented soya beans and most of their cooking is done without oil and spices.

While the Jaintias cook the pork with black sesame seeds. In addition, with every meal, there has to be a boiled vegetable as a side dish.

Ambience khasi kitchen traditional food

Ambiance of a Khasi kitchen

In a typical Khasi kitchen, there is a provision for storing smoked pork as they usually preserve meat or fish for a month.

Did You Know?

Meghalaya has a matriarchal society, which bestows more authority to women.  Traditionally men do not cook. The kitchen is a woman’s domain.

Cooking method traditional Meghalaya

Traditional Meghalaya Food Offerings in Ceremonies

Traditional food of Meghalaya has a place in important ceremonies. For instance, during a marriage, the groom and his relatives visit the bride’s house carrying rice beer, betel nut, betel leaves and new clothes, among many other items, which are handed over to the eldest lady of the bride’s family.

Food is then offered by the groom’s family to the bride’s family as a pledge that the boy will not desert the girl. On reaching the bride’s house, the groom’s party is served with two gourds of rice beer, and betel nuts are exchanged.

Dishes of well-prepared meat are then served along with rice which is served in two or three brass bowls. In olden days rice beer was also served with the meat and the food was arranged for the departed souls, with the belief that it would help their journey to the village of the dead.

After a year, a ceremony called Depsnem was performed where a rich assortment of food was prepared including rice, beer, betel nut, betel leaves and lime. These were then offered to the ancestors and clan members for their well-being.

Traditional Food of Meghalaya – a Hot Favorite in Zizira

We at Zizira are fond of traditional food. During lunch time, you will find staff eating different varieties of traditional food, cooked in different styles.

Read more about the food culture in our office here.

Hope you enjoyed reading this piece on traditional foods of Meghalaya. Do you have any questions about the region or about the traditional Meghalaya food? Write to us in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you!

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