Friday, 6 June 2014

DINING OUT: Rosang Serves the Seven Sisters on One Platter


WHERE: S-20, Ground Floor, Near Uphaar Cinema, Green Park Extension Market
WHEN: Open from 12 noon to 12 midnight
DIAL: 8447963810 (M); 011-65544411
AVG MEAL FOR TWO: Rs 800 plus VAT, Service Tax and 10% Service Charge. No alcohol.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
MARY LALBOI, a Kendriya Vidyalaya teacher, and Muan Tonsing, a village postmaster, left their home and careers at Churachandpur, Manipur's largest, ethnically diverse and economically better off district, and came to Delhi in 2003 so that their three children could get a "well- rounded" education and improve their English-language skills. Without jobs or contacts, Mary and Muan teamed up to open a restaurant in Munirka to cater to the growing Manipuri community in the neighbourhood.
A former Kendriya Vidyalaya
teacher from Churachandpur,
Manipur, Mary Lalboi, is the
face of Rosang Cafe. Image:
Arupjyoti Gogoi
It didn't take long for Rosang ('God's Gift') Cafe to become the hangout of the north-eastern diaspora -- mostly young people who come to Delhi to pursue higher education or careers in the hospitality and retail sectors, which would come to a grinding halt without them. Real estate issues saw Mary and Muan move out of Munirka and shift to Hauz Khas Village, where they had to shut shop again because the building from where they operated fell way short of the standards set by the bye-laws.
Rosang Cafe's present address, where it moved this year on January 15, is an unpretentious 850 sq. ft. space, enough to seat 20 people, at the Green Park Extension Market on Aurobindo Marg, in the shadow of the burnt-out shell of Uphaar cinema, opposite the ever-popular Drums of Heaven, and not even 100m from Delhi's other must-visit north-eastern restaurant, Nagaland's Kitchen. The restaurant's menu is a savoury showcase of the cuisines of the Seven Sisters and its whitewashed walls are tastefully decorated with north-eastern artifacts. It has a mezzanine floor as well and it can seat 32 people, but when I went there some time back, this section wasn't yet operational (nor did the restaurant have a liquor licence).
I started my meal with the most refreshing organic passion fruit drink I have had in a long time. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that passion fruit grows in plenty in Churachandpur between April and June. Tender passion fruit leaves are also a part of the unique repertoire of herbs and spices used for cooking across the North-East, the others being bamboo shoots (ideally, they should be wet), black and brown sesame seeds, sun-dried basil seeds, aromatic roots such as onion root, yam and mustard leaves, pith of the banana trunk, and of course, the fiery bhoot jholakia (or raja mircha) chillies.
The Manipuri thali is a no-brainer for those
who don't want to spent too much time
ordering. Image: Arupjyoti Gogoi
Every week, Mary and Muan have these ingredients flown in from Manipur, along with the addictively aromatic wild red rice of the state. Mary's only regret is that she can't serve her home-made beer brewed from this species of rice, but I was happy to have the wild rice 'tea' with a squeeze of lemon, which dramatically deepened the colour of the drink, with the standard accompaniment of jaggery.
Rosang Cafe's pork spare ribs served with the raja mircha chutney are without doubt the best, but I had a point to prove to those who labour under the misapprehension that north-eastern food is all about pork, more pork, and some unmentionable animals. To show the hollowness of this belief, I had the Maron Bora (vegetable pakodas from Manipur that tasted divinely different because of the mix of spices and herbs); chicken liver sauteed with herbs in the Arunachali style; the yummy masoor dal; the no-oil fish curry, Ngatok, which makes you wonder why you need oil in cooking; and yet another no-oil preparation, Aksa Dol, which is essentially chicken prepared with dried yam paste. And yes, how can one forget the accompaniment named Jatilau (lauki) Bengena (baigan) Khaar (filtered banana stem ash)!
Mary explained the preponderance of no-oil preparations in north-eastern cuisines. "Our forefathers would spend two to three days at a stretch hunting in jungles," she said, "so they perfected the art of cooking meats in bamboo hollows using aromatic herbs that grow in plenty in the wild." Talking about the wild, you mustn't leave Rosang without digging the wild red rice kheer cooked with milk, ghee and jaggery. It's a dish you'd serve the gods.

NOTE: This review first appeared in the June 6, 2014, edition of Mail Today. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.