Attraction and repulsion combined to create a sick fascination for Shillong’s street food when I was growing up in that city in the 1980s and 90s. Brightly-coloured ice lollies, whose flavour diminished as their oranges and yellows drained into one’s mouth, were sold out of ice-boxes slung around the necks of their itinerant vendors, and were nicknamed ‘nala-pani’ or drain water. The dubious provenance of the water that went into them made them something of a delicious taboo. It is impossible to separate the lure of aloo-muri from the unwashed hands of their makers The channa-wallahs, who rang little bells to attract customers to their none-too-clean but delectable wares, were itinerant too, unlike the aloo-muri men who always occupied strategic spots outside schools; they did their best business in the late afternoon when bored and hungry children poured out of classrooms. It is impossible to separate the lure of aloo-muri from the unwashed hands of their makers, the weathered, rusting tins that hold powdered masalas, the grated white papaya standing open to the elements, and the muddy looking tamarind water. This mix of puffed rice and boiled potatoes is Shillong’s signature street food; its overpowering spiciness, so strong that it actually kills all taste, and so remote from the milder and earthier flavours of the food native to the city, is a combination of the forbidden, the grubby and the exotic.
more from Anjum Hasan at Granta here.