Meet The Sisters Putting Khasi Cuisine On The Food Map Of India

Daphimanroi (Daphi) and Dakiwanri (Daki) Warjri are sisters who highlight Khasi cuisine through their venture Symbai
Daphimanroi and Dakiwanri Warjri, the sisters behind Symbai Popup
Daphimanroi and Dakiwanri Warjri, the sisters behind Symbai PopupSymbai Popup

Meghalaya, a land of diverse identities, cultures, and dialects, is best explored through its festivals, historical landmarks, and delectable foods.

The state's Khasi people (the most significant tribal community in Meghalaya) are known for their rich culinary heritage, which includes a diverse range of traditional foods. Khasi food, bursting with unique flavours and created with locally sourced ingredients, provides a gourmet experience unlike any other.

Daphimanroi (Daphi) and Dakiwanri (Daki) Warjri are sisters who highlight Khasi cuisine through their home chef venture Symbai (pronounced sim-bye) which translates to "seed" in the Khasi language. They chose the name since a seed represents the beginning of all food, as well as their pride in their ancestry.

Daki is based in Shillong and works on editing projects for companies. She also helps her mom run a nursery school in Shillong. Daphi has a bakery in Mumbai called The Flourists.

The sisters have been active on India's urban pop-up scene with culinary experiences highlighting exquisite family-style Khasi meals that celebrate the flavours of Shillong. They have introduced people to dishes from their region made with seasonal, local, traditional Khasi ingredients like lakadong turmeric, wild mushrooms, and black sesame seed paste.

A Symbai pop-up in Mumbai
A Symbai pop-up in Mumbai@symbai_popup/Instagram

The Roots

The sisters have no formal culinary experience yet enjoy cooking. It all started when they prepared Khasi meals for friends in Puducherry. It was a success, and their friends encouraged them to do it on a more regular and professional basis.

Today, the pair splits their time between Shillong and Mumbai, and host pop-ups across India. In July, they were in Hyderabad for a culinary event at Freedom Tree Home Studio in Jubilee Hills. Their goal is to spotlight Khasi food, showing the incredible culinary diversity of Meghalaya. The menu comprises traditional with a dose of contemporary. For instance, a Nei-lieh hummus will be served with pita, followed by Syrwa Tit Tung (wild mushroom soup). Ja Stem (rice steamed with lakadong turmeric) with Muli Khleh (radish with perilla) and Sohbaingon Dieng (tree tomato) and Shana Nei-iong (black beans in sesame) will be part of the mains. You can also expect some Doh Masi Khleh (beef salad) and Doh Syiar Nei-iong (a chicken curry with black sesame). The dessert may be Purple Sticky Rice with creme anglaise and mango/pear compote.

"We like to keep the food as authentic as possible. In our cuisine, we don't really have the concept of starters and desserts, but we have done variations of Khasi dishes and incorporated some Western culinary elements like a salad. We do not have desserts in our culture, but in our pop-ups we serve a sticky rice dessert. That's the way we eat sticky rice at home."

The sisters like to source the ingredients for the pop-ups from Shillong and tailor their menus according to items that are in season.

On the menu: A vegetable stew, colocasia stems with black sesame, fried bitter gourd, bishop’s weed (jamyrdoh), chives and cucumbers
On the menu: A vegetable stew, colocasia stems with black sesame, fried bitter gourd, bishop’s weed (jamyrdoh), chives and cucumbers@symbai_popup/Instagram

Food can be like a journey through childhood memories. Memories of family meals, recipes passed down through the years, and the tastes of childhood.

"In winter time in Shillong, we eat a stew of mustard leaves with roasted pork with rice and a fermented soybean chutney called tungrymbai," says Daki. "Because it is fermented, tungrymbai has a smell. So we usually do not cook it inside the house. It's cooked in chullahs outside. The winter cold and the stew cooking outside is something we remember so well."

She talks about a simple dish that their grandmom would make with potato wedges in a mix of onion, garlic, and turmeric. "It is a simple stir fry, and one of those flavours and smells that are really nostalgic for us."

All their pop-ups have been community-style long tables that bring people together. The sisters say that a Symbai pop-up aims to bring people together through a Khasi food experience of homely and traditional meals made with love. "Our pop-ups focus on communal dining for all our guests to meet, share stories and experiences, and leave having made new friends, and with content, full bellies."

You can follow them on Instagram on their page, @symbai_popup.

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