Gurugram is quickly emerging as a hot destination for restaurants and cafes that go beyond the usual trope of ‘North Indian’ fare—think a casual Italian restaurant slinging pizzas and serving authentic pasta, a restaurant putting Middle Eastern food front and centre, and an ingredient-led café that has only vegetarian food on the menu.
The latter, OMO—Soul Food Community, opened in the city’s iconic Galleria Market last year and has quickly become a favourite with its modern and imaginative dishes prepared with organic, seasonal, and locally-sourced produce.
The kitchen is helmed by Le Cordon Bleu chef Vanshika Bhatia, who’s also behind the popular Petite Pie Shop. Chef Bhatia’s goal with OMO has been to create a plant-forward menu that makes use of local ingredients with contemporary techniques.
In line with their mission to spotlight local ingredients and their origin story, the OMO team, recently, embarked on a 10-day trip to eastern Nagaland’s Mon district to explore the regional ingredients, cooking traditions, and techniques. It was led by Naga natives that are part of OMO’s own crew—Grace Muivah and culture chief Athan Zimik—along with chef Vanshika Bhatia and Deepika Sethi. At the heart of the trip was the idea to get a deeper understanding of the source of ingredients that find a way to our tables and the myriad ways they are prepared traditionally.
This is not the only Naga connection that the café has—there’s an in-house artisanal coffee bar at the premises that serves coffee from Nagaland.
Naga cuisine features age-old cooking techniques and hyper-local ingredients at the forefront
Foraged and wild ingredients are common in Naga cuisine—the millets from the region are known worldwide, and heavily feature on the OMO menu. For instance, the chira and shepul have a sticky texture, perfect for making millet cakes, and chela can be used instead of yeast to make local beer or for thin crepes that make an ideal breakfast.
One would think that Naga food would predominantly be non-vegetarian, and while different meats do feature as part of a traditional spread, fresh herbs and greens actually make up almost 80 per cent of a Naga table. So, don’t be surprised to find everything from dried mushrooms, tubers, and beans along with seasonal greens as part of their diet.
Once back, the wealth of knowledge learned during the trip was put to use through a new Naga Edition menu.
Dig into locally-inspired small plates and desserts
The dishes that are part of OMO’s Naga Edition menu reflect the traditional techniques and ingredients that are the foundation of the cuisine like open-fire cooking, smoking, and steaming. Try the steamed rice cakes that use black rice, wild ginger, and wild turmeric, and are served with a timur (Sichuan peppercorns)—flavoured beurre blanc, some lime, and turmeric pearls. In another dish, yam root is first burned, then boiled with some machinga leaves and ginger to get rid of the sting, before being mashed into a paste that is accompanied by an umami black sesame sauce and Sirarakhong chillies.
The banana chilli fry is made with local varieties of bananas fried in a timur and garlic-flavoured oil paired with a piquant burnt onion salsa and sticky rice blinis. Chef Bhatia first developed this dish when she was cooking for the locals during the trip; the idea was to use the natural sweetness of the bananas to create something sweet and spicy.
What’s next for the vegetarian-forward café?
To celebrate the International Year of Millets, the café has a new millet menu that will highlight a medley of millets from Nagaland. As part of this, they have planned a workshop on July 2 that will take you through the process of millet fermentation followed by a wholesome community-style millet meal.