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Ginger lilies, king chillies and a Manipuri dish

A woman who did not cook most of her life and two friends run a kitchen that promotes food unfamiliar to most of India, using flowers, wild herbs, and one of the world’s spiciest chillies

Lomba Kitchen's smoked pork, (Lomba Kitchen)

By Samar Halarnkar

LAST PUBLISHED 24.02.2024  |  08:59 AM IST

For someone who cooks the best pork I have ever eaten, Akoijam Sunita confesses that she didn’t cook very much all her life.

“I never really had to cook," says Akoi, as she is known. “I was never considered the person to be cooking." When she was younger, her mother ran the kitchen, and when she was at university in Delhi, she lived with her two brothers who did the cooking.


Also read | The long journey of a chilli from Manipur to Bengaluru

Akoi’s first serious foray into the kitchen came when she wanted to introduce her Manipuri Metei food and culture to her then-boyfriend and now husband Nitin Sethi, a journalist. She wanted to endorse what she talked about in action, and there was no better way to do that than to cook, for what better expression of culture is there than food.

That, I suppose, is how cooking comes to those of us, such as myself, who are not compelled to do it—by happenstance or along a bend in the river of life.

Today, Akoi and two friends, Bidotama Aribam and Mardza Akham, run Lomba Kitchen in Delhi, a supplier of Manipuri home-cooked meals (you can find them on Instagram or WhatsApp them at 8798394538) that you are unlikely to find in any restaurant. I got to know of Lomba Kitchen—named after a citrusy Manipuri herb and plant—when her husband started sending me their weekend menus on WhatsApp.

Their suti numit ki mathel, or homemade meal for Sunday, included everything that I loved but especially smoked pork with bamboo shoot, although there were many ingredients I was unfamiliar with, and a meat I had not eaten before—river snail. I have often used the fiery king chilli, called U-morok in Meteilon, but I did not know of, among others, wild coriander or ginger lily.

North-eastern food has spread to most major cities, but the cuisine that has predominated has been from the various Naga tribes. Apart from some memorable meals in Manipur some years ago, Manipuri food was largely unfamiliar, which is why those WhatsApp texts from Sethi were slowly driving me nuts.

When he told me that Akoi was thinking of a pop-up in Bengaluru, I was delighted and offered our house, which is why one balmy evening in December, I was very pleased to watch her cook in my kitchen and explain to more than 20 excited guests what she was producing for our dinner.


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The centrepiece was the amazing smoked pork that you can read about below. When it was ready for the guests in Bengaluru, my 13-year-old, who was out for a party, called me, pleading to return home to taste it. I was not happy, but I clambered atop by motorcycle and raced there and back in 25 min. When we returned, the big pot of pork was empty. Fortunately, a friend saw the run on Akoi's pork and quickly saved a bowl for the two of us.

The idea for Lomba Kitchen emerged last year when Bidotama and Mardza, escaping the unrest in Manipur, came to stay with Akoi and her husband in Delhi. When Akoi first mulled the idea of promoting her home food, she thought of writing a book. “But," as she says, “no one can taste the book." It all came together when the three of them sat down to eat.

Each meal, she says, used to last a couple of hours, as they talked about home and the food of home. Their food, she tells me, “is planned around memories of growing up, not the exact food but memories of the food".

That is what they did, selling their low- or no-oil food to people open to new food and experiences. Some orders came from Ghaziabad or Gurugram, with delivery charges sometimes equalling or exceeding the cost of the meal.

The pop-up in omnivorous Bengaluru was different because she could for the first time see and hear her fans, oohing and aahing. In any case, I told her, how could chicken-loving Delhi match up? We loved her pork, obviously, but we are now waiting for the river snails.

Serves 8

1 kg smoked pork, chopped into 1-inch or 2-inch pieces
8-10 Schezwan peppercorns
1 or half dried, or 2 fresh, U-morok or king chilli (raja mirchi), finely chopped
6 tbsp ginger (a palmful, roughly), pounded
15 cloves of garlic, pounded
200g (or two hands fulls) of fermented bamboo shoot, shredded or finely chopped
100-200g French beans, cleaned and cut into three pieces
5 bok choy leaves
Salt to taste
Jar of hot water


Drop five pieces of pork fat in a heavy-bottomed vessel, and on medium heat swirl it around as it melts, so that it coats the vessel. Do this for about five minutes, then add the rest of the pork. Sauté and mix well for about 10 minutes. Add salt and mix. Let it all simmer for about 10 more minutes so that the fat melts some more.

Now, add the fresh, pounded garlic and half the fresh pounded ginger, which helps tenderise the meat. Add the Schezwan peppercorns and mix well. Let it all cook on low to medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Add the fermented bamboo shoot and the finely chopped U-morok chilli. Be careful. Wash your hands after cutting or handling the chilli and do not rub your eyes or face while doing so.

Mix well and cover with a lid, so you do not inhale the fumes of what is one of the world’s fieriest chillies. Cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes.

Now, add the boiling water, just enough to reach the top of the pork. Stir occasionally, cover, keep flame low, and cook for an hour. Check the water level, and add in dribbles when needed, depending on how much sauce you want.

Once the pork is tender enough, add the French beans and the rest of the crushed ginger. Mix them both in, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.

Add any leafy vegetables of your choice. I used bok choy but you can use mustard greens, amaranth leaves, or fresh pea shoots. Give it another 10 minutes, taking care to see the bok choy does not lose its crunch.

Serve hot with Manipuri sticky rice or any other rice.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. He posts @samar11 on Twitter.

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