Luxmi Kitchen, a place for fiery Manipuri food that won't scare you

For decades, Manipur never had a restaurant where they served a full-course local food that can also be sampled by tourists. You would often see on the signboards of small eateries the words "chak hotel" or "rice hotel", places that serve home-like food but not meant for the mass market as the flavours - local spices, fermented fish and hot chillies - are not easy for tourists to handle.

Then two years ago came Luxmi Kitchen, a canteen-type concept where people sit on long tables and are served a common thaali. It is Manipur's first standardised restaurant that gave a glimpse of Meitei food without overpowering the first-time eater.
The world is moving towards finding authentic foods - good luck with that - but Manipur really needed a place that broke down complex local foods into friendly versions that can be sampled by the world. The authentic is scary.
Manipur has many tribes, mostly Christians who live in the hills. The Meiteis are the Hindus who live on the valley. They were converted from their animist faith, Sanamahism, to Vaishnavite Hinduism by a travelling priest from Bengal in the 14th century.

Luxmi Kitchen serves the cuisine of the Meitei people. Though Hindus, the Meiteis have retained their link to their past by including fish and sometimes meat in some ceremonial meals.

This restaurant, right in the heart of Imphal, appears to be gaining traction with tourists. The thaali that it serves has over 11 dishes, accompanied by several fiery condiments. The food is, again, authentic, but it has been tailored to suit the taste of the mass market because choosing even a tiny amount from the entire range of Meitei food is a matter of acquired taste.

Anyone eating Meitei food for the first time will go through a nervous rite of passage. Meitei food has a very strong smell of fermented fish (ngari). Oo-morok (ghost pepper or bhut jolokia) will burn you alive. For decades, no restaurant in Manipur thought of solving this problem and going commercial without killing quality too much.

Back in the days when people from outside the state sought to know, what was Manipur food like in general, there was no definite answer. The locals had their favourite foods, but they were mostly the homemade types and they struggled with answers because a market equivalent of the dishes that people not familiar with local tastes was missing.

Luxmi Kitchen has filled that gap.

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