“Many Biharis like I have migrated from Bihar to Shillong in search of work,” says Naresh, an alu-muri wala who runs his (alu-muri) stand at Laitumkhrah, Shillong. “We are poor so we work every day, even on Sundays,” he relates as he continues mixing the ingredients in an old re-used Dalda container- puffed rice, boiled potatoes, papaya skin, few drops of cooking oil and a whole lot of spices – as a group of hungry school students watch him blend the ingredients – salivating, but eyes fixated on the container. The preparation is a treat to watch!
Alu (potato)-muri (puffed rice) walas or sellers are a common sight in Shillong and will be found at every nook and corner of the town. “Over 200 people come every day to my stand,” says Naresh. So what makes alu-muri so special? Regardless of hygiene, it is unquestionably mouth-watering- mixing boiled potatoes, puffed rice, papaya skin, cooking oil, roasted spices and tamarind juice/sauce seems to be the perfect recipe for an Indian palate. Moreover, while alu-muri may be interestingly prepared by people from Bihar, it is very much Shillong-based. Yes, the town is the birth place. “This is where it started,” Naresh confirms.
There are over 3000 alu muri walas in Shillong, all living in different areas of town, but predominantly concentrated in the locality of Jhalupara, Paresh, another alu-muri wala reveals. How well your business runs depends on how well you mix it and where your alu-muri stand lies as well.
“I make around Rs. 1000 a day, but that’s not enough at all…I spend most of it on buying the essentials,” Paresh says. “Everything is so expensive now, plus I have to run my family,” he lament. “We also do face problems at times. Sometimes rowdy boys would come, eat and not pay us at all. We also pay taxes worth Rs. 200 very month,” he says. Taxes? Yes! “Young unit members of organisations from different localities would come and demand taxes worth Rs 200,” he expresses further. “Hum log kuch kar nahi sakte (We are helpless).”
It is but left to wonder why most alu-muri walas have chosen the town over others albeit the country is home to other cooler places. “We love Shillong.It has pleasant weather and people are nice too. Moreover, our ancestors have made this place their second home” is the most common reply.
While there have been controversies surrounding its cleanliness, one cannot deny the fact that it is irresistible- the smell and sight is enough to leave one salivating and lick one’s chops. This is one junk food that will, for once, leave one forego personal hygiene. Go visit an alu-muri stand, we tell you; you’ll know why this is so popular.