The green and misty hills of Nagaland are home to 16 tribes. In the ancient days this included headhunting tribes, also tribes with distinctive facial tattoos and jewellery out of animal bones. Nagaland is rich in its cultural history. A huge aspect about exploring the culture of a place involves exploring its food as well. The cooking methods, the usage of ingredients, the occasion of their preparation, etc. all speak to the personality of the community and their beliefs. Now most of us have heard of Nagaland’s infamous chillies such as Bhut Jolokia or Raja Mirchi (king chilli) and Naga Morich. These count for some of the spiciest chillies in the world! But how much do we know about food hailing from the state beyond their eye-stinging burning chillies?
A staple Naga meal comprises of steamed rice, boiled vegetables and of course, meat. Their style of cooking is in maintaining simplicity in the food. They usually boil up the food and then spice it up with those very chillies. Along with this, the distinctive flavour to even a regular daily meal is added by an array of unique chutneys/sauces. Some of them are Naga Gosht sauce, Kongshia Lon (Eel chilli sauce) and also Crab chilli sauce. Hah, are you game for trying them out? Naga food is very unique in comparison to most of India. There are certain elements that most of us haven’t thought of, forget even having tried them. The chutneys are just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s look at a couple of the popular dishes from Nagaland to help familiarize ourselves with it better. Also, I sincerely hope you’ll try some of these out because I personally am a hugeeee fan of food from this gorgeously green state.
The dish is made up of perilla seeds (akino) along with, a Naga delicacy, snails (chokibo)! Snails are not rather commonly consumed for the most part in India but their consumption is pretty popular and even common in other parts around the globe. Western cuisine eats them as escargots and our Southeast Asian neighbouring friends eat them in just about any form, including the raw state. Coming back to Nagaland, the practice is that when the rice harvest season concludes, farmers scour the paddy fields in search of tiny snails. The handpicked snails are then found used in a number of dishes. In the akini chokibo particularly, the snails are the central ingredient of the dish. Perilla seeds are tossed like sesame seeds to add a crunch to the meat. With the use of perilla leaves a dash of mint comes to be highlighted in the dish. Now tell me, who’s signing up to pop some snails?! ?
Bamboo Tube Fish
When in the North-East of India, get set to eat a whole lot of bamboo. It is by far the most favourite ingredient in most of the 7 sister states. This fish-based dish is one that gets most foodies curious on account of the method in which it is prepared. Chunks of the fish are stuffed within the circular bamboo tubes. Then comes the addition of a handful of herbs and spices. Thereafter, the fish is cooked inside the tubes itself over a slow fire. The end result is a smoked fish on your plate! The bamboo aids in lending nutty and earthy flavours to the fish. This method of cooking meat inside bamboo tubes is a popular one and you can opt for trying pork and chicken too in this manner. The vegetable adds a layer of pungency to the well-done meat.
My dear liquor lovers, do you know how many kinds of alcohol are actually prepared locally in our country? I mean, while we have been raving about beer crafted in Germany and Belgium, how did we skip the chapter on beers from the North East? A number of the states prepare their own rice beer. And you know what they say, when in Nagaland, drink as one of them! The deeply intriguing headhunting Angami tribe is known to have adored their indigenous rice beer since the ancient times itself. This whitish drink has maintained its popularity through the course of time. From casual meet-ups or hanging out instances, to even elaborate festivals and celebrations, zutho makes it to the table across the terrains of the state. It is made with a detailed fermentation process. Yeast is infused into the drink during its preparation. Eventually you find yourself sipping on a somewhat sour tasting drink with a hint of a fruity aroma. So, what are you drinking on during your Naga nights?
Okay, now you are going to think I am exaggerating but trust me when I tell you that you will taste some of the best pork ever right here in Nagaland! Pork is one of my favourite meats and I have gobbled it up hungrily in Thailand and Vietnam as well which are known as pork dependent countries in their respective cuisines. And yet the memory of pork curry made at the top of Dzukou Valley in our dimly lit up campsite is my absolute favourite. So, non-vegetarians who like life a little spicy, it’s going to get hot! Aree I mean the food is going to get hot. :p Also, if you are not quite fond of this meat I would urge you to give it a try because you will find way more pork in Nagaland than chicken or mutton. It is a part of their staple diet and sometimes consumed during multiple meals in a day, as smoked pork, dried pork, fermented pork, pork stew, etc., Pork fat is even used to flavour a number of vegetable curries. Meet my favourite delicacy from Nagaland, a bowl full of flavour in the form of pork curry. It can involve fermented soya-bean or even bamboo and then it is mixed with chillies and onions. At the hands of a seasoned cook the meat turns so tender that it falls off the bone. Its spiciness is balanced with the accompaniment of rice, allowing the gravy to soak up in its flakes.
Oops, sorry, vegetarian reader! I know I have been rather partial to my carnivore friends today. The truth is that there are very limited options of vegetarian food in Nagaland, so, it is my sincere advice that you pack up a fair amount of food for your trip. But hey, you, don’t be so disheartened, hinkejvu is here to help your belly! French beans, mustard leaves, cabbage leaves and colocasia are boiled well and sprinkled with spicy seasoning. The dish is a steaming combination of fresh veggies served to you within a slightly spicy and warm broth. Another option for the vegetarians is a dish called akibiye. It once again adopts the usage of colocasia roots, this time with none other than the bamboo shoots. Another interesting thing to note about Naga cooking is how they seek to use every inch and end of all ingredients. They hardly ever discard or waste any part. Thus, beyond the vegetable even the stems and roots are used with great efficiency. This then brings their food a rather earthy and fresh taste. This dish was made popular from the kitchens of the Sema tribe.
The key takeaway from the Naga cuisine is that while they are so unique their preparations are really simplistic. The dishes are hardly ever exceedingly heavy or doused in thick gravies. Instead they sit in stew or broth like clear gravies which make for quite an appetizing meal thanks to their magical use of spices, local herbs and vegetables. It goes without saying that their consumption of meat is highly distinct from other parts of India which gives experimental foodies a chance to explore further into the state and their taste-buds too. As for my health-conscious buddies, their cuisine is rarely ever oily, involves fresh vegetables and is overall quite nutritious. A land’s identity much like that of a person, has many layers to it and food is a key element in truly understanding it. Not to forget that it’s a very scrumptious layer! ? The simple and spicy dishes of Nagaland are quite like the Naga folks who cook them humble but with quite a fire! Happy hogging.
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