Bucket List: Perfect Matches Are Made In A Naga Kitchen (Food, We Are Talking About Food)

Bucket List: Perfect Matches Are Made In A Naga Kitchen (Food, We Are Talking About Food)
Scene from a typical Naga village, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

It's the ingredients and the art of combination that makes Naga cuisine one of the most sought-after cuisines in India

Precious Kamei
September 15 , 2019
04 Min Read

Food is indeed a deep subject and with wanton opinions flying about, it has become imperative to learn more about different cuisines from different parts of the world. Food is not just something we consume for our survival, it is a culture in itself and probably one of the most compelling reasons to explore new places. Travel for food, shall we?

More than 16 tribes in one state and what does that tell you? More varieties in the kitchen than one can handle, right? This is the world of Naga cuisine. Ingredients are the same all over the world but how and with what they are paired is what that matters the most. When we talk about Naga cuisine we come across all kinds of meat (both farm and bushmeat), fermented food items, fish, mollusks, crustaceans, arachnids, vegetables, the list goes on.

A dish of pork cooked with bamboo shoot

Fermented bamboo shoot

Pork with bamboo shoot, or we might as well call it the state mascot, is no stranger to most people. The craze for "Naga food" is sometimes unbelievable, which brings me to this question, "What makes this dish so popular?" The answer lies in the ingredients and the art of combining certain herbs and spices with meat and bamboo shoot. No oil. This bamboo shoot that I speak of, is easy to make--chop some bamboo shoot, stuff them in an air-tight container and wait four to five days, wait longer if you want it more sour.

Be it bamboo shoot, fish or soya beans, fermented food plays a crucial part in Naga cuisine. These items don't belong to any particular tribe but just like there are culture stereotypes, there are food stereotypes as well. For instance, fermented bamboo shoot or locally known as baastenga is consumed and loved by all but is known to be the favourite dish of the Lotha Nagas; fermented soya beans or axoni has Sumi tribe written all over it; anishi or the dried taro leaves and stem is something Ao Nagas can't do without and; Konyaks have undying love for taro (colocasia esculenta). And the rest are supposed to eat whatever is not earmarked? I didn't think so too. All Nagas eat everything and with gusto.

Anishi: cakes of dried taro leaves and stem Anishi is a wonderful thing that ever came out of taro plant. Scientifically known as colocasia esculenta, almost every part of the plant is edible and the Nagas make great use of that. The Ao Nagas may be the known genius behind the drying and processing of the leaves and the stem to make anishi but Zeliangrong Nagas too has a variant of anishi as one the main components in their food. And so do the Konyaks...  [ Tip: Anishi paired with or dried meat is a great dish]

Axoni: Fermented soya beansFor people who have aversion to food with strong flavour and aroma, you'll never know what you are missing where axoni is concerned. But to each his own! Axoni (pronounced as akhuni) is the fermented soya bean either to be added in meat preparation or in chutneys. It's an acquired taste for sure. Axoni is best had with smoked pork, beef or even eggs (Sumi version of egg curry).
 
It's a known fact that Nagas love their food spicy. It's also true that they like their food bland. This juxtaposition is often tackled by throwing in a red hot ghost chilli pepper or raja mircha as it is widely known, in any bland stew. The hot chilli sure adds that extra zing in meat preparations. Though it is hot beyond words could ever describe, raja mircha remains that one ingredient Nagas can't do without.
 
Chinese onion, also locally known as Naga garlic
 
Winged prickly ashThere are so many herbs without which Naga cuisine will have no distinct character. For example ingredients like culantro or the Mexican coriander, leaves and flowers of ginger plant, leaves and roots of chameleon plant or Bishop's weed, chives, Chinese onion (Allium chinense) or also known as Naga garlic--a close relative of onion, winged prickly ash, to name a few. To the untrained tastebuds, some of these aromatic herbs may seem unimportant, but where Naga food is concerned, it all, and quite literally, boils down to that one particular ingredient.
 
There are so many ingredients that make Naga cuisine what it is that writing about it may also mean it could take us a long time to scrape the bottom of the barrel. With Naga food, you have to eat it to believe it.

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