From Nagaland, with love (and smoked meat)
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Finally, Delhiites are boldly going where few others have gone before—into the previously unexplored kitchens of the North-Eastern states of India. Moving beyond the usual suspects of butter chicken and paneer, the Capital’s foodies seem to be exploring India’s diverse cuisines. Take for instance the steadily growing interest in Naga cuisine. Once a warrior tribe that is mostly engaged in agriculture now, the cuisine of the Nagas of Nagaland, has tickled the curiosity of foodies in Delhi. The uniqueness of Naga cuisine lies in its healthy, minimalistic approach—but the strong aroma and process of sun-drying, smoking and fermentation cooking do not go down well with most people. Says home-maker Veronica Atsungla Singson, a Naga Ao woman who resides in Dimapur, “My dad was in the army so we travelled all over the country and it was only after marriage that I learnt how to cook Naga food; the best being the pork cooked in Anishi (yam) or Axone (fermented soya beans), all of which are acquired tastes.” And the current age of experimental global travellers has meant people are willing to try foods like these: a boon for Naga cuisine, which is a rising star among cuisines that are popular in the capital city.

Says Chuba Manen Longkumer who owns Nagaland Kitchen, “My sisters were already cooking the food in Dilli Haat’s Nagaland food stall since 1992, which is a popular haunt. So I set up my restaurant in 2010. Naga food is interesting because there are almost 16 tribes in Nagaland and the cuisine that emerges is a mix of all that diversity.” Homestyle cooking is what works in Naga food so no fancy ingredients needed here. A lot of the taste of the food comes from the particular styles of cooking which are steaming, boiling, fermenting, smoking meats over fire for a long time, using only natural organic herbs and vegetables flown all the way from Nagaland. Largely non-vegetarian, the no masala and low oil is the USP of Naga food.

Some common ingredients used are the fresh mountain spicy ginger, lemons, garlic, king chilli (raja mircha), bay leaves, cucumbers and bamboo shoot—all sourced from the home state. “Naga dishes to try are the smoked pork/chicken cooked in bamboo shoot. The chutneys are great too. One must not miss the Anishi (yam leaves that are cooked like a patty on top of a fire, turning them into hard biscuits that are used to flavour dishes or eaten on its own. Also, the Axone, which is soya bean boiled, fermented or sundried and mixed with either vegetables, or meats or eaten like a chutney.”

A typical Naga meal consists of steamed rice, meats, boiled vegetables and chutneys. Chillies and ginger are used liberally and that makes it naturally spicy. Minimal use of oil, has a distinct flavour and taste and is cooked to retain vitamins and minerals. Perhaps that explains the naturally slim physique and healthy disposition of its people.

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Images courtesy: Tashneem Ali Chaudhury

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