by Akanksha Kakati.
Naga Jalokia. Photo Credit: skymetweather.com
A little known fact about Nagaland is of its heroic efforts in World War II at the Battle of Kohima. The Nagas coordinated an attack with British forces and with the help of Imphal against the Japanese troops, causing the Japanese to retreat. This fearless spirit is reflected in their food as well. Naga food is intensely hot.
There are numerous tribes in Nagaland and all have certain distinct features in their cooking. The Lotha tribe enjoys bamboo shoot, while the signature ingredient of the Sema tribe is Akhuni (fermented soybean that is either sun dried or smoked) and nearly all the kitchens in the Angami tribe have rows of meat hanging over the fireplace to be cured. Nevertheless, the tribes often share recipes with one another. These diverse dishes collaborate amicably to create the Naga cuisine.
Naga Bamboo Pork. Photo Credit: lbb.in
A Naga thali consists of a meat dish (usually fish or pork), rice, some boiled vegetables and a chutney. Nagaland has some of the hottest chillies known to us and the most common chutney is the Naga Jalokia Sauce, prepared using garlic, onions, Naga herbs and Naga Jolokia chillies imparting a fiercely spicy yet wonderful flavour. Boiled green leafy vegetables are an important component in the food. Bamboo is found everywhere and fermented bamboo shoots are used to marinade pork and fish. Naga bamboo pork is a classic dish that involves cooking chunks of pork with bamboo shoots, ginger, garlic, Naga chillies, Naga herbs and salt. Anishi (patties made from fermented yam stems and leaves that are either sundried or cooked over fire) is a popular element in the Ao dishes. The Nagas enjoy a variety of meats such as pork, duck, beef and lamb.
Strips of meat being cured over a fire. Photo Credit: jennythingshung.wordpress.com
A traditional Naga kitchen is outside the house. One can find pieces of pork and beef hanging over the fire. Smoking is a common technique used in Naga cooking. It takes a week or two of smoking to cure the meat that lasts for at least a year. These pieces of meat that are similar to jerky are either eaten as an accompaniment in a meal or in a smoked stew dish. Smoked Pork Stew is a scrumptious dish prepared using long pieces of dried pork. The pork pieces are crispy on the outside and pleasantly full of a smoky flavour on the inside.
The Nagas are very hospitable and everyone who visits them must enjoy a meal with the family. To display their affection and generosity towards their guests, they often slay an animal and feast on it. Even poor families do all they can to accommodate and amuse their guests.
A Naga girl serving Zutho to a warrior at the Hornbill festival. Photo Credit: bitofvacation.com
Agriculture is the chief occupation and harvest time is one of celebration. Christmas is an important festival as eighty per cent of the population is Christian. Participation is mandatory as the Nagas consider their festivals sacred. The villagers clean their villages, dress in traditional attire, sing, dance and drink Zutho (rice beer). Hornbill food festival takes place in the first week of December with the aim of bringing the different tribes together through their foods. It is increasingly becoming popular, with more and more tourists visiting each year. Most celebrations represent equality where the rich and poor enjoy their meals and rejoice together.