A state clouded in its mountains and its traditions, and home to the many Naga tribes, Nagaland is a niche of simple yet delicious dishes made from items not usually found in the city culture. The best way to enjoy Naga food is usually at someone’s home where you can enjoy the authentic flavours, for Nagaland doesn’t have a lot of restaurants serving traditional dishes widely.
1) Bamboo Steamed Fish
A very famous preparation, this is made by stuffing fishes inside the bamboo tube along with spices and herbs. The bamboo is now cooked over a fire, and this is one of the rare containers that releases its flavours into the dish being cooked inside it! With added chillis and a squeeze of lemon, the fish that is brought out from the tube is infused with earthy bamboo flavours and so tender it melts in your mouth.
Also called axone and aakhone, Akhuni is prepared from soya beans and is consumed all year round in most of the naga dishes. After being picked, the soya beans are boiled, drained and made to ferment for four to five days during summertime and longer, up to a week in winters. Most commonly prepared by the Sema tribe of Nagaland, other tribes prepare it as well for this is the most common fermented edible in Nagaland.
3) Dried Pork
Traditionally, Naga kitchens are built outside their homes for they need an open fireplace which works as a barbeque-like setup. Pork, one of the main meat items popularly consumed in Nagaland is hung up above the flame for a few weeks, allowing it to cook and smoke slowly, imparting a wonderfully grilled flavour with a crisp outer layer. Once the pork is smoked enough, the meat can now be consumed with different condiments and added to various dishes.
4) Smoked Pork Stew
After a slow smoke drying of the pork cuts above the flame for weeks, the meat is ready to be consumed. Intensely smoked and soft inside while being crisp and slightly charred from the outside, these succulent pork pieces are irresistible in a stew where they are cooked in broth with salt, chillis, pepper and natural herbs. With pork imparting a different flavour to the normally regular stew, it is a great accompaniment with rice and is one of the basic dishes you can find at most restaurants.
5) Pork With Dry Bamboo Shoots
Chunky pork pieces with aromatic bamboo flavour? Yes, please. One of the best preparations of pork out there, the smoky pork is cooked with chopped up bamboo shoots. The fat from the pork melts and coats the dish in a meaty juice which enhances the taste of the bamboo. With healthy amounts of chilli and herbs, this dish leaves you craving for more!
Pork can be cooked in various different ways and one of them is cooking it with Axone or fermented soybean. It results in a thick stew that has hints of chilli to make it spicier and more lip-smacking. A signature dish prepared by the Sema tribe in Nagaland, pork stew with Akone infused flavours is a must-eat!
7) Roasted Intestines
Nagas eat their pork with relish but it doesn’t mean they waste their pigs which are such an important food source to them. Even the intestines are cooked, roasted and garnished to dish up an amazing item you can’t help but love! With ground spices and a fire roast, the intestines are a precious item for them and a great item to snack on.
8) Bitter Melon
Bitter melons might not be your ideal dish but in Nagaland, it is very common to cook there bitters. A favourite Naga dish, they prepare it in such a way that most of the bitterness is lost while cooking and the end result is steamy boul of not-bitter melons with interesting spices, herbs and condiments to make your tongue feel blessed.
Khichri served Naga style, Galho is a pot of indigenous Naga flavours, with cooked rice, lentils and meat for that extra taste factor. Cooked with ginger-garlic and onion paste, this is the most wholesome dish people can dig into any time they want a warm meal.
10) Akini Chokibo
An exotic dish prepared in Nagaland, it is made from snails as the main item and perilla seeds, roasted and grounded, added to it. Akini Chokio is one of those dishes that are intriguingly new to people who aren’t used to eating out-of-the-box items in their meals. A bit of fat from pork and Axone is also added to this dish as it cooks to impart a thick meaty flavour which is enjoyed with rice and boiled vegetables on the side.
11) Bushmeat/ Dog meat
China isn’t the only country where you can enjoy dog meat. Nagaland serves up delicious dog meat prepared with ample spices and onions. Also known as bush meat, dogs are a delicacy with them being sold cheaply at Wednesday markets, which is a part of Naga culture since a long time, just like mutton, beef and turkey is in ours.
12) Ghost Chili sauce
A sauce made from one of the hottest chilli in the world, this sure to tear up your eyes, let alone burn your tongue. Ghost chillis are cooked with a lot of garlic, indigenous herbs and onions and can actually be very flavourful, in small amounts of course. Served as garnishing on dishes or as a side, this should be on your to-do list!
13) Beans mix
One of the few vegetarian options that are easily available, this mix is made from a combination of a lot of veggies like peas, beans, tomatoes, onions, cabbage and potatoes. Tossed with natural herbs and spices of the Naga people, this mix is enjoyed with ghost chilli sauce and other curries which add a kick of flavour to the mellowness of the vegetables. Eaten as a side with rice, this veggie mix had a home-y aroma.
14) Boiled Vegetables
A humble but important side dish in Nagaland cuisine, this consists of boiled spinach, beans, carrots, Colocasia leaves, radishes and slight seasoning of salt, chilli and lemon. Served with rice and pork stew on the side, these boiled vegetables help to make it a balanced meal as well as a balanced palette.
Another side dish to balance out the pork eating diet of Nagas, Aikibeye is made from the boiled Mustard leaf and Colocasia roots. Cooked with minimal slat and condiments, it tastes bland, which makes it a perfect accompaniment to spicy meat dishes. Thick and not-so-runny, Aikibeye will be served with most main dishes at restaurants.
A famous beer which is made from fermented rice, Zutho is popular amongst the Agami tribes of Nagaland. With its sour taste that goes well with most pork dishes, Zutho is a local beer that is enjoyed by the population and should be tried out once!
17) Crab cakes
A conventional dish of Nagas, Crab cakes are made from (obviously) crab meat mixed with a number of ingredients including eggs, milk, onions, chillis, mayonnaise and the various herbs of different indigenous tribes. Additionally, some variations have radishes and bell peppers, but all of them are a delight to your tongue and shouldn’t be missed!