From the backyard of every Naga home comes the whiff of meat being smoked. The meat is what the Nagas preserve as food. Quite often, pork or beef is hung from skewers over glowing embers or low fires till they turn soft and chewable.
The people of North East are experts in the art of smoking meat. The Nagas smoke the meat and dry it up for over a week which can then be kept for months. Even as the meat is in the process of drying, they chop off portions required for the main meal of the day. Meat for dinner-time stew and soups also come from the chunks being dried.
It is the dry meat again which zests up Nagaland’s aromatic and popular pork-bamboo shoot curry.
Nagaland is an entity in itself. So is its food. Individualistic, and varied, it is totally different from the rest of India’s cuisine. The Naga cuisine is a conglomeration of the multiple traditional recipes of its innumerable tribes. This is one of the reasons why some of Nagaland’s predominant tastes are a combination of fermented meat and bamboo shoots.
The Nagas seldom or hardly ever use spicy masalas. If at all they resort to them, it is in very low quantities like a small piece of ginger, or a few cloves of garlic. The spices stop with that. Oil too is out of Naga dishes. Instead, they turn to lard (pork fat). The dried meat is stored and used for months and usually, they dine on huge chunks of meat.
Pork is the Nagas’ favourite meat and they have several recipes to highlight the taste of the meat. Vegetables are boiled. A sprinkling of salt is the only extra item.
The bamboo appears in a variety of styles in their dishes and is an icon of Naga culture. Sometimes, it appears as a kitchen ladle. At times, fresh fish is stuffed into the bamboo hollow and grilled. As for bamboo shots, the add-ons are minimal.
Nagaland comprises 16 main tribes with 16 different culinary customs. What gives their cooking styles a common identity is their use of bamboo shoots. A dish common to all the tribal kitchens is Galho, prepared with rice and several kinds of vegetables. Hinkejvu, a predominantly vegetable curry is made by boiling colocasia, cabbage, mustard leaves and beans. Bereft of masalas and oil, it is a healthy concoction.
The kitchen finds its place in the centre of every Naga home and is usually, the largest of all the rooms. Dining on canines, insects and reptiles are a part of Naga tribal culture and they have their special recipes for each species of animals, insects and reptiles. A lot of garlic, ginger and chilly goes into the making of frogs, bees and other insects. As for snails, it is chilly all the way.
Nagaland’s famous dog dishes are done mainly with ginger, Naga pepper, red chillies and other ingredients. Almost all meat dishes have the predominant presence of asparagus.
Now for a taste of Naga chicken curry: