I have always been inquisitive of tribal culture and cuisines and have found their history intriguing. So much so I have studied some of their cuisines in depth and tried to adopt the uniqueness of their culinary art, their special, exotic ingredients in some of my recipes besides learning, cooking and savoring their own special and unique tribal recipes.
I dedicate this column to the very special cuisine of Nagaland.
Rice forms the staple food of the Nagas and is generally had with vegetables or meat (chicken, pork or beef). Meats are oftern dried, smoked or fermented. The Nagas are generally fond of chillies. The vegetables and meat are cooked together and are basically boiled.
The main drink is rice beer, which can be consumed any time. If hygienically prepared, it is a pleasing drink that has good nutritive value too.
Different Naga tribes have their own cooking varieties, although there is an influence of each other's recipes. A typical Naga meal consists of a meat dish, a boiled vegetable dish or two, rice and a chutney (tathu).
Nagas also prefer boiled edible organic leaves.
The tribals often smoke the meats, either by keeping them over a fire or hanging them from the kitchen wall for nearly two weeks or longer to make them last for over a year.
Naga food tends to be spicy. There are different varieties of chillies in Nagaland.
The ginger used in Naga cuisine is spicy, aromatic and is different from the common ginger. The use of ginger and garlic is common in most Naga recipes.
Some of the common Naga dishes are fermented bamboo shoot (made from the tender shoot of the bamboo tree) cooked with with fish and pork and soyabean, which may be boiled, fermented and either smoked or sun dried, with smoked pork and beef; and anishi, fermented yam leaves made into patties and smoked over a fire or sun dried.
Then, there is paanch phoron taarkari, poora mach, bamboo shoot fry, Nagaland laksa stock, koat pitha, poora haah and Nagaland fish stew.
Nagaland fish stew in one of my favourites and tastes divine with saffron Basmati steamed rice and red chilli pickle. My mouth is watering already and I am sure that you too are salivating by now! So, here we go....
1 Tbsp Assam skin (it's like tamarind and often used in Naga recipes to make the dish sour)
1 Tbsp Assam skin juice
2 Tbsp garlic chilli paste
1 Tbsp garlic paste
1 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 piece bua belamning (a sour fruit green in colour)
1/2 cup chopped spinach leaves
2 whole-dried red chilli
200 gm fish
1 Tbsp sugar
Salt to taste
1/2 cup water
Heat oil in pan and fry garlic till fragrant and golden brown. Add spinach leaves chopped and fry for a while till tender. Add Assam skin, dried chilli, Assam skin juice and stir fry for a while.
Add fish in and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add water and let it simmer for a few minutes till done.
Add salt, red chilli powder and sugar to taste. Serve hot with Basmati rice and red chilli pickle.
Comments(Monish Gujral, owner of the Moti Mahal chain, is a restaurateur, chef and food writer.)