Naga food refers to the food prepared and consumed in the State of Nagaland, India. The state comprises 16 main tribes whose occupation is primarily agriculture. Hunting is done traditionally as a pastime in this region. Each tribe of Nagaland has a distinct style of cooking. The Naga cuisine is primarily non-vegetarian, although vegetables are included in the cooking. The food is extremely hot and spicy with the usage of Naga King Chilli in most of its dishes.
Influences on Naga Cuisine
The Naga food has not been influenced much by other cuisines. As hunting is a favorite occupation of people, meat is an indispensable part of the Naga cuisine.. The Naga food is the same as it had been for ages, but the people have learnt to use spices in cooking.
Plain rice, vegetables like potato, and meat are the main ingredients used in the Naga cuisine. Meat could refer to beef, pork, fish, chicken, crabs, frog, snail, spider, insects, and bee larvae. As Naga people are hunters, the meat also includes that of other animals such as dogs, cat, rats, birds, snakes, spiders, monkeys, bear, and even elephant. Animal blood, which is solidified, is cut into pieces and used to prepare curries.
Apart from meat, bamboo shoots, lettuce, soyabeans, mustard leaves, and yam leaves are also used in cooking. These ingredients are fermented and used to make various dishes. The Naga king chilli, for which the Government of Nagaland has obtained GI rights, is widely used to add flavor and spiciness to the dishes. Garlic and ginger are other spices used.
The Naga tribes ferment their food, especially meat, in order to preserve it. The food is fermented by first boiling it and then putting it out in the sun or near the fire with axone - fermented soya beans. The fermented food is then parceled with a banana leaf and stored next to the fire until further use. These are consumed immediately or are sold in the bazaar.
When it comes to meat, the entire animal including the skin and intestines are eaten. The food is usually boiled, and the meat and vegetables are cooked together. Lettuce and spinach leaves are also used to cook meat.
Everyday Naga Food
Rice eaten with meat or vegetables is the everyday food of the Naga people. Dal is included along with the meat curries. Dog meat and the meat of wild animals are considered a delicacy. Paanch phoron tarkaari, misa mach poora, bamboo shoot fry, fish rice, and roasted duck are some of the foods made here.
Traditional Naga Food
Smoke dried pork curry with akhuni and snails is a traditional Naga food. Akhuni refers to fermented soya beans. Chicken chutney is made with shredded chicken, king chilli, garlic, and green onion. Rice beer is a traditional drink in this region. Zutho, dzutse, and ruhi are other types of drinks consumed here. Koat pitha is a sweet dish made with bananas, rice flour, and jaggery.
Food as Medicine
The Naga people believe that certain meat can cure diseases. The meat of a stone bird is believed to cure renal diseases. Dog meat is considered to cure pneumonia. Bee larvae, snails, and frogs are believed to heal the skin and bones when injured. A fluid full of earthworms is believed to act as an antidote to snake bite.
Certain meat are not eaten as they are considered unclean and can pass on its distinct characteristics to humans. A woman is not allowed to eat monkeys as it makes her extravagant, and the pregnant woman is not allowed to eat a bear as it is considered a stupid animal. Large cats, such as leopards and tigers, are not eaten too due to superstition that man and tiger were brothers at the origin of creation.
Naga Cuisine's Impact on Health
The health benefits of Naga cuisine is not much studied, although the rice, vegetables, and meat can provide the essential carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins to an extent. However, the food is very spicy and hot with the inclusion of the king chilli in most of its dishes. This generates excess heat and can cause stomach problems, such as gastritis and acid reflux. Hot and spicy food can also cause sleeplessness, bad breath, and can damage taste buds.