Nagaland Food – An Overview of Delicious Naga Cuisine

nagaland food Nagaland Food   An Overview of Delicious Naga Cuisine

Nagaland Food

Nagaland, located in very Northeastern India, is a state that’s just north of Myanmar and just south of China and Bhutan.

There are sixteen main tribes in Nagaland, each with similar yet unique traditions and practices. While food from each tribe overlaps, there are also certain dishes that are specifically known from a certain tribe. Rice, pork, chicken, dog, insects and worms, vegetables, and famous chili sauces are essential in the Naga diet.

After a 30 hour train ride on the Kamrup Express from Kolkata, I was ready to eat; Nagaland food was calling my name!

In Nagaland, as my local friends mentioned, it’s most common to hang out at homes of friends and family. So not that many locals go to restaurants for meals, but eating at home or eating at friends’ homes is still very much a part of their culture.

That’s part of the reason why you won’t find many restaurants serving traditional Naga food in Nagaland. There are quite a few restaurants serving North Indian food or Tibetan momos (similar to mandu), but real Naga cuisine is harder to come by.

For real Nagaland food, it’s best to eat it at someones home.

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Butchering pigs in Nagaland

In Nagaland many things are still done traditionally. Since I was visiting a friend, and we were celebrating a marriage in his family, I was treated to watching a number of pigs butchered for the occasion.

The huge pigs were chopped up using traditional long handled Naga knives on top of a stilted bamboo slaughterhouse.

Our pig was fresh, and for an entire week we kept eating from the same pigs, meal after meal, happy stomach after happy stomach.

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Eating Nagaland food in Nagaland

Since it was winter, and quite chilly at night, we’d normally eat all our meals around a fire, eating and drinking hot tea from bamboo cups.

A normal Naga food meal would include rice, some kind of meat (either dry or pork with bamboo shoots), boiled vegetables, and spicy chili sauces. Just like Sri Lankan food or Indian food, meals are eaten with your hands.

Some of the dishes reminded me of Burmese cuisine while others even tasted similar to Northern Thai dishes, yet all the foods were uniquely Naga.

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Dried Pork

Dried Pork

A traditional Naga kitchen is outdoors because a fire is one of the most essential components of cooking. Hanging above any Naga kitchen fire will be pieces of meat (both pork and beef), that slowly dry out and smoke high above the flames.

After weeks or sometimes much longer than that, the meat is ready to be consumed. For one meal we just ate some of the smoked pork, and another time we enjoyed a stew made from the meat.

It was crispy on the outside, a little like jerky, but just saturated with an intensely delicious smokiness. It was so good along with rice.

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Smoked Pork Stew

Smoked Pork Stew

Just as good as the plain smoked meat, was the smoked pork stew. The dried smoky pork was chopped into bite sized pieces before being boiled in a thin soup that included potatoes, tomatoes, and chillies.

It was salty, and so smoky that I could almost taste the fire – a great thing in my books!

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Nagaland Pork w/ Dry Bamboo Shoots

Nagaland Pork w/ Dry Bamboo Shoots

One of the most famous Nagaland food dishes is dry bamboo shoots cooked with pork. This was one of the first dishes I had as soon as I arrived to Nagaland, and I was thrilled.

In Nagaland, just like in Thailand or Korea, they are serious when it comes to pork. So you won’t be eating thin strips of bite sized pork, they cook with huge chunks of pig. Often the pork is quite fatty, often big cubes of pork belly mixed in. If you’re a pork lover, you’ll have a blast in Nagaland.

To make this dish, the pork is fried with the Naga signature dry bamboo shoots and lots of chilies. The bamboo gives the pork a lovely aroma and unique flavor. I thought it was wonderful.

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Nagaland Food – Boiled Vegetables

Boiled Vegetables

With nearly every meal I ate in Nagaland, we had a number of different boiled vegetables – most of the time cabbage, long beans, and melon. Vegetables are most commonly boiled without any seasoning.

The boiled vegetables accompany the meat and rice and also go with the different chili sauces (more listed below). Boiled vegetables are a big part of Nagaland food.

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Bamboo Steamed Fish

Bamboo Steamed Fish

Bamboo grows everywhere in Nagaland, and it has many different uses. One of the common ways to cook is using tubes of bamboo.

Cooked by Grandfather himself, fish were stuffed into a hollow tube of bamboo with a few light spices and then placed in the ash of the fire to cook.

After the fish were cooked, they were simply emptied out of the bamboo into a bowl and ready to be served. They were quite plain and boney, but I could detect a nice hint of bamboo flavor in the fish. Along with some of the chili sauce, they were really good.

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Roasted Intestines

Roasted Intestines

Since pig is such a huge part of Naga food culture, you can be assured that nothing is wasted, and internal organs happen to be some of the most prized possessions (and rightfully so, they are some of the most flavorful).

These roasted intestines were amazing, like naturally cured strips of bacon combined with sausage!

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Beans Mix

Beans Mix

This healthy earthy mixture included beans, tomatoes, peas, cabbage and all sort of other natural Nagaland ingredients. It was a delicious concoction that wasn’t overly strong in flavor, but more of a garnish for rice and intended to be eaten with other stronger chili sauces and curries.

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Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon

Being a huge fan of bitter melon, I was happy to see a big bowl of it for one of our meals in Nagaland. They were the little Indian bitter melons.

I think they were just boiled, as they were quite shriveled up with little flavor other than their bitterness, but the chili sauce again is what made them so delightful.

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Chicken Glutinous Rice Soup

Chicken Glutinous Rice Soup

Few things are as pleasing a purchasing a live chicken at the market and eating her just a few moments later.

We went to the market in Dimapur, chose a nice little chicken, a free range village chicken that is, and went back to the house. The chicken was cooked in a glutinous rice sauce. Just like many other Nagaland foods, it wasn’t cooked overly spiced, but it was served along with some chili sauced which provided extreme flavor.

I particularly loved this chicken glutinous rice soup. It was extremely soothing, similar to eating congee or Thai joke, and it was warm and comforting… and the chicken was tasty too!

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Kongshia Lon – Eel Chili Sauce

Kongshia Lon – Eel Chili Sauce

Of all the Nagaland food I was able to sample on my weeklong visit to Nagaland, it was the different assortment of chili sauces and garnishes that I enjoyed most.

This eel chili sauce was excellent, dry eel pounded with lots of chilies, garlic, and salt. I was quite satisfied with just a spoonful of this eel chili sauce and rice.

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Nagaland food – Crab Chili Sauce

Crab Chili Sauce

Another great combination was the crab version. It was a little runnier than the dry eel chili sauce, but this was also very good. I was surprised how non-fishy it tasted.

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Naga Ghost Chili Sauce

Naga Ghost Chili Sauce

On my last night in Nagaland, a friend cooked up a feast that contained dishes specifically from her home village in Nagaland. This blend of ingredients (I’m sorry, I honestly don’t know what all was in here) was miraculous.

There were only 4 Naga ghost chillies (the world’s hottest chili) within this sauce, and that was enough to make it tear flowing spicy. It wasn’t a long lasting hot chili spice though, it was more of an extreme sharp pain in your mouth that didn’t last too long, but really added wonderful flavor.

The entire chili sauce tasted kind of like mashed beans mixed with all sorts of herbs, onions, garlic and the Naga ghost chillies.

Though in a week I was barely able to scratch the surface of Nagaland food, what I was able to try I really enjoyed.

Let me know if you can recommend any other Nagaland foods!

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Comments

  1. Jason says

    Amazing write up …..you hit the nail on the head…..so you were able to handle the ghost chilli heat and the pungency….that’s commendable….I had heartburn by the third day of Naga food….and I always thought that I had the capacity to handle spicy food…actually Delhi and bangalore have a few restaurants serving Naga food for homesick nagas…
    Each naga dish are so simple to prepare…that if you told someone the recipe they would be like would it taste good…but the simplicity in the recipe just adds to the charm if Nagaland cuisine…

    • says

      Hey Jason, thanks for the comment! Yah, I didn’t try a straight Naga chili, but within the sauce, it was excellent – loved the flavor. Glad to hear you enjoyed Naga food too – you’re right – just simple combinations of fresh ingredients!

  2. says

    You sure got to try a huge array of Naga dishes. What an über-unique experience and write-up. This cuisine is definitely not for the vast majority of western palettes, but for the bold and curious eater. These fantastic food photos enhance my realization that I ought to invest in a better camera. :-)

    • says

      Hey Mike, thanks a lot! It was a lot of fun being in Nagaland, and especially having a local friend there. For the longest time I just had a point and shoot camera, but after getting a dslr, I just love it so much!

  3. Soutik says

    The Ghost Chilli you mentioned, is termed “Bhoot Jholakia”. It’s one bite is sufficient to bring you to tears and the only way to suppress the burning sensation is to have a mouthfull of honey. You can see the chillies mentioned in Gordon Ramsay’s travelogue “Great Escape” in India. It was enriching.

    Nice pictures Mark…

  4. says

    Good write-up but one factual error, basically an outcome of culture-ignorant journalists (two) who turned Bhot (pronounced with a nasal twang) beaning of Bhutiya or Bhutanese origin into Bhoot/Bhut, which means ghost in Assamese. The plains of Assam is virtually bisected by river Brahmaputra, and for people here, any vegetable that was extreme in taste/pungency was said to have been brought from or originated in the hills. For those on the northern bank, the nearest hills were those of Bhutan, thus Bhutiya. And for those on the southern bank, the nearest were the Naga hills. Hence what was Bhot for the northern bank dwellers was Naga for the southern bank dwellers. These names, though, betrayed a certain degree of bias against the hill dwellers. I prefer the name Raja, as the Nagas call it. And raja, as you are aware, means king.

    Please be corrected and correct your friends too. Guinness Book or World Records accepted the error and termed the chilli Bhut or ghost. Thank god, the British Infinity has shattered the hotness record and spared us the error.

  5. chuba says

    Hi Mark, I am from Nagaland currently living in Dubai and as all Expats do, we miss Our naga food and when you posted those pictures of naga food ( particularly of the AO cuisine) and Me being one ,my heart swelled and was proud that you got to taste all that without wincing :) You are a true Foodie and I love the fact that you will try anything for the first time and embrace it for what it is :) Cheers!

    • says

      Hey Chuba, thank you so much for your kind comment, and great to hear that you’re from Nagaland! I had an incredible time when I was there and I loved the food. Hope you can get some Naga food soon!

  6. says

    Dear Mike,

    I see that you been able to savor a variety of dishes, nonetheless you are right when you say that you’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to food in Nagaland. I was surprised that you didn’t get to feature ‘Axone’ (fermented soyabean). I hope that you will visit again and tour around the state to get the real feel of Naga food. Cheers!

    • says

      Hey Elika, great to hear from you. Yah, with only a week in Nagaland, I didn’t have nearly enough time to really eat as much as I wanted to. Thank you for the suggestions, would love to go back again in the future!

  7. Soheli says

    Hi Mark
    I spent my childhood in Nagaland and there is nothing more I love than Naga Cuisine. Being in the mainlands for so long, I miss Naga food still. SO I scout the city I stay and find where bamboo shoot is available…and make an attempt to revive the naga flavour. Your write up is just awesome and I felt so nostalgic! Thanks for this…:)

  8. Naga says

    And now Im proud to call myself Naga, i mean the great Naga. Haha

    Mmh Awesome sum up on our Naga Dishes. This is indeed the best Voice I have seen so far. I almost check every websites and blogs to know how the outsiders voice about our dishes and question myself
    Do they really love/like our dishes or not?
    But now i need not as i already found out the best.

    Anywayz Hope you stop by again and enjoy our dishes again.
    Lastly don’t forget to try Axone on you next visit.

  9. Eliz Jamir says

    Looks lik you enjoyed some of my personal favourite Ao dishes… The Mixed beans and bitter melon dishes are called Rusep-uon… Yummy…

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