Nagaland Food – An Overview of Delicious Naga Cuisine

By Mark Wiens 55 Comments
Nagaland Food
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.

Butchering pigs in Nagaland
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.

Eating Nagaland food in Nagaland
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.

Dried Pork
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.

Smoked Pork Stew
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!

Nagaland Pork w/ Dry Bamboo Shoots
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.

Nagaland Food - Boiled Vegetables
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.

Bamboo Steamed Fish
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.

Roasted Intestines
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!

Beans Mix
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.

Bitter Melon
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.

Chicken Glutinous Rice Soup
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!

Nagaland food
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.

Nagaland food - Crab Chili Sauce
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.

Naga Ghost Chili Sauce
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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  • Dr SB Wann

    4 months ago

    I love one particular Fermented soyabean (Akhoni) Chili Sauce which smells like shit but tastes like heaven.

  • Aren

    1 year ago

    Hi Mark

    I’m overwhelmed about your liking of naga cuisine …. I hope you get to taste more of naga cuisine

    • Mark Wiens

      1 year ago

      Thank you Aren, it was an amazing trip. Hoping to visit again.

      • Tirtha

        12 months ago

        We are couple from Kolkata who will be touring Nagaland for several days. After having see your videos of Kolkata street food I looked yu up to find this really amazing piece on Naga food. Looking forward to the trip.

  • akho

    1 year ago

    Hi everyone out here!
    Naga cuisine is truly great simple and unique…if you visit Southern part of Nagaland, you’ll get a chance to experience lots of wild eatable delicacies starting from wild fruits, veg and water borne foodies to wild bees and worms of different taste that will drive you nut

  • Panakala Kishor Ramana

    1 year ago

    The description of the food items was informative..Kishor. Balangir.Orissa.

  • Sunil Solanki

    1 year ago

    Food was the main reason I married to Naga Ao girl. I visit Nagaland every year for past 11 years and now even if I am in North India we eat only Naga food. The place is amazing people are amazing and food is amazing what else you want from a place. I hope you tried pork and fish cooked in Bamboo’s itlsef and not in the shoots..

  • Khangsongwibo

    2 years ago

    …………….I meant you’ll get the real taste of Naga in ten days.

  • Khangsongwibo

    2 years ago

    Hey Mark, next time if you visit us then please visit during Horn bill festival (Festival of festivals), here you won’t have to take a trouble to visit friends house to taste the Naga cuisine. You’ll the real taste of Naga in ten days.

  • Subrata dey

    2 years ago

    Dear,
    Love your article .
    I was there in nagaland for 1 and half year. Between that time I used to take food with a Christian missionary. And then I introduced with Naga cuisine . and my first reaction was wow.. I love there food and cooking style , I used to cook with them on their style. Great memories and food.. Special I loved PORK with Akhuni and king chili pickles. Now I am back home in Tripura but still I am using their style of cooking with my Bangali culture cuisines

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hey Subrata, thank you very much for sharing, that’s awesome. Glad you’re still enjoying the Naga food!

  • Niru Subba/ Narola

    2 years ago

    I was born and brought up in Nagaland, i really miss those mouth watering curries!! While seeing this wana fly immediately and enjoy these foods!

  • Ruth

    2 years ago

    Nice write up!

  • Chef Aj

    3 years ago

    Hey Mark,
    Thank you for explaining the cuisine basics and dishes, as i am a professional chef,trained in modern european cuisines,nyc,leon,roma but when i came to your blog it gave me an idea about my next event menu. Many thanks again and if in delhi lets catch up fr dinner.

    Wishes
    Chef Ajay

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hi Chef Ajay, great to hear from you. You’re welcome, glad you enjoyed this article. Where are you based? Do you have a restaurant?

  • Dr. Toka Swu

    3 years ago

    Hi Mark,
    I think you have missed the best dish of Sumi Tribe, which is loved by all the Nagas. I think, it may be best dish of Nagaland.
    It is fermented soyabean known as AKHUNI. The combination of akhuni and dried pork is simply irresistible. But it has to be prepared by the Sumis, cos no other tribe can bring out the taste like them.
    Note: The only problem with akhuni is that it is quite smelly. But after tasting it, you will love the smell also.
    The Sumis called it AXONE, but other tribes find it difficult to pronounce so they call it akhuni.

  • Sarah

    3 years ago

    Hi! Mark,

    I have been a long time follower of yours in FB (when I had one), your mailing list as well as on Instagram. I just love how you are so passionate about food and trying food from different cultures without any prejudice. I like you, also am a passionate foodie and love to experience another culture through food. Thanks to instagram I have met so many friends like you from all over the world. A lot of my dearest friends are from Nagaland. One of my dearest friend Arenla, who is a student in Bangalore, is back home in Nagaland. I had requested her to send me lot of food pictures hehe. Among the delicious food that she sent me was pork in Bamboo shoot. I was absolutely drooling over it. She shared her recipe with me. Today as I was getting ready to make Naga Pork, when I rememebered this blog article of yours. Right away I remembered how much you liked the bitter melon dish. She was so gracious to share her recipe with me. I am making it now. I cannot wait till it is done. I will tag you in it. Thank you so much dear Mark, for sharing your food experiences with us. So grateful for wonderful foodie friends like you from all corners of the world who love food just as much as me.

    Best regards,
    Sarah

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hi Sarah, thank you so much for reading this post and thank you very much for your support. Wow, my mouth is watering right now thinking about all this delicious Naga food. I would love to see your finished dishes! Hope you have a great day, and happy cooking.

  • avino

    3 years ago

    Hello mark. I was delighted to see such a beautiful post about naga cuisine. I think it is a great write up and being a naga myself I take pleasure in recommending you some naga dishes that you should try the next time you visit nagaland. Axone (fermented soybean), galho (a sort of porridge with local herbs, meat and rice), moudi (chunks of beef with local spices), pork meat and innards cooked in its blood, sticky rice cakes and not to forget zutho ( local rice beer). 🙂 cheers

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hey Avino, thank you very much, and also I really appreciate your recommendations. I would love to visit again, and will try to eat all the dishes you suggested – sounds delicious.

  • tungoe

    3 years ago

    Reading through the description of the food you ate, I’m guessing you stayed with an Ao family. The fish cooked in bamboo and chicken n rice soup are especially of their speciality. the chicken and rice soup is an absolute favourite of mine too. It is very nutritious and can kick ’em flu bugs. I’m delighted to read that you got to taste the intestine roast. Isn’t it about the tastiest thing in the world? And oh the boiled mixture pickle could even have banana flower/bud besides potato, cherry tomato, chillies and others.
    great writeup, by the way.

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hi Tungoe, great to hear from you, thank you for reading. Alright, I’ll have to ask my friend, but yah we went to stay with a friend of mine. The food was amazing, and yes those fire roasted intestines are extremely good.

  • Saji Oommen

    3 years ago

    Dear Mark,

    You have missed few delicious cuisines and chutneys and one week was very less for you to explore. I am a great fan of Naga food. Even though I don’t stay in Nagaland, my friends sends me the the delicious dry meat pickle, bamboo shoots and axone.

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hey Saji, thank you for sharing. Yes, I didn’t have enough time in Nagaland for sure, I’d love to go back and eat again. Glad you love Naga food. Are you originally from Nagaland?

  • aochetla pongen

    3 years ago

    glad you enjoyed the meals from here….

  • Eliz Jamir

    3 years ago

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

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hey Eliz, I really loved the food. Thanks for the name of the dish!

  • Naga

    4 years ago

    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.

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey, good to hear from you, glad that you’re Naga! Thanks for the suggestion, I hope I can visit again, and will definitely try axone!

    • FoodChamp

      3 years ago

      I am not of Naga origin but I love Naga cuisine.

      I am looking for the original recipe of Galho (a mix of rice-cabbage-meat and lots of chillies), if anyone can help me with that……..

      Cheers

  • Soheli

    4 years ago

    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…:)

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Soheli, thank you for checking out my article, great to hear that you grew up in Nagaland. I really enjoyed all the food when I was there!

  • Elika Assumi

    4 years ago

    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!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      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!

  • Foodaholix

    4 years ago

    I have had some opportunities to try out Naga food, mainly in Delhi… and found it delicious. Thank you for a very informative article.

  • chuba

    4 years ago

    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!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      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!

  • Rahul Karmakar

    4 years ago

    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.

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Rahul, awesome, thank you so much for your educated insight into this, I appreciate you sharing! Are you originally from Nagaland or from that area?

  • Zingchi

    4 years ago

    You should come to Manipur ( home to both manipuri’s and naga’s) then….

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Zingchi, I would love to. Is that where you’re from?

  • Soutik

    4 years ago

    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…

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Thanks for the comment. I’ll try to check it out in Ramsays travelogue.

  • Mike | Earthdrifter

    4 years ago

    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. 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      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!

  • Jason

    4 years ago

    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…

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      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!