Nagaland Cuisine

Nagaland Cuisine

Naga Pork Curry in Nagaland
Naga Pork Curry, Nagaland

Nagaland situated at the extreme North-east of the states, is home to 16 major tribes and other sub-tribes. Though fiercely independent as tribes, Nagaland food is quite similar and they have hardly any restrictions on the kind of meat they eat. One of their favourite meats is pork and dishes like Awo Kutsu, a speciality made from the head of the pig. Combinations of pork with crab, bamboo shoots, smoked pork with soya bean, crispy hot and sweet beef are popular.

Delicious chutneys, called “tathus”, are made using bamboo shoots and beans. Anishi Lon (a preparation of yam leaves and fermented bamboo shoots with pork and fish) is also famous. Rice dishes like Konyak Nuk-Nge and Galho, a kind of khichdi that can be made in different ways. Chicken seems to be the next favourite meat with dishes named Amerso and Anhoi.

Nagaland Food : Traditional Cuisine

Naga cuisine, of the Naga people, features meats and fish, which are often smoked, dried or fermented . The various Naga tribes have their own cooking varieties, but they often interchange recipes. A typical Naga table consists of a meat dish, a boiled vegetable dish or two, rice and a chutney (Tathu). Nagas tend to prefer boiled edible organic leaves. Naga food tends to be spicy (chillies).

Some common dishes are

  • Fermented bamboo shoot – made from the tender shoot of the Bamboo tree – with fish and pork,
  • Axone (boiled soyabean, fermented and either smoked or sun dried) with smoked pork and beef,
  • Smoked meat is produced by keeping the meat above the fire or hanging on the wall of the kitchen for 2 weeks or longer, which could last for the whole year ahead,
  • Anishiis : fermented yam leaves made into patties and smoked over the fire or sun dried.

There are different varieties of chillies in Nagaland. The ginger used in the Nagaland cuisine is spicy, aromatic and is different from the common ginger. The garlic and ginger leaves are also used in cooking with meat. Another popular dish is a soupy dish which is had with cold rice made mostly when one feels under the weather or a migraine, called by different name by the different naga tribes.

Nagaland is known for its incomparable traditional and cultural heritage and unique cuisine. The local cuisine varies from tribe to tribe. Their cuisine is a delicacy fare. In most of the dishes that are prepared, both vegetables and meat are usually boiled, not fried. The Nagas prefer non-vegetarian and hot food.

The Naga cuisine has a great variety of pork recipes. Nagaland cuisine is known for exotic meats but simple and flavorful ingredients. The meat and fish used are often smoked, dried or fermented. Pork meat with bamboo shoot forms the common dish among the Naga people. The style of cooking differs from place to place, especially the type of seasonings used.

Special Occasions

If you have the chance to try it, you will get to taste a lot of herbs and leaves of exotic plants. You will also notice that a lot of edible stuff are preserved. The food is being cooked by authentic Naga cooks and will be served in buffet style. Due to limited food, one is requested to call the store and confirm their presence for the evening.

Some of the highlights in food fest include :

  • Kelhe/ Naga Pork, one of the most loved & traditional recipes made with king chillies and dried bamboo shoot,
  • Vunenuo or Special stew chicken an exotic but simple and flavorful dish served in almost every occasion,
  • Ga or Mix veg steam, one of the most preferred boiled vegetables served along with meat,
  • Kekhrezhu (Mandarine Juice) among others.

Many think of Naga cuisine as consisting of little more than the bhut jolokia, the world’s hottest chilli pepper at 10,00,000 Scovile units, and a dish which is of dubious canine origin, but a well-planned visit to Kohima and the surrounding tribal areas begins to unravel the fascinating secrets of this under-studied cuisine.

Fermentation in Nagaland Cuisine

Fermentation is present in a variety of Indian favourites from dosa to lassi. It works by converting carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts, bacteria or a combination thereof, under anaerobic conditions. 

Fermentation usually implies that the action of micro-organisms is desirable and the process is used to produce alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer and cider. It is also employed in the leavening of bread, and for preservation techniques to create lactic acid in sour foods such as Sauerkraut, Dry Sausages, Kimchi and Yoghurt, or Vinegar (acetic acid) for use in pickling foods. The Naga tribes are said to have up to 150 different types of Fermented Products, Fermenting Bamboo Shoots Crabs, Fish, Lettuce, Yam Leaves, Mustard Leaves and most all other types of available foods.

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.

Common Ingredients

Plain rice, vegetables like potato, and meat are the main ingredients used in the Nagaland food. 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.

Cooking Methods

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 Nagaland 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.

Nagaland Food Restriction

Certain meats 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 bear meat 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.

Nagaland food Impact on Health

The health benefits of Nagaland 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

Naga viper pepper

Naga viper pepper is a hot pepper of hybrid variety, created by Gerald Fowler of England. The pepper was a result of cross-breeding between the three hottest peppers of the world, the Naga Morich, Bhut Jolokia and the Trinidad Scorpion. The Chili Pepper Company holds the rights for this particular type of pepper which had been recognized as the hottest pepper in the world by the Guinness World Records in 2010. The fame was short-lived with the title going to the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper in March 2011.

The pepper is currently sold in the form of a sauce, used for making fiery curries. It is believed to have a numbing effect on the tongue and the entire body as it moves down the digestive tract. There have been many contests held for tasting the pepper and a YouTube video showed a couple becoming sick after eating the chili pods. The chili has been sold to a horticultural society in Cornwall, Edinburgh with the creator, Fowler also managing to provide the seeds to Afghanistani farmers as an alternative to growing poppies for opium. Fowler, the owner of the Chili Pepper Company, has received more than 5,000 orders for his spicy curry sauce made with the pepper and has a waiting list of 1200 for the seeds of the Naga Viper chili.


Variously known as akhuni, Dzacie aakhone or axone, it is perhaps the most commonly used fermented product of Nagaland. It is prepared year-around from soyabeans by people of all tribes, but most notably the Sema tribe of southern Nagaland. Soyabeans grow up to an elevation of 1,500 m and in rainy conditions, making it extremely suited to the Naga hills. It is also a protein-rich legume in an otherwise traditionally protein-sparse diet.

Akhuni is prepared by picking and cleaning the soyabeans well in fresh water, and then boiling them until they are soft, but still whole. The excess water is drained and the soybeans are placed into a pot or degchi and put either out in the sun or next to the fire to warm and ferment. This takes three to four days to ferment in summer and around one week in winter. 

As with the majority of fermented products in Nagaland, it is judged to be ready when it “smells right”. The soybeans are then placed in a wooden pestle and smashed with a mortar. They are not mashed completely, but instead smashed as you would with garlic. A handful is then scooped up and placed in the centre of a banana leaf, and the edges closed to make a parcel. The package is sold or stored next to the fire and can be used immediately or kept for some weeks, darkening in colour each day.

The process proteolysis of soya protein to amino acids results in a distinctive umami taste. Akhuni is then used in a huge variety of Nagaland food. An example of just two are fire-smoked pork and akhuni and nula, snails with akhuni

Rice Beer

Zutho is a rice beer made out of rice through an elaborate fermentation process, it is available in various levels of potency. It had a fruity aroma and sour taste and its unique aroma had characteristics similar to those of Japanese sake and sprouted rice sake. 

The process begins with expensive, high quality sticky rice being dried and then placed in a welled container and pounded with a giant wooden mallet. The rice is then placed into what can only be described as a cauldron, and placed over the traditional Naga hearth to bring to a boil, stirring all the while.

The mixture is then taken off the fire and stirred as it cools. It is left to cool overnight, and when fully ready, yeast is pounded and added, two handfuls to a potful. The mixture is then moved to another part of the hut to ferment and in two days it’s ready to drink. We sampled the resulting liquid and found it to be filling, warming, nourishing and nutritious.

With a few published works exclusively on the foods of Nagaland, much more research and appreciation of this fantastically unique cuisine is surely deserved.

Naga’s Crab Cakes Recipe

A crab cake is a traditional Nagaland dish composed of crab meat and various other ingredients, such as bread crumbs, milk, mayonnaise, eggs, yellow onions, and seasonings. Occasionally other ingredients such as red or green peppers or pink radishes are added, at which point the cake is then sauteed, baked, or grilled and then served.

Pumpkin Oambal Recipe

This Pumpkin Oambal tastes incredible! Try this irresistible sweet sour chutney from the Nagaland food with breads and let me know if you like it!

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