You can taste the most delicious Naga food at the night bazaar in Kohima during the Hornbill festival. Locals set up barbecues and sell smoked pork and other delicacies in a lively atmosphere not found in any other city, says Vidya Deshpande.
If you are moving around in Kohima and are looking for a restaurant selling Naga food, you are most probably not going to find it. But if you are willing to move away from the table and take a stroll down the streets, you will find the most exotic dishes being served right by the roadside.
The night bazaar of Kohima is famous among food enthusiasts and popular among locals. Every evening, and mind you it gets dark by 4 pm here, during the Hornbill Festival in the first week of December, a bustling market unfolds on the main street of Kohima. It is here you can sample the whole range of Naga staples — from chicken and pork to dog, insects and worms.
Pork is the staple dish for almost all 16 tribes of Nagaland. So all pork lovers, you will be in food heaven here. In almost every Naga home, you will find pork cuts hanging over the fireplace. The pork gets smoked slowly over a few days and is akin to a piece of meat jerky. The pork gets a deliciously smokey flavour and a stew made from this pork tastes divine. The smoked pork is also eaten like a tandoori dish, where a piece of the meat is heated on a skewer and served with a light dusting of salt.
As you walk down the street, small barbecues dot the street. They serve mainly roast pork and beef, while some serve roast chicken, too. One of the more popular dishes is pork steamed in yam or banana leaves. To make the famous pork patotdiya, the meat is lightly spiced, wrapped in yam or banana leaves and steamed. The dish is then eaten with local sticky rice.
Naga cuisine has three popular seasonings: bamboo shoots, axone (aka akhuni in local lingo), which is fermented soya bean, and yam and yam leaves. Smoked pork cooked with bamboo shoots is another popular dish. The jerkylike smoked pork is cooked over a slow flame with bamboo shoots, some vegetables (potatoes and yam leaves, mainly), along with a dose of the potent Naga chilly.
Axone or fermented soya bean has a strong smell, almost like the smell of sweat, and many nonfoodies find it difficult to handle. But once you get used to the overpowering pungency, the taste is enjoyable. Again, the cooking style is simple — smoked pork slow-cooked with fermented soya beans and Naga chilly. The third popular dish served on the streets is pork cooked with yam and yam leaves. The dish may be a bit bland, but add the Naga chili sauce to it and the flavour hits you between the eyes.
Chicken is also a popular dish. Diced chicken pieces cooked with glutinous rice and yam leaves may be a simple dish but keeps you warm in the cold winter air of Kohima.
The streets are filled with monand- pop teams dishing up food from their homes, although not everything is indigenous dishes of pork and meat. You also get the ubiquitous momos, homemade by the lovely ladies. The regular chow mien, found on every other Indian street, is popular here, too. You can even get the vegetarian version.
As we walked further down the street, some of the small restaurants had laid out a buffet spread on the street. For as little as Rs 250 you could plate up with rice, a chicken dish, a pork dish and vegetables. In the middle of all this, I even found an enterprising Andhra man, selling idlis, dosas and spicy Hyderabadi biryani! Needless to say, his stall was popular with both the locals and the tourists.
Although there was so much food on the street, we did not find any desserts. In spite of its rich Christian tribal culture, there were no X-mas puddings or plum cakes on sale. In fact, I didn’t even see too many bakeries on the street.
The lack of desserts, however, can be made up with fresh fruit. The night bazaar closes sharp at 8 pm. The local police and Army start calling out a few minutes before 8 in the evening, for the stalls to wind up and in a methodical manner, everyone complies with the rule and leaves the bazaar on time. More than the food, it’s the lively atmosphere that keeps pulling you back. Surely something you can’t miss while on a trip to the Hornbill Festival.
PHOTOS: MIMI CHAKRABARTI
This article was published in the December issue of Democratic World