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Licking the plate: The Naga cuisine

Chances are you haven’t been to this place. Chances are this is a place you’ve never seen or heard. A perpetual old mix of culinary traditions, smells and flavors. A gratifying head hunting tradition and a place occupied by some fierce warriors. A look away, this. An ultra-modern, ever changing plot, levels of wealth, of luxury and a sheer volume of things. Nagaland has a population of 2 million people. One of the smallest state in India and inhabited by 16 major tribes. Nagaland became the 16th state of India on 1 December 1963. The violence and insecurity have long limited Nagaland’s economic development, because it had to commit its scarce resources on law, order and security.

Kohima

But a new taste for self- determination, something unexpected is happening here, and it’s pretty incredible. What are our expectations? Which of the things we desire are within reach? If not now, when? And will there be some left for the rest of us?

The younger Naga generation is driving growth in…and this is where the real power is. In the older section: the opportunity and a newer built-up section, the result. An explosive embankment demanding their share of all that good stuff, infrastructure, the clothes, the cars, the gas to fuel them, the wealth, it’s the engine that might as well drive the new Nagaland. The one thing I know for sure about the new rapid growth of Nagaland is I will never know about it. It’s too big, too old, too diverse, too deep. There’s simply not enough time. Economics are not my area of expertise, I wallow in ignorance but Nagaland looks different every following year. It’s changing so, so, so quickly.

Naga Food

From a distant, Nagaland, looks like a fever dream. One catches a fragment of a vision, a small taste of the exotic and suddenly it’s gone. Nagaland will confront you with a very different reality. But are all dreams created equal? Is one man’s food fantasy of delicate insects and worms as the same as another man’s dream of a perfectly cooked and seasoned pork? To be in Nagaland, anywhere in Nagaland, is to risk being enchanted and repelled until your food senses wants to shut down. Nagaland demands to be taken under its own terms when it comes to food and you shall be rightly served so. All the things, the food, the culture and the details. After a stroll to the many local markets here, there is, I believe, something called social involvement. Strange and delightful things to eat. Check. Something delicious in a cooking pot. Check. You can feel it. You can see it. It’s just different here. This is a world of fresh, delicious, spicy, meaty, salty, sour, sweet and bitter mash-up. The bright explosion of flavors often with a just-picked herby dimension.

A journey into an amazingly complex and widely misunderstood cuisine. A place and culture misinterpreted, closed off to most for so long, sleeping, decades of nightmare for many of its citizens, finally, waking up. To what? Time will tell. You hear about it, you go see it. A whole window opens up into a whole new thing.

Welcome to Nagaland. You are invited.

Nagaland

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