Month: October 2015

Hunting in the Hills of Nagaland

25 October 2015 – Munchies (Vice)
Naga jhumIt’s strange, in retrospect, that I responded so enthusiastically when my friend Chumei Konyak asked me if I wanted her brother to take me hunting. I’m American, born and raised, but I grew up in a nice liberal part of suburban Baltimore where it was normal for parents to forbid their kids from going near any house that had a gun in it, as my parents did—in part because those houses were few and far between. Guns were machines for killing, we were taught: they were not for fun.

I’d been thinking for a while of taking a several-week break from my home in hyperkinetic Mumbai to go traveling around the Indian state of Nagaland, a remote tag of lush tribal hills stitched to the eastern hem of the Himalayas where India dissolves into Myanmar, and had called Chumei to see about finishing the trip at her village near the state’s northeastern corner. At that point, I’d never so much as fired a gun, let alone fired a gun at something, but when she made her suggestion, I thought, what the hell?—of course I wanted to go hunting. She made me promise not to use her name or her family members’ names or the name of her village in the piece I planned to write (which is to say none of these names are real). Outsiders have been welcome in Nagaland for the past decade, she explained, but we are not, by law, welcome as predators of the local fauna. There could be legal complications and neither she nor I wanted any part of that. I gave my word, crossed my heart and hoped not to die. (more…)

Bhaji on the Beach

18 October 2015

*This story was originally published with Lucky Peach. The version here was amended for republication with to reflect the changing situation of the methi growers in Versova.

Methi destructionIf you visit Versova Beach in Mumbai at around 8.30 am, you won’t find people sunbathing or surfing or swimming as you might at other urban beaches around the world.

At the shore, you will see residents of the hundred-odd huts thrown up along the high-tide line taking their morning constitutionals. Behind you, between the huts and the trees separating the filthy grey-brown Arabian Sea from the swish suburb of Versova, you’ll see bare-chested men and women in damp saris pulling rapidly at a carpet of chia pet green growing in patches from the sand.

This Lilliputian crop is chhoti methi, or baby fenugreek. The sprouts – little green caps on silky white stems that are subtly bitter when raw – are an essential ingredient in dhansak, a lentil-and-meat dish prepared by Mumbai’s prominent Parsi community, and are popular as a simple fried vegetable among coastal fishing communities, who cook them with garlic and kokam, a sour berry that grows along the same coast. (more…)

Feasting on Locusts in Nagaland

8 October 2015 – Saveur

Still lifeIn several of the dialects spoken among the Naga tribes, who live in remote hilltop villages along India’s northeastern border with Myanmar, there is no single word for ‘hello.’ Instead, people greet each other by asking, ‘Have you eaten?’

By the time I learned this, I’d already spent three weeks traveling around the Indian state of Nagaland, bumping along muddy tracks waterlogged from near-nightly thunderstorms, dipping into banks of fog, and rounding blind corners over deep valleys bursting with bamboo and bananas and giant ferns. I’d tasted winged beans in a tar-black paste of fermented mud crab and sesame seed, snakehead eels electric with the numbing zap of Sichuan peppercorns, and a thick curry of pig intestines cooked in blood over the open fire that is the center of every Naga kitchen and home.

Yes, I had most definitely eaten.

I first tasted Naga food about three years earlier when a friend’s sister-in-law invited me over for a dinner of home-cooked dishes from her native state. She prepared smoked beef, pungent with a fermented soy paste called axone, smoked pork with fermented bamboo shoots, and fresh pork in anishi, a black gravy made from pounded and smoked yam leaves, all served with heaping mounds of rice. These were bold, confrontational flavors and textures I’d never associated with India.


How to Cook Bugs

3 October 2015 – Lucky Peach

HornetsThe Nagas—a collective name for the subtribes found in the rugged, jungle-covered hills straddling India and Burma—are known, where they’re known at all, for eating anything that moves. Staples of the Naga diet include pork fat and smoked beef and entrails cooked in pungent curries of fermented soy and smoked yam leaves. Visit markets in the major towns of the Indian state of Nagaland, home to sixteen major tribes, and you’ll see bundles of wild greens plucked from the jungle; frogs and eels and river fish, both smoked and alive; white rats (good for asthma) and rabbits in woven bamboo cages; and a shocking variety of bugs. (more…)