Being and eating Naga in Gangtok

Gangtok, 05 Jan:

Do you have a penchant for indigenous Naga cuisine? If you are in Gangtok and ever have the urge to tingle your taste buds or experience authentic Naga cuisine minus the trip to the Naga Hills and back, NAGA Kitchen is the place to be. Established on 07 May 2016, the place is owned by Zangyal Dorjee. Located at 5th Mile, Tadong just opposite CISCO bank, it is the first and only Naga restaurant here in Gangtok.

Sandwiched between a car wash and a building, a huge round sign board reads the words “NAGA Kitchen’’ where a flight of stairs leads to the entrance. As soon as you step in, whiffs of bamboo shoot and smoked meat greet you, reaffirming that something tasty is simmering in the kitchen.

The interiors are simple and understated with enough room to fit in twenty four people. The ambience has a lot of contrast with tons of natural light pouring through the windows that practically makes a wall on the left side of the entrance and the warm earthy colors of the furniture and the wall paint that ties it all up.

Flick the menu open and you notice that the menu is symmetrically divided into Chinese and Naga cuisine. Fried rice, Chowmein, soups and even parathas are some of the choices you see in the Chinese option.

Naga cuisine makes up the right side of the menu.

It includes a list of fresh and smoked pork, beef, chicken and fish items prepared with either fresh or dry bamboo shoot. You can play around with different combinations of meat, bamboo shoot and Akhooni (fermented soy bean), or Anishi (fermented dry yam leaves). The choice is all yours.

We tried the smoked pork with fresh bamboo shoot, a vibrant dish with the perfect amount of heat, saltiness and savoriness. The taste of pork with rendered fat and the bursts of smoky flavor was just pure bliss. The smoked pork with anishi and the smoked eel looked nothing short of sophisticated. The deep brown dishes presented in white platters with shredded carrots and fresh coriander just popped right off the table. If we eat with our eyes first, this was definitely scrumptious.

The anishi makes for a thick dark gravy with an earthy taste which the sourness of the bamboo shoot cuts through and balances it out. The pork just melts in your mouth, while the smoked eel had a hard chewy texture to it.

The smoked beef with fresh bamboo shoot was up next and it didn’t disappoint. The dish shared similarities in terms of construction and appeal with the smoked pork, but the distinct taste of beef was hard to miss. The meat was tender and laden with smoky goodness.

If you think we were overdosing on everything smoked, we were not done yet. Lo and behold, came the smoked pork spare ribs. Here you get two ginormous chunks of slow cooked, dried bamboo shoot slathered ribs with meat that fall right off the bone with little effort.

The rice that accompanied the dishes was simplicity at its best. Fluffy rice with freshly diced vegetables on top, color me impressed!

From the chutnies, the akhooni chutney was less than thrilling. A soybean riddled chutney with shards of crushed ginger and dried chilies, the intensity from the beans was somehow lacking. The alu chutney on the other hand had quite the punch. Made with mashed potatoes, chilies, tomatoes and dried fish, the strong flavor of the fish and the tang of tomatoes comes alive with the rich texture of the potatoes in every swirl in the mouth.

It truly is an authentic Naga experience with an array of mouth watering food. In order to make everything as genuine as possible, all Naga items are prepared by Jungshilemba Longkumer, a lad from Nagaland. All the core ingredients from the meats, chilies, bamboo shoots and other condiments are also shipped straight from Nagaland.

NAGA Kitchen is open Mon-Sat from 10:30am-9pm. Customers can also order from their homes through the Mitho online delivery service. With plans to shift into the heart of the city complete with the bells and whistles of a full Naga ethnic experience in the coming days, food lovers get ready!