The modest but varied and unique Naga cuisine is travelling thousands of miles to tickle the taste buds of top chefs, farmers and diners from all over the world. And displaying the rich Naga culture and ethnic heritage through food is Chef Joel Basumatri, who will be representing Nagaland at the world famous slow food festival Terra Madre Salone del Gusto held in Turin, Italy. The festival to be held on September 22-26 is slated to bring thousands of farmers, food producers, chefs from 150 countries to create a world in which there is good, clean and fair food.
This initiative is an outcome of Slow Food India, the North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS), Chef Joel and NEbuzz.com, who are making collaborative efforts towards Slow Food Movement in Nagaland and the North East.
In an exclusive interaction with The Morung Express, Chef Joel revealed that he has chosen to cook popular dishes like Awoshi Kipiki Ngo Axone (smoked pork cooked in a sauce of fermented soy-bean), Rosup Aon (assorted vegetables dry cooked in bamboo vinegar), and served with Kouve chutney and Naga red rice.
He will prepare these dishes on the September 23, the second day of the food festival, at a taste workshop planned for 30 people. On the 24th, he is collaborating with Chef Sean Sherman, a Native American of the Sioux tribe well-known for revitalizing indigenous food systems in a modern culinary context. Together, they will serve a hundred guests at a pop-up kitchen in a local restaurant. Here, Chef Joel will prepare dishes which take simple and local ingredients and elevate it to fine dining standards. He has chosen Amurso (chicken rice broth with herbs), Doh sniang nei-iong (fresh pork cooked in black sesame paste), and his own innovative sticky rice and rosella ice-cream.
Taking these simple and honest grassroots dishes, he plans to represent the rich culture and history of the Nagas, food practices, indigenous lifestyle, and the multiple tribes of Nagaland.
For Chef Joel, who is the proprietor of ‘Smokey Joe’s’ and also co-owner of ‘Naga Bowl and Grill’ in Dimapur, ‘Food’ is more than a job. He is one of the first chefs in Nagaland to actively advocate the important message of slow food. The realization for this need, he said, was a result of meeting with the members of North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS), and also attending Terra Madre 2014 in Turin and the Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 in Shillong. “I began to be more aware of what I’m serving to my customers- I finally started to question on how food is produced, who produces it, and where it comes from,” he stated.
Chef Joel believes in the philosophy that every individual has a story to tell in terms of food. He added: “Over the recent years I’ve been cooking Naga food but I still feel that I have so much to learn and research more. Food is something which is very vast. And with all the tribes and sub-tribes in Nagaland, it is varied and interesting.” He leaves us with this delicious thought that, “If Chinese and Thai cuisine can become popular worldwide then why not Naga food?”
With several major tribes and many more sub tribes, the food Nagas eat, source and the manner of preparation is a unifying ingredient. It is the guiding force which shapes Naga identity and life. Naga cuisine, which is all about local and organic ingredients, sourced from kitchen gardens at homes or farmers fields and prepared in the traditional way will be right at home at the Terra Madre. Bon appétit, Italy!