Naga cuisine: Organic is a way of life for Nagas

Gazie, or tenga pata (sour leaves) as it is popularly known in Nagamese, a creole language used in Nagaland, is an invasive species of plant, the Chinese Knotweed. There are multiple varieties of the plant found in abundance by roadsides and near water bodies in the hilly state of Nagaland.

Written by Kallol Dey | Dimapur | Updated: April 3, 2018 8:01:30 pm
The sour leaves of Gazie are used in a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes by the Nagas for taste and nutrition

106-year old Kuoii Kesiezie of Kohima village has one staple food in her daily diet – the nutritious galho with gazie. There is hardly a day she goes without her favourite comfort food. The centenarian, of sound mind and body, swears by the delicacy and nutrition of gazie.

Gazie, or tenga pata (sour leaves) as it is popularly known in Nagamese, a creole language used in Nagaland, is an invasive species of plant, the Chinese Knotweed (botanically known as Polygonum). There are multiple varieties of the plant found in abundance by roadsides and near water bodies in the hilly state of Nagaland. One other variety of the plant is the Himalayan Knotweed (Persicaria Wallichi). The leaves are used in Naga traditional cuisine like the Galho (similar to Khichda, a traditional Muslim dish, minus the masalas). The sour leaves are used in a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes by the Nagas for taste and nutrition. The stem of the plant is also eaten raw with a dash of salt after peeling the upper skin from the stem.

Called by different names in different Naga tribal dialects, the knotweed is also popular as pig feed – pork being a staple diet, pig rearing is commonplace among Nagas. Used in “gahuri dana” (food for pigs), it helps fight intestinal worms that thwart growth in the pigs. Some even claim that meat of local pigs growing on a diet of tenga pata is more tasty than the farm bred ones.

Kuoii Kesiezie, the centenarian, of sound mind and body, swears by the delicacy and nutrition of gazie. (Express photo)

While, the claims of medicinal value of the plant could be be independently ascertained, Nagas believe that the tenga pata possesses numerous medicinal benefits for humans too. Neivo-o Nicholas Sorunuo, an elder martial artist, swears by the benefits of the plant found abundantly. “People don’t pay it much heed as it grows wild, but the tenga pata can cure a host of ailments,” Sorunuo says. According to him the tenga pata stabilizes blood pressure, is good for diabetic patients and can be used to treat anything from common fever to malaria.

In neighbouring Manipur, there is a Poumai Naga village by the name Gaziphema (people of the land of Gazhie). In popular folklore, it is claimed that the ancestors who established the village originally came from Mao by hunting a phenomenal 7 branching horn stag. When they reached the present location of Gaziphema, it was dusk and the hunters had to halt there for the night. With no food at hand, they ate the buds of the leafy plant Himalayan Knotweed locally called Vavu.

But apparently many Nagas themselves are not aware of the value of what nature has gifted them. Popular blogger and activist Yanpvuo Yanfo Kikon narrates an incident in his Facebook post about a Naga diabetic patient who went to China for treatment and came back cured by Chinese traditional medicine. On his way back, he bought a lot of “this very expensive magical plant with super high medicinal value to control blood pressure, diabetics, cut fats with multiple nutritional health benefits (sic).” As he was showing off the medicinal plant, an old lady remarked, “Itu to gazhie ase to .. gahuri dana aase (This is Gazhie…we feed it to the pigs).”

The tenga pata is a “superfood”, Kikon claims and says that while Nagaland has abundant undiscovered superfoods with high medicinal values, people fall prey to marketing gimmicks, spending exorbitant sums to buy artificially manufactured juices and pills that promise miraculous cures. Local Naga superfoods is a promising sub-sector that can contribute to rural livelihood, improving local economy and contributing to a healthier, fitter Nagaland, Kikon observes.

Superfood or not, for centenarian Kuoii Kesiezie nothing can replace gazie. Her granddaughter, Aster Kevi, a professional librarian in Kohima, informs, “My grandma’s standing request to all relatives visiting her is to bring her gazie leaves. At 106, she is healthy both physically and mentally, and though we do not know if her health can be attributed to consuming gazie, she simply loves to eat the leafy plant.”

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