A nursery Rhyme Meal

Slugs and snails

And puppy-dogs tails

That’s what little boys are made of.

I gleefully chanted these lines from a traditional English nursery rhyme as a child but they obtained a more visceral reality for me at dinner last evening, and a paraphrased version has been running through my mind ever since: slugs and snails and puppy dogs that’s what Naga cuisine is made of.

Nagas are renowned for having very broad palates indeed—fluffy white rats, frogs, worms, grasshoppers and hornets larvae were for sale at the market in Kohima as ediibles on the morning I visited and last night I was treated to dinner in a Naga home of several of their favourite delicacies : dog meat, silk worm and snails ( you can understand from this menu why that particular rhyme suddenly resonated). And it was a meal which now holds prime place in my culinary memory as the most confronting I have eaten in India.

While I observed the preparation of the dog meat dish with interest, when it came to the tasting I could not bring myself to eat it: memories of various beloved pet canines stimulated biliousness rather than appetite.

I normally pass on animal protein of squidgy or slimy texture—crunchy grasshoppers, scorpions or firm snake meat are fine— but on this occasion I did sup on silkworm and snails. I appreciate that both these food items were of wild and unadulterated provenance —the gastropods had been collected from a neighbouring paddy field —and therefore nutrient rich yet I do not imagine that I will replicate either of these dishes in my own kitchen but you might like to. I expect that obtaining a quantity of silkworms outside of Nagaland might prove challenging so I will give you the recipe for the snails as these are somewhat more widely available. You will likely need to do a do a bit of substitution to create this dish. If I was making it at home I would use golden miso as a substitute for the Naga fermented soya bean paste and canned bamboo shoots — the Nagas collect these fresh from the forest— soaked in a little white vinegar as a substitute for the fermented bamboo shoots, which have a sour/tangy flavour.

Recipe 

Noyla ga (snail curry)

Ingredients

2 tsp fermented soya bean paste

1 tsp red chilli powder or to taste

1 tbsp lard

50gm piece of smoked pork

1 cup fermented bamboo shoots sliced into thin batons

1 kg snails

2 tsp roasted sesame seeds

salt to taste

Method

Put the fermented soya beans, chilli powder, smoked pork, pork lard, fermented bamboo shoot and salt in a pot large enough to hold the snails along with 3 cups of water. Bring to the boil and cook for 20 minutes. Add the snails and sesame and enough hot water to cover the snails. Bring it back to the boil and cook for another 5 minutes stirring the snails to ensure they are coated with the sauce. Serve hot with plain rice.