It's not a patch on Oktoberfest, and Dimapur is no Munich, but “Decemberfest” or the Rice Festival is time to cheer for the people of Nagaland.
Ever since the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) declared a ceasefire in July 1997, Nagaland has been exploring ways to erase its image of a violent state. It found a winner in its prized varieties of rice and heady rice beer.
“What we brew is certainly superior to the Japanese sake,” ethnic food and beverages specialist Abeni Lotha told HT from Dimapur. “We have two-three choices in rice beer from at least 16 tribes in Nagaland.”
If the Angami tribe swears by Khekri, its foamy white Zutho fermented with locally made rice-based yeast, the Lothas have the milky Chumcho, a grainy-syrupy Suko-tssu and the clear-as-water Zu-tssu.
Zu-tssu, Abeni pointed out, is more like rice wine in the category of Raksi, a traditional alcoholic beverage in Nepal and Tibet, or Handia brewed across the Chhotanagpur Plateau. “Nagaland rice beers are appetisers and stress-busters if taken in the right measure and with healthy local food,” she added.
The food ranges from the exotic Wokoso (pork) and Pyokhango-nkong (dry fish) to the hot Naga chutneys like Orho-hanbon (made of beans), Ngasu-khyonti (brinjals) and Rehukun-hanbon (bamboo shoots). All, of course, complement rice.
According to the state’s agriculture production commissioner, Alemtemshi Jamir, rice helped three Nagaland districts figure in the top 10 Indian districts with the highest cropped area in the 2005-06 fiscal.
“We declared 2006 as the Year of the Farmer, and the Rice Festival at Dimapur was the culmination of the celebrations,” he said.
Nagaland grows at least 12 varieties of indigenous, organic rice, the priciest being the aromatic Kajuli. The emphasis, however, is on the healthier brown rice like the Rukhagang, grown in Wokha district.