I’ve always thought that every cuisine had its own personality. One single characteristic that defines it. And just recently, I happened to meet one of the biggest bullies in that particular playground, the kind of cuisine that made every single taste bud on my tongue get down on its knees and beg me to end the torture. This is what happens when you mess around with Naga cuisine; it messes back.
How do I know? I tried out the stuff at the Zingron in Koramangala, and let’s just say that for a self-proclaimed spice addict, the food there was a game-changer.
The restaurant itself is very elegant, with an understated, subtle style that has a calming effect.
(Vegetarians be warned: this is Naga cuisine. There’s a lot — repeat, a lot — of meat in the matter, but very little vegetable to show for it.)
Out of a good range of starters, I chose the smoked pork ribs. Other interesting options are the smoked chicken breast, and the beef chilli.
Whatever you order, make sure you ask for a bowl of their Naga ‘king chilli’ sauce. Yes, it does deserve that name; let me put it this way: on the Scoville rating system for chilli peppers, jalapenos score between 3,500 and 8,000. The average Naga king chilli, or the ‘bhut jolokia’, scores between 855,000 and 1,500,000, and some form of it is present in almost every aspect of Naga cuisine.
The smoked pork ribs turned out to be thick, steamy and succulent, and a bit on the salty side. The marinade was comparatively tame when compared to the rest of my lunch. Then, I looked for a main course, and asked for chicken anishe with wild shiitake mushrooms, and a bowl of rice to go with it. It was here that the torture truly started, when I made the mistake of following my usual habit of mixing chilli sauce with rice and the chicken gravy. Within ten minutes of getting down to business, I’d gone through two glasses of rice beer: it’s thin, sweet and has a sharp aftermath, and one of the few safeguards against that infernal chilli.
The chicken anishe isn’t all that substantial, but it is toxic, a description I normally save for liquor. It’s terrifyingly spicy; but apart from this, it goes well with the rice.
Zingron also has a healthy selection of beef and fish dishes, such as the Kangshui, a fish stew of sorts. And there’s smoked fish and beef steak, for those who want something simpler.
The place is a bit on the expensive side; a full meal for one will come to Rs. 900 (although I may have overindulged in the king chilli sauce and rice beer).
In conclusion, let me say this: after the endless lines of tandoor houses, barbeque bars, fast food diners and five-star restaurants, Naga cuisine is amazingly, refreshingly different. Even though typical Indian food features a good amount of spice, Naga cuisine stands above and beyond that call of duty; it raises the bar for spiciness, and for the sheer mind-numbing, stomach-churning, tongue-burning potential that this food has, you should visit it at least once.
If you can’t satisfy your craving for red-hot food here, at the very least it will teach you to look at milder fare in a new light entirely.
(Zingron is at No. 62, 2nd floor, 1st A Main, Koramangala 7th Block. Call 40997506).