For Kohima resident Asano Angami, the Mao Market is a noisy yet friendly space from which she learns something new on every visit.
For Asano Angami, who runs a cafe in Kohima, Mao Market is a familiar place in her neighbourhood. Not only does she remember shopping from the market over the last 20 years, but she continues to depend on the market for fresh, wild, and seasonal produce—vegetables, spices and meat—from the surrounding villages.
Asano speaks of the market with affection, and as a passionate cook, it’s evident that she sees it also as a place of learning. “In Nagaland, every tribe cooks and eats differently. So I’m very curious about what they sell in the market, especially because they bring produce from different regions. Every time I go there, I learn something new,” she says. Asano is eager to find the origins of the produce, and usually, the sellers explain ways in which it can be cooked. “The women there are very kind to me,” she adds.
The Mao market is run mostly by women from different tribes who use the income from the sales to take care of expenses at home. So there’s a lot of shouting to attract customers to their stalls (‘Sister, sister, come over here, I have fresh tomatoes…’). Asano describes the atmosphere in the market as friendly and very noisy. “Most of the time, the women are also cracking jokes,” she says, bursting into laughter.
“The market is also very smelly,” Asano tells us. But this is because of what’s being sold there: snails, fermented soya beans, local garlic, frogs, worms, and other produce that’s vital to Naga cuisine. Do the strong smells bother her? “I’m so used to it by now. When you’re away from home for a long time, and then you come back to the market and you get those smells, it actually feels very nostalgic.”
But Asano is a local, and for outsiders, it’s often not the same. She recalls friends of hers, from outside of the state, making remarks about the market being dirty and stinky. In such cases, Asano explains that the smells come from the produce, and that the market and the sellers are actually very clean, and that there is no need to be concerned about matters of hygiene. The market is small and packed, and this often adds to visitors’ perceptions too.
While locals like Asano feel the need to respond and clarify, these remarks are also indicative of our lack of understanding of other cultures, and the fact that we need to approach them with not just curiosity and sensitivity, but also respect. As Asano rightfully points out, “You have to understand my culture before you judge it. Try not to be scared of our food.”
The following captions are by Asano Angami, who has grown up in Kohima, and continues to live there. As a chef, she is a regular at Mao market. She likes to look for seasonal produce to incorporate into her menu.
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