1. Health & Lifestyle

Axone Recipe: The Famous Naga Dish Known for its Distinctive Smell

Axone is cooked and eaten throughout Nagaland, but the Sumi (also known as Sema) tribe enjoys a special fondness for it. Read how to make this special dish/ condiment here.

Binita Kumari
Axone, also known as Akhuni, is a popular Nagaland dish known for its distinctive smell and taste.
Axone, also known as Akhuni, is a popular Nagaland dish known for its distinctive smell and taste.

Axone (akhuni) or fermented soya bean, is cooked, eaten, and loved in Nagaland and by many indigenous people in various regions of Northeast India and beyond. Axone is a fermented soybean from Nagaland that has a unique smell and taste. It is used to make curries of pork, fish, chicken, or other meats as well as pickles and chutneys.

Aditya Kiran Kakati, a historian and anthropologist who has conducted ethnographic research on the emergence and mainstreaming of "ethnic" cuisines of Northeast India, noted that it adds a lot of flavors to anything you cook, including vegetables.

Axone is cooked and eaten throughout Nagaland, but the Sumi (also known as Sema) tribe enjoys a special fondness for it. According to Aketoli Zhimomi, a chef who owns the Ethnic Table restaurant in Dimapur, "They use it in every dish."

Kikon attributed the popularity of axone to the general food requirements of a community. "Condiments take on a major role in cultures that rely heavily on rice. In order for axone to become the main focus of the meal, it typically needs to be something that excites the senses – salty, spicy, or fermented, for example.

How to Make Axone?

Axone can be made in two different ways: dry or like a paste. Both require the same preparation requirements. Zhimomi added, "We soak it overnight and cook it in water until it becomes soft—but not too soft. The soybeans are then placed in bamboo baskets lined with banana leaves once the water has been drained.

The fermentation process is then started by keeping this in the kitchen over a fire. In contrast to villages where every home has a fireplace in the kitchen, fermentation can be done in urban areas by storing food on a balcony in full sunshine.

The fermented beans are then mashed, turned into cakes, covered in banana leaves, and kept close to the fireplace to continue fermenting. Axone is used to make curry dishes and stews using ingredients including chicken, pork, and fish. 

Instead of being mashed, the drier version of axone is further dried in the sun until it loses all of its moisture. Then, she continued, "you can sauté it with ginger, garlic, and chili powder, and make powdered chutney or pickles."

What’s the reason behind the distinct smell and taste?

Soybeans are fermented to create axone. "Fermentation is what provides it its distinctive smell and taste," claimed Kakati. "It invokes the mysterious umami flavor profile which is difficult to articulate but still enriches any dish. It has the fifth element of our basic taste senses."

In actuality, its name derives from this smell. Zhimomi explained that "axo" in the Sumi dialect means smell and "ne" means strong. She continued, "For us Nagas, this smell makes us feel hungry, yet it could be unbearable for others."

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