Rocila Patton did not expect to stay in Delhi for too long. “I had just come to help my younger brother settle into college. Things happened, and I’m still here,” smiles Patton, who runs Heritage Naga Food, a Naga restaurant in the Capital.
Patton went on to become one of the six people who went on to open Hornbill Café, at the urban hamlet in Safdarjung — Humayunpur. Patton, who served as the head/primary chef at the café, then wanted to venture out on her own, as she wanted to celebrate her own cuisine as cooked at homes across Nagaland.
Indeed, while people who have the slightest inkling of Naga (specifically) or Northeastern (broadly) food tend to end at Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Peppers) as being the be all and end all of the cuisine, Patton prides herself on serving the kinds of dishes and meal “we’d have at home.”
One of these items is bamboo shoots, which, explains Patton can be prepared in a myriad ways, depending on its state of being, er, ripeness. “We use all kinds of meats, from chicken to pork to beyond, but among the things we use across dishes is the bamboo shoot, which has so many different means to cook it over its lifetime. I wanted to do something closer to home, and do Naga food in its true form; food I know from home,” says Patton, 36, who launched her restaurant in 2017 on the first floor of said hamlet. “I don’t often do thalis and things like that, even though other people do it well, because everything is so seasonal. I prepare food with the freshest produce possible; most of it I get from back home in Dimapur.”
That’s not to say Patton has not found a home away from home in South Delhi. “Since I have come here, and stayed in Humayunpur, I have never felt like an outsider. From the shops to the restaurants to the people, everything is familiar. Northeast India is very diverse, but this community provides a space for all of us,” reveals Patton.
“Honestly, it’s our returning customers who are still keeping us afloat. When the shutdowns happened, we were very fortunate that our landlord gave us a 50 per cent discount on rent, and people kept calling to ask when we would reopen, and it’s both those things that have enabled us to survive.”