Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur

Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur

I have asked many Chinese friends whether the Chinese that we eat is actually Chinese. Many of them have smiled and replied that it’s not that real Chinese-Chinese.  Similarly, when it comes to Tribal Food there are a lot of misconception. Most think that the tribal food is dominated by pork or other meat items. It’s actually not, on the contrary, the majority of the tribal population especially in the central and eastern part of India consume more of vegetables, rice, and pulses.

So this blog is dedicated to my wife who after marriage always thought that we Bengalis have extremely spiced up food with lots of masalas and oil. Last year when I went to meet my grandmother in law my wife ensured that I get the taste of real Tribal Chota Nagpuri food.

Map of Chota Nagpur Region
Map of Chota Nagpur Region

Red Rice

To start with the main component of the diet is rice, not the white polished rice that we are used to seeing but Red Rice, these have more fibres and contains the best that rice can offer. To be more specific the husk has been removed from the rice using the thresher (Dheki) that most houses will have in their back yard. Earthen pots are used to boil the rice and wood fire is used to heat them. Needless to say that firewood is quite in abundance thus it’s the most common source of fuel.

Boiled Red Rice
Boiled Red Rice
Rice Being Boiled In Traditional Earthen Pots on Wood Fire
Rice Being Boiled In Traditional Earthen Pots on Wood Fire

Arhar Daal/Toor Daal

With red rice, the most staple side dish is Arhar Daal/Toor Daal (Pigeon Pea). Most of the families do not have the luxury to have another side dish thus rice and daal are the most common food that is consumed.

Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur (5)
Arhar Daal/Toor Daal (Pigeon Pea)
Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur (6)
Arhar Daal/Toor Daal (Pigeon Pea) Plant

Munga Saag

Chota Nagpur region is mostly covered in forest with some patches of cultivating the land. Though vegetables are grown in these cultivating land but the produce is usually sold in the wholesale or local markets. Thus, the locals do not usually get to eat what we eat. The best example would be that of Munga Saag (Drumstick – Moringa Oleifera), we are used to eating the fruit (seeds) in curry but this was for the first time I had the opportunity to eat the leaves.

Munga Saag (Drumstick - Moringa Oleifera)
Munga Saag (Drumstick – Moringa Oleifera)

The leaves of the tree are washed and smashed with hand to make them even smaller, after this it’s just boiled and some potatoes are added to it along with salt. This becomes like a saag with quite a bitter taste. These are eaten along with red rice and daal.

Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur (7)
Munga Saag

Not only the left but the flower of Drumstick tree are also eaten. These can be eaten fried or can be mixed in a batter and deep-fried.

Munga Flower (Drumstick - Moringa Oleifera)
Munga Flower (Drumstick – Moringa Oleifera)

Koinar Saag

There is also the Koinar Saag (Phanera Variegate), similarly like drumstick both the leaves and flowers are eaten.

Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur (11)
Koinar Saag (Phanera Variegate)
Koinar Flower (Phanera Variegate)
Koinar Flower (Phanera Variegate)

Sanai Flower

The next item was something I had no clue about, it is Sanai Flower, and these are also fried and eaten along with rice. These tasted wonderful but I was completely taken aback when I learnt that these are actually flowers of Jute (Corchorus) plant.

Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur (13)
Sanai Flower – Jute (Corchorus)
Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur (14)
Fried Sanai Flower

Bamboo Shoot Pickle

Another interesting side dish was the Bamboo Shoot Pickle. I had the misconception that bamboo shoot was only popular in the northeastern part of the country but it seems the locals love the bamboo shoot pickle which has been marinated in various spices and then left in the sun to dry. This pickle can also be eaten with roti (flat bread).

Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur (15)
Bamboo Pickle

Red Ant Chutney

Talking about pickled I cannot forget the Red Ant Chutney, I have earlier written a detailed blog about it. During the season the locals like a good dollop of this chutney with their rice.

Red Ants
Red Ants
Red Ant Chutni
Red Ant Chutney


Nenua (Sponge Gourd) is another common item which is eaten both as fired as well as a curry. This vegetable is popular in several states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh so it cannot be exactly limited to this region.

Nenua (Sponge Gourd)
Nenua (Sponge Gourd)


The next item would be something new to most of you, it’s a potato that grows on the tree, locally knows as the Aru (Dioscorea Bulbifera) is from the yam family and grows in quite an abundance in some regions. These are boiled and made a curry and eaten along with rice.

Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur (19)
Aru (Dioscorea Bulbifera)


Next, there is Marwa which most of us know by the name of Ragi or Finger Millet (Eleusine Coracana). These are used in making flat bread as well as used in baking also. I have tasted wonderful Marwa Christmas Cake wish tastes quite good.

Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur (20)
Marwa – Finger Millet (Eleusine Coracana)


In terms of snack, Dhuska is the most common snack, these are made of a wet grind mix of ground Rice and Chana Daal (Chickpea). The wet mix is then deep fried and eaten along with a potato curry or meat curry.

Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur (21)
Dhuska (The Flat Round Items To the Left)

Tribal Pork Curry

Finally coming to the non-veg part, we all know Pork is the favourite meat and when cooked with the right masalas it’s a real killer. Other than this fish is also quite popular and the best is when I am served Puti (Puntius Sophore) with rice.

Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur (22)
Pork Curry

Tribal Puti Fish Curry

Puti Curry (Puntius Sophore)
Puti Curry (Puntius Sophore)

Custard Apple

Finishing the post with some fruits and the first thing that comes to my mind are Lychee, Mango & Custard Apple. I remember during one of my long drive from Ranchi to Chaibasa I came to a point where there were rows of custard apple trees on both the sides. These grow in abundance and can be easily plucked by hand.

Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur (24)
Custard Apple


Finishing this blog on a sweet note and if you are in Jharkhand you must try Arsa, this snack is more prominent in the villages of eastern India, made with rice flour, coconut, fennel seeds etc.  these come in two varieties, one made with white sugar and the other made with jaggery. The mixed concussion is deep-fried in oil and served to the guests. My introduction to these came from my in law’s place.


What I have mentioned above is not an exhaustive list but a list of few preparations which I have managed to taste during my visit. There are numerous other food preparations also which I will keep adding to this list as and when I get the opportunity to taste them personally. Hope you have enjoyed my blog and do remember to visit Jharkhand and taste the real authentic tribal food.

20 thoughts on “Tribal Food of Chota Nagpur

  1. All the dishes look so yummy! The red rice looks similar to the what we have in Mangalore and ant chunky is something we are hearing for the first time, wonder how many ants they might have to collect! Beautiful captures Subhadip! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I will keep updating this blog as and when I get to eat something new. My cousin sis is married to a Mangalorean and she keeps telling me about the unique Mangalorian dishes, hopefully one day will be able to cover them. The Red Any Chutney was something I always wanted to try and its sour like hell. 🙂


  2. Very informative post. Drumstick leaves or Murungai Keerai as we call in Tamilnadu, is very rich in iron and many nutrients and is very common in Tamil cuisine. Rice and jaggery and the vada like snack gives a glimpse of how closely different parts of India is connected. Thanks for the interesting write up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So interesting and informative too. I thoroughly enjoyed the post. I remember the post on the red ant chutney. 🙂

    We Malayalees also make curry with drumstick leaves ( a coconut based curry). Recently a friend of mine suggested adding it to egg burji and it turned out so well. You should try that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Was such an interesting read.
    Being originally from kolkatta I too just love all my veggies and fish curries with rice..less of a roti eater.
    Very well written blog …just one query …. does one actually consume the red ants??
    Way back then in calcutta we had an old maid who would let red ants cover her jelebi and pop it right into her mouth …. was so fascinated with that.

    Liked by 1 person

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