indian tribal food

10 Must-Try Indian Tribal Foods You’ve Never Heard Of (But Will Love!)

Our culture and identity are strongly influenced by our food, which reflects our geographic origins through the ingenious use of locally available ingredients. For tribal people, whose lifestyles are intricately entwined with nature and its resources, food systems are deeply rooted in local culture and customs. Their food culture demonstrates a reciprocal relationship with nature where they have managed to support both life and the environment. Growing interest in sustainable living and environmental concerns has prompted increased research into the traditional and eco-friendly food habits of tribal communities.

In this blog, we delve into the vibrant flavours of Indian tribal food, where every dish blends a rich cultural heritage with sustainability.

What Makes Indian Tribal Food Unique?

The tribal food culture of India is distinct from the mainstream, centred around natural and medicinally beneficial food items. Their diet often includes non-vegetarian items like snails, rats, and crabs, which are not typically part of mainstream food culture. This frequently becomes grounds for "otherization," as tribal people are viewed as "uncivilized" for consuming such foods.

However, these food sources are nutrient-rich and derived from the natural environment, significantly shaping their eating habits. Many researchers now focus on these tribal food items to promote health benefits and sustainable living. For example, bamboo rice, a traditional food among various tribes, is gaining attention for its nutritional value.

The food culture of Indian tribes reflects their close relationship with nature, as many communities rely on forest produce for sustenance. Their diet includes staple foods like fruits, millets, and tuberous plants, varying seasonally with cereals and mushrooms in summer and boiled potatoes and yams in winter. Seasonal vegetables like spinach are both gathered from forests and cultivated.

Meat is a significant part of the tribal diet, including fish, crabs, and snails found in local water resources. These food items are primarily for self-consumption, preventing resource wastage and supporting sustainable living. Additionally, tribes engage in cattle rearing and farming, with goats and chickens as constant food sources.

Honey is a cherished food item among tribes like the Paliyars, who traditionally extract it from forests. Initially, for self-consumption, honey is now also sold commercially due to its long shelf life and nutritional value. Spices such as turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, and mustard seeds, known for their medicinal properties, are frequently used in tribal cuisine.

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10 Indian Tribal Foods You Must Try

India boasts a diverse array of over 500 indigenous communities, each with its unique culinary heritage and distinct cuisines. These tribal dishes are inventive, use simple cooking methods, and draw inspiration from their respective regions, having developed over time, reflecting the rich culinary heritage passed down through generations.

As Indian tribal food gradually makes its way into mainstream food culture, we have compiled a list of the most popular dishes from tribal cuisine that you must try.

Marh Jhol

Marh Jhol is a spicy gruel rich in flavour, made by mixing the starchy water from boiled rice with whole red chillies, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and native leafy vegetables like bathua saag (Chenopodium). High in carbohydrates, this traditional dish is an essential part of the daily meals of field workers. It is traditionally served on pattal, plates made from sal leaves, ensuring a sustainable and eco-friendly dining experience.

Demta Chutney

Demta chutney, also known as kai or chapra chutney, is a tangy and spicy condiment made from red weaver ants and their eggs. Popular among indigenous communities in Odisha, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, this chutney is rich in protein and calcium.

It is prepared by grinding the ants and eggs with spices like garlic, ginger, chillies, and coriander and is typically served as a starter. The chutney is believed to help treat jaundice, colds, and poor eyesight. Scientists have been seeking a Geographical Indication (GI) tag for this unique dish.

Elephant-Foot Yam (Olua) Dessert

The Kondh tribe of Odisha, known for their culinary creativity, turn common bland yams into a sweet treat. Known as Khamba or Mati Alu in Odia and Masia Kanda or Ban Alu (jungle potato) by the Kondhs, the yam is abundant in the jungles of Phulbani Block in Kandhamal district.

Men and women venture by early morning to gather these yams from nearby forests. The yams are cleaned, peeled, sliced, and boiled in earthen pots. After cooking, they are cooled, mixed with sugar or jaggery, and left to marinate. The final dish is served in Siali Chauti/Dhan, a bowl made from dried sal leaves.

Beyond its culinary use, this yam also serves as a remedy for reptile or rodent bites. Rich in fibre, potassium, manganese, copper, and antioxidants, it offers numerous health benefits, including blood sugar control and improved brain health.

Eri Polu

Eri Polu is a unique dish from Assam in northeast India, known for its unusual ingredient—silkworm larvae. This tribal speciality attracts many food enthusiasts seeking an authentic and out-of-the-ordinary culinary experience. The larvae used are those left after the silk has been extracted from the cocoon. They are seasoned with various herbs and spices for added flavour and then smoked in bamboo stalks, resulting in a tender interior and a soft exterior. Eri Polu is often enjoyed as a side dish or snack.


Mahua is a traditional liquor derived from mahua (Madhuca longifolia) flowers. It is a clear, silky, and odourless beverage known for its high protein and iron content. This fermented liquid not only aids digestion and soothes the stomach but also helps relieve back pain and intestinal issues owing to its antibacterial properties. Mahua liquor is popularly consumed in central, eastern, and certain parts of northern India.


Sandhana, also known as karil, is a beloved ingredient in Jharkhand known for its nutritional richness. These tender bamboo shoots are a rich source of proteins, carbohydrates, fibre, and minerals. The process involves cutting the bamboo shoots into smaller pieces and allowing them to ferment. Subsequently, they are mixed with onions, tomatoes, green chillies, and mustard oil, then sun-dried, quite akin to traditional pickling methods.


The Santhali dish ‘Laad’ is a savoury, non-vegetarian delicacy typically enjoyed during feasts and gatherings with friends or family. This dish is prepared by roasting marinated mutton, chicken, or pork, inside a branch of a Sal tree over a bonfire.

First, a bonfire is lit, and then a suitable branch cut from a Sal tree is knocked against the ground until the inner wood part falls out, leaving a hollow bark. The marinated meat is stuffed into this hollow bark, with both open ends tightly sealed with green Sal leaves.

The stuffed bark is placed into the bonfire and roasted until the meat is cooked. As the stuffed bark burns over the bonfire, the liquid that oozes out of it gradually soaks the meat inside, enhancing its flavour. This method imparts a unique taste and aroma, making it a favourite dish at Santhali get-togethers.


Hariya, also known as handia, is a traditional drink prepared for weddings or special celebrations in tribal communities in Assam, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. This healthy beverage helps with cooling during summer, and its medicinal properties help prevent jaundice.

It is typically made with local rice, which is slow-cooked with water in an earthen pot and left to dry in the sun. A fermentation starter called ranu or bakor is mixed with the rice, placed in an earthen pot, covered with leaves to contain the fermentation odour, and left to ferment for three days.


Gandhakasala is the most popular traditional aromatic rice cultivar from the Wayanad District of Kerala in South India, known for its distinctive fragrance and aroma. This unique variety of rice features short, bold, golden yellow grains that are awnless with a straw-coloured hull and is highly valued for its flavour and aroma, fetching a premium price in the market.

It is mainly used for special dishes like "Ghee rice" or "neichoru," prepared for weddings and festivals, and for sweet items like "Payasam." The cultivation of this rice relies on traditional knowledge of varieties, as well as ecological and environmental factors. Unique climatic conditions, coupled with traditional cultivation methods, contribute to the exceptional aroma and flavour of Gandhakasala rice.

Njandu Roast

Njandu Varattiyathu is a remarkable tribal seafood delicacy from Kerala, known for its rich flavours and enticing aroma. The dish features rock crabs, locally called ‘Njandu’ in Malayalam, which is typically collected from the cracks of nearby river rocks.

Freshly caught crabs are first washed and steamed. They are then coated with hand-ground spices and placed in a wide earthen vessel. A small amount of water is added, and the crabs are cooked over a wood fire until the water evaporates. The result is a dish with a divine aroma that leaves you craving more.

The Future of Tribal Food in India

Many indigenous dishes in India, once overshadowed by junk food, are experiencing a revival. Modern concerns about health and fitness have prompted an increasing number of health-conscious individuals towards indigenous dishes due to their naturally rich flavours, high nutrient content and simple cooking methods.

Social media influencers and food bloggers who, especially during and after the 2020 pandemic, took to the internet in increasing numbers to promote their local culinary culture served a crucial boost to the resurgence of interest in indigenous foods. Esther Lotha from Nagaland runs a YouTube channel, Nagaland Foodie, showcasing traditional cuisines from Nagaland and other northeastern states. Isak Munda from Odisha gained over 800,000 subscribers on his channel, ‘Isak Munda eating,’ where he vlogs about traditional food and village life.

Mainstream restaurants are increasingly innovating with tribal cuisine, blending traditional ingredients with modern tastes to preserve cultural heritage and promote health. Home chefs are experimenting with common tribal ingredients like ragi, creating new dishes, such as ragi momos and spring rolls, to attract customers. This revival of tribal cuisine emphasizes clean, nutritious, and balanced eating.

Restaurants like Dzukou Tribal Kitchen in Delhi elevate the fine dining experience with authentic Naga dishes such as smoked pork and sticky rice. Ajam Emba in Ranchi, with its all-women staff, serves traditional Santhal and Oraon cuisine, including pithas and desi chicken. Santa’s Fantasea in Kolkata offers a casual dining experience with tribal dishes from Meghalaya, Assam, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Nagaland, appealing to meat and seafood lovers.

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Reflecting the diverse cultures of over 500 indigenous communities, Indian tribal food positively revitalises the nation's gastronomical culture. Reflecting the essence of nature, land, geography and tradition, once overshadowed by the mass-manufactured junk food industry, these nutrient-rich traditional dishes are now experiencing a revival, with chefs and home cooks creating innovative recipes using indigenous ingredients. With influencers and vloggers helping to popularise tribal foods and restaurants bringing these authentic flavours to a wider audience, this resurgence is sure to not only preserve cultural heritage but also promote sustainable and healthy eating practices nationwide.


What is the famous tribal food of India?

One of the famous tribal foods of India is "Bamboo Rice," harvested from the seeds of bamboo plants. It is considered a delicacy among various tribal communities due to its unique flavour and nutritional value. Bamboo rice is often used in traditional dishes and festivals, highlighting the cultural significance of this indigenous food.

What food is eaten by tribes?

Tribal communities often eat foods that are naturally available in their environment, such as fruits, millets, tuberous plants, and seasonal vegetables. Their diets may also include wild catches, fish, and insects, and they commonly use traditional preparation methods like fermentation and smoking. These foods are nutrient-rich and reflect their deep connection to nature.

What type of food is in Indian culture?

Indian culture features a diverse variety of foods, including spicy curries, fragrant rice dishes, and a variety of breads like naan and roti. The cuisine is characterized by the use of aromatic spices, herbs, and fresh ingredients, with regional variations offering a range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, including lentils, vegetables, meats, and seafood.

Anuska Saha

Anuska Saha is an aspiring academician and musician pursuing her Master's in English. A passionate book enthusiast and a singer-musician, she navigates the realms of academia and creativity with equal enthusiasm.

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