Glistening beneath tufts of cloud, the Himalayan Mountains rise into the sky. Marked by cultural, religious, and political boundaries, Nepal Mandala sits undisturbed in the heart of Nepal. This ancient confederation is home to the indigenous Newar people; heirs to the Kathmandu Valley since prehistoric times.
A diverse mix of cultures, the Newar civilization grows with new immigrants merging into the population by adopting their language and customs. Even after the conquest of the Gorkha Kingdom in 1968 the Newar thrive to this day six years after the fall of the Gorkha Kingdom.
“Jan aye dwuno la?”
Have you eaten your rice?
Food in the Newar culture holds a very social importance. It not only brings people together but it is a way of life. Traditions passed down from generation to generation still grasp the simple concept that food brings us together. The phrase “Jan aye dwuno la?” is a prime example of this concept as its translation “Have you eaten your rice?” is a common greeting in the Newar culture. Even visitors to the region will notice the communal atmosphere of daily picnics and celebratory feasts called “bhoye”.
The Newari Cuisine can be divided into three main categories which may be surprising as they do not abide so easily as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The daily meal or “ja” is eaten as a late brunch and consists of energy rich foods to readily engage a busy day. A typical meal will consist of rice “baji”, green vegetables “wauncha” , and if one can afford it, meat “della”. Often chicken, pork, or water buffalo are the preferred choices of meat.
The afternoon snack “baji” is a delicious pick-me-up not to be confused with a treat. Aptly named, the afternoon snack consists of beaten rice, roasted and curried soybeans bhatmas, and curried potato alu tarakari.
The most important category casts a principal bond between food and religion, the two focal points of the Newar culture. Food has a symbolic significance associated with religious celebrations. A day of feasting “bhoye” known as “Choyala” initiates religious events and celebrations by helping to transition daily life from important ritual periods. During this time, different sets of ritual dishes are placed in a circle around common staples such as flattened rice in order to represent and honor different deities. The most important event is the Life Cycle Ceremony which charts the life cycle from birth until death. It is without a doubt that the Newars celebrate the greatest number of festivities and feasts among all the people of Nepal.
Here are three staple components of the Newari Cuisine:
Lentils / Dal
- Lentils come in a variety of colors ranging from yellow, red, orange, green, brown, and black.
- Grocery store lentils can be sprouted by allowing them to soak for 1 day and then remaining moist there after.
- Lentils were first domesticated in the Near East around 9,500 – 13,000 years ago. They’ve even been found in Egyptian tombs.
- Lentils have the third highest protein content for a legume after soy beans and hemp.
- The optical lens was named after the Latin word for “Lentil”.
Cumin / Jeera
- In its 5,000-year-long history, cumin has been used as a spice and for medicinal purposes.
- Cumin was once used to pay taxes.
- Cumin comes from the plant scientifically known as Cuminum cyminum.
- Cumin makes up a large majority of curry powder and chili powder.
- Cumin is the most popular spice in the world after black pepper.
Beaten Rice / Baji
- Beaten rice is commonly eaten like cereal for breakfast in many Asian countries.
- Beaten rice is rich in carbohydrates and fat while low in cholesterol and saturated fats.
- Beaten rice comes from the process of being parboiled, rolled, flattened, and finally dried.
- Beaten rice swells when added to liquid whether hot or cold— it is most popular added to milk with fresh fruit!
- In a Hindu story, beaten rice is used to show the power of friendship over wealth.
Let’s Get Cooking!
Wo is a flavorful lentil patty utilizing or excluding eggs and meat. These Newar delicacies are served on special occasions and religious functions. They are also popular as street food or appetizers. An alternative cooking method is to deep fry, turning these wonderful treats into pop-able bites.
- 2 cups lentils (split or whole)
- Vegetable Oil
- 2 large Carrots
- 2 small Onions Pyaj
- 2 tsp. Ginger Paste Aduwa
- 2 tsp. Garlic Paste Lasun
- Salt to taste
- Cover lentils under 4 inches of water. Let them soak for at least 5-6 hours or overnight.
- Rinse lentils beans and place into a mixing bowl with the salt, ginger, and garlic. Grind into a paste.
- Mince the carrots and onion. Then in a separate bowl grind these into a paste as well.
- Combine and mix well.
- Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium/low heat.
- Scoop two tablespoons of the mixture into the pan then pat it with the back of a spoon to form a pancake shape.
- When the underside turns golden brown, flip and repeat.
Choyalas are a very popular appetizer in the Newar community. Traditionally made with Buffalo meat, this dish may be prepared with chicken, duck, beef or pork for the same mouthwatering reaction. This dish may be prepared black (Haku) over an open flame or boiled (Mana). Whichever style you choose, Choyalas pair perfectly with a bowl of beaten rice (Baji).
- 2 pounds chicken, (cut into bite size pieces)
- 1 tbsp. Chilli Powder
- 1 tbsp. Chilli Flakes
- 1 tbsp. Red Chilli Paste
- 1 tbsp. Cumin Powder
- 2 tbsp. Garlic Paste
- 1/2 tsp. Schewan Pepper
- 1 tbsp. Black Salt
- 2-3 Scallions Pyaj Hariyo
- 1 cup , Cilantro Leaves, (chopped) dhania leaves
- 5-6 Green Chillis (sliced)
- 6-7 Garlic Cloves (julienne) Lwang
- 1 tbsp. Fresh Ginger (minced)
- 2 tbsp Lemon Juice
- Salt to taste
For the Tempering:
- 2 – 3 tbsp. Mustard Oil
- 1 tsp. Fenugreek Seeds Methi
- 1 tsp. Turmeric Powder Besar
- In a medium sauté pan heat oil over high heat and sear chicken until golden brown.
- In a separate bowl mix together the herbs and spices.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and toss with the herbs and spices until coated.
- Heat mustard oil in the pan and add fenugreek seeds until just browned. Add turmeric and pour over chicken.
Juju Dhau literally translates to “King of Yoghurt’ in Newari. It is an important component of any occasion or celebration in Newar communities. Considered the best yoghurt in the world, juju dhau has a sweeter and richer taste with a smooth texture that melts in your mouth. Most commonly made with buffalo milk, Juju Dhau with the addition of seasonal fruits, cumin, or even honey makes this Newar treat unforgettable.
- ½ gallon Whole Milk
- 1 cup Granulated Sugar
- ¼ cup Powdered Milk
- ¾ cup Plain Yogurt with active cultures.
- 6 Cardamom seeds. Ground) Ilaichi
- 12 Saffron Threads (Ground) kesar
- ¼ cup raw pistachios (Chopped)
- Combine the milk, sugar, powdered milk, and cardamom seeds in a heavy saucepot over medium heat. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly.
- Turn the heat to medium/low and let simmer for 15 minutes until thickened, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
- Whisk in the plain yoghurt and let it set covered until thickened.
- Garnish with saffron and pistachios.