Photo: Sharada Prasad CS / Flickr
Photo: Sharada Prasad CS / Flickr

A basic Kathmandu thaali

Time may be the most important ingredient in creating a good meal.

I could not get the strong smell of aloo and chamsoorko ras out of my mind. This stew of potatoes and a sharp, slightly pungent green was all I wanted to eat and nothing more. I was not able to, though, and thankfully my daughter grew up just fine, and does not drool all over the place. If a pregnant woman does not get to eat the food she craves, so the Nepali saying goes, the child will drool. But I was in New York in the 1980s, and chamsoor proved far too difficult to find. So I delivered my baby girl without having satiated the craving for so simple a dish.

Does one live to eat, or eat to live? I guess in a country – indeed, a region – like ours, where so many must toil day in and day out just to be able to get by, the question may seem moot. But certain simple staples can be a culinary pleasure: these are the dishes that drive a powerful nostalgia when overseas, and that one does not tire of eating every day. Cuisine is varied according to community in Kathmandu, and Newari cuisine is obviously the most authentically 'Nepali', but for many of the valley's families, the menu for such a meal would read along the lines of: kalo daal (black lentils), bhuja (rice), kauli aloo (a dish of cauliflower and potatoes), saag (greens), tama aloo bodiko ras (a stew of bamboo shoots, potatoes and black-eyed peas), and golbhedako achar (tomato chutney). As the cherry on the top, one can drizzle a generous spoonful of ghiu (ghee) over the pile of rice. Of course, this thaali can be varied by substituting the tomato achar with potato alooko achar, but the kalo daal cannot be changed!

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