I grew up in a city – Gorakhpur – that practically shares its border with Nepal. I have visited Nepal a couple of times as a kid and recently with family, but it was in Mumbai at an Assamese house that I had my first taste of real Nepalese food.
Gitika Saikia’s latest pop-up brings to the fore the food eaten by Nepalese during 15 day long festival of Dashain or Durga Puja. Divided into 5 courses, the meal include traditional festive food along with staple Nepali food. I attended the first pop-up yesterday and here’s what you can expect in the next pop-up which Gitika will host on the 15th of October. Tickets are available on www.insider.in
The meal begins with sel roti – a traditional sweet made with rice, ghee, milk, sugar/jaggery and cinnamon and is deep-fried. The crispy doughnut like rings are eaten during festivities. Kumaon has a similar dish called singal. The sel roti is served with po cha – salty butter tea with light milk and a subtle flavour of tea leaves.
The second course – alu ko achaar, gundruk, saag, wo – is served peppered with stories behind these dishes. Gundruk is a chutney like dish made with fermented mustards which was discovered quite accidentally, Gitika tells us. In old days, during the periods of social unrest, people would leave their homes and farms for longer periods. They had no way to protect their crops so they would dig up holes in their farm and bury the mustard,radish or cabbage in the mud. The leaves would dry up by the time they returned which were then ground and fermented to be used later as side dish or chutney. Gitika served us gundruk made with mustard and beans.
Alu ko achaar is made with potatoes and sesame seeds with crunchy bits of cucumber in it and lots of green chillies. The community loves to eat sesame because of the warmth it provides in the cold areas. She paired this with saag – stir fried spinach and wo – lentil fritter made with black urad dal. Wo has a religious value too since it’s offered to the Gods during the puja.
Then comes dhindo with khukura ko maso. Dhindo, made with corn meal, millet flour and ghee was a staple Nepali food in cold mountainous areas where something more robust than rice is needed for energy. Make a ball of this porridge like dish, dip it in the chicken curry (khukura ko maso) made with onions, tomatoes and spices, and eat.
Khasi ko masu or mutton curry is the most important part of the meal since Neplalese can’t do without meat. Goat is sacrificed during the festival and in old days the meat was distributed among friends and relatives; the wealthier you were, the fatter the goat. The mutton is cooked with whole spices and is slow cooked for about three hours. Pair it with rice and if you want the real flavour, abandon spoon and use your hands.
The final course is a dessert – makhane ki kheer cooked in a longpi pot (traditional Assamese pottery made with longpi stone). Milk is very important for Nepalese and they can’t do without their daily dose of a glass or two, Gitika tells us. “The Nepali house help at my in-laws’ house loves a glass of milk in the morning. They get offended if you don’t offer them milk,” she says. The kheer has thick, creamy milk with chunks of puffed lotus seeds.
Gitika will host the next pop-up on 15th October. Make sure you try it out for it exposes you to new tastes, stories and culture.