Recipe for Nepali culinary diversityPrashanta Khanal’s new cookbook brings forth the diversity in Nepal’s cuisine
In a country where khana khanu bhayo is an everyday greeting, dal-bhat is the default meal. So much so that there are even t-shirts with the words 'Dal-bhat Power 24 hour’.
And if rice and lentils is the staple lunch and dinner, momo is the ultimate afternoon snack. From the plains to mountains, dumplings are ubiquitous with variations in the filling and the sauce. But with over 100 ethnic communities, Nepali food is more than just dal-bhat and momo, and Prashanta Khanal’s new cookbook Timmur: Stories and Flavors of Nepal highlights this culinary diversity. With selected recipes from 12 ethnic groups, the book collects some unknown and overlooked dishes from around the country.
Growing up in an intercultural family with a Newa mother and a Brahmin father, Khanal’s tryst with food began early on. With working parents and a mother who strictly followed the Hindu dictum of not entering the kitchen while menstruating, the responsibility of cooking for siblings often fell on Khanal’s shoulders.
“Coming from a multi-cultural family helped me understand Nepal’s cultural diversity and the different food cultures,” says Khanal. “My father’s side of the family considers eating buffalo meat and alcohol a sin, my mother’s side of the family offers them to the gods.”
But it was in the early 2010s, upon returning from Indonesia, that he realised how vast the dimension of Nepali cuisine really is.
“In Indonesia I had come across tempeh, a traditional Indonesian dish made from fermented soybeans. When I came back to Nepal, I came across our own kinema, and that changed the way I looked at Nepal's cuisine."
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In 2013, Khanal started thegundruk.com, a food blog reflecting his passion for Nepali culture and food. He has also written columns on food for The Kathmandu Post and is a partner in Raithaane, a restaurant promoting and preserving the Nepali food heritage.
Khanal who also works on environment and sustainability believes food should be sustainable as well. “Everyone should know how to cook and grow their own food,” he says. At Raithaane, ingredients and produce are sourced from all over Nepal.
For those who have followed Khanal’s work over the years, some of the content may look familiar. His initial idea was to collect recipes and publish them in an e-book format, but it was eventually turned into a book comprising over a 100 recipes.
Named after the 'Sichuan pepper' spice known for its unique aroma and taste, Timmur showcases the diversity in Nepal’s gastronomy. The author travelled across the country to hunt down recipes and consulted friends and families to learn about ingredients and special dishes served in certain festivities and seasons.
In the introduction, Khanal delves into Nepal's ethnicities and finds the dots to connect them to each other, as well as with other parts of the world.
The chapters are separated according to ethnic communities: Newari, Rai & Limbu, Thakali, Tharu & Maithil, Sherpa, Tamang & Tibetan, Magar & Gurung, Khas cusines, Author’s Flavours, and a dedicated chapter to Achaar.
Each part begins with an overview of the culture and the author’s connection with it. Every recipe has an introduction of the dish, giving the book a very 2000s blog-like feel. Not surprising, considering the author’s background.
There are some hidden gems, others familiar or completely unknown. Ubahang Nembang has done a beautiful job with the minimalistic layout and illustrations, and Nabin Baral and Gagan Thapa’s photography jump out of the pages looking mouthwateringly delicious.
The success of a cookbook depends on how easy the recipes are to follow. After spending a lazy afternoon cooking three dishes: Rikikur (savory potato pancakes), Babar (deep-fried rice flour roti) and Rukh Kataharko Tarkari (Jackfruit curry), this reviewer can attest that the recipes are beginner-friendly.
Those more used to selecting dishes based on the total cook time may be disappointed, as the book does not mention any. But Khanal proposes that readers and cooks use the book more as a guide than a checklist. “Cooking is about the experience, the feel,” he says.
Some of the recipes do require specific methods, and bit of patience hunting for the right ingredients. But that is the beauty of cooking (and eating), exploring smells, tastes and textures one is not familiar with.
While the author is the first to admit that his cook book does not represent the entirety of Nepali cuisine, it is a fine example of what Nepal has to offer, and perhaps a step towards having more than dal-bhat and momo represent Nepal in the world’s gastronomic atlas.
Timmur: Stories and Flavors of Nepal
By Prashanta Khanal
Fine Print 2022
Regular hardback Rs2,500
Special hardback with slipcase Rs3,000
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