Let them eat pustakari


The first thing that strikes us about the Makkusé wrappings is the tasteful copper-and-black design. The second thing is just how tasty the contents are.

Anushka Shrestha, former-Miss Nepal and founder of the country’s newest food brand, says the colours are conscious deviations from the ubiquitous gold. And the treats inside revive traditional Newa condiments to a more global clientele.

“With the Makkusé design, we wanted to evoke a more traditional experience of the Newa community where copper features more predominantly than gold,” Shrestha explains. “We want our products to remind people of the taste of the old Kathmandu. But at the same time, also be unique, modern and sustainable.”

While gold may be considered the more obvious choice, the team felt that copper captures the Nepaliness more accurately. Indeed, ‘Authentic Nepali Luxury’ constitutes the brand vision and narrative of Makkusé, and the colours, with the handcrafted boxes made with lokta bark handmade paper, give the products a truly authentic and unique look.

Next comes what the boxes hold. Unwind the string, and with each turn the anticipation rises. Open the lid. Inside, two glass jars of gundpak sit snugly. This is a creamy fudge-like dessert popular in Nepal, traditionally made with thickened milk and sugar, but with Makkusé, there is an added twist: its gundpak is infused with rosewater and pistachio, or mocha.

Other products include pustakari made from molasses cooked with ghee, milk, and often topped with nuts. To this, Makkusé adds chocolate gundpak fudge cookies, and oats gundpak pumpkin seed cookies — all of which carry their very own special taste. 

For Anushka Shrestha, the line of products reflects the brand’s dedication to both tradition and innovation. With immense love and faith in Nepal, she always knew she wanted to work in the country, but found the field of possibilities and platforms a bit overwhelming at first.

“There is so much one can do here,” she says, “and that I think brings a sort of fear in youths today of not knowing what to do, it definitely did in me.”

But her passion for development, project management and the Nepali culture eventually helped her narrow her options down, and Makkusé was launched in November 2020 when she was bedridden with Covid.

To say people were a bit skeptical would be an understatement, but there was urgency for something comforting during the pandemic when fear, dread and tragedy were abound.

Further, the break in the supply chain during the lockdown led to an overwhelming amount of waste. All this inspired Anushka to mitigate that gap via locally sourced resources and deliver little packets of delights in which people might find some recourse.

The initial reaction is still fresh in Anushka’s mind. “There was a huge collective exclamation: ‘आईं !’” she says. After the initial reaction people were pleased with the products, and slowly, sales picked up. Customers returned time and again, with positive things to say.

“And two months after the first sale, it began to feel like a step in the right direction and something all Nepalis could be proud of,” Shrestha adds.

Makkusé’s pustakari and gundpak makers have years of culinary experience, and some of the families have been working in the field for generations. The milk comes from Kavre where the elevation is said to add to the unique taste, and the recipes adhere to the long-established tradition of sweet-making in the Newa community of the Valley — something not taught in culinary schools.

The skill to make these sweets are mostly handed down from parents to children, or from makers to apprentices. But far fewer people today are willing to learn or train and keep the culture afloat.

With Tihar around the corner, Makkusé offers a delightful new way to greet family and friends in the festival of lights. There is no exact translation to माक्कुसे , but perhaps the brand tagline ‘simply scrumptious’ comes close to the original Newa word.

Who knows, “Makkusé” could just become a new form of Tihar greeting. 

Read also: The making of chaku, Monika Deupala

Ashish Dhakal