Nepal as a country is immensely rich in its varied traditions and cultural norms. From breathtaking dances to soulful songs and little celebr vv ations that make us such a varied society where colors of happiness abound. The common thread that runs through it all is the heartwarming food of the nation. From choila to dal bhat power we love eating and rightly so. For each Nepali a copy of The Taste of Nepal is a must have on their shelves. Kathmandu Foodies talked to Jyoti Pathak food writer and author of the aforementioned book to see what drives her forth.
KF:How did your fascination with food begin? What started you ob this journey?
JP:I have been fascinated with food and interested in cooking since my early childhood. My earliest memories are of my grandparents’ house in Kathmandu. I remember playing and spending time in the kitchen which was in the uppermost section of the house., watching and observing our family cook, sitting on a wooden platform(pirka) in front of a wood fired stove and preparing delicious Nepali meals. Although I wanted to go and help stir the bubbling pot on the stove she never let me help or interfere with her chores. Maybe because a wood fired stove is not the safest thing for a child and produces too much smoke. I learnt the basics of Nepali cooking techniques and it was just the start of wanting to learn more.
Although I did not cook much as a young girl my real culinary interests began when I arrived in America. At that time I had very little hands on experience. I came here as a newlywed beginning a new life in a new world to join my husband who had a nostalgic longing for the Nepali food he had eaten all his life. I started to spend a lot of time trying out recipes from my own research, from my childhood memories, from visitors and friends.
KF:How do you compare the food culture of America to that of Nepal?
JP:Like most regional cuisines, the winds of globalization are leading to an interesting fusion of cooking ideas. These days in Kathmandu, KFC chicken, pizza and north Indian dishes are immensely popular. When I started the Taste of Nepal project, I was hoping to provide a record of some of Nepal’s rich culinary heritage. I hope we continue to be proud of our own foods and continue to prepare them in our family gatherings, parties and other important events.
Visitors who have had the opportunity to spend time in Nepal have come to understand the virtues and diversity of Nepali food. Many tell me they appreciate the freshness and healthy aspects of our food. I’ve heard many stories of families moving out of Nepal still cooking and serving Nepali food to their families years after they have left. I often receive queries on my blog about the traditional way of cooking. As the size of the Nepali diaspora expands, we are starting to see Nepali or Himalayan restaurants in most large cities.
KF:How and why did you get into blogging?
JP:My book Taste of Nepal and my blog is my attempt to introduce Nepal’s unique culture, culinary heritage, regional foods and festivals. Both my cookbook and blog reflects the tradition of my home country and cultural upbringing. If I am able to introduce Nepali culinary traditions, even on a small scale that would be great.
KF:What do you think about the food culture in Nepal?
JP:Nepali food has the characteristics of being simple, light and healthy. A typical Nepali meal has the freshest ingredients, minimum cooking fat and an artful combination of fresh herbs and spices without being overpowering. I think this balanced, delicious cuisine is just waiting for discovery in the world!
KF:The west has a huge presence of food in its TV programming with huge food shows, food channels and such. Do you think it should be emulated in Nepal too?
JP:Of course cooking is an art TV food shows would help one to appreciate their own cuisine more .
KF:Do you think the Indian food influence is a problem for Nepali food?
JP:No-not at all, Nepali food is often fused or associated with North Indian food or Tibetan combination of both, but it has its own distinctive flavors and textures. In the southern Terai regions of Nepal, the food has more of the neighboring influence. Food tends to have more North Indian flavor in terms of spicing. Commonly used spices in both cuisines are cumin, coriander, black pepper, turmeric, red and green chilies, garlic, fresh ginger and onions. Most authentic spices such as Jimbu (Himalayan herb) and Timbur (schezwan pepper) are not seen in Indian cooking. In Kathmandu the spicing is milder and subtler. Dhindo, Gundruk, lentil stews, sun dried vegetables, bamboo shoots, sukuti (dried meat) are more common in hilly areas. Tibetan influence brings momo, the stuffed dumpling, ferment bamboo shoots and such. I would say Nepali food is neither Indian nor Tibetan but a confluence of the two with a unique Nepali flavor.
I have also noticed that in many feasts and celebrations Nepali food is being replaced by savory North Indian dishes. This may eventually lead to disappearance of Nepali culinary heritage. However, the fusion of different cuisines is a worldwide phenomenon and will expand more in this modern digital age.
KF:What are your favorite dishes?
JP:I love fresh vegetables, simply boiled rice and various dal dishes. I simply love daal-bhat, tarkari achar combination.
KF:What exciting stuff can we look forward to in terms of Nepali food from you in the future?
JP:What’s next on my literary plate? Hmm. I would like to explore more in the regional and ethnic cooking in Nepal. I am eager to start research on these topics soon.
KF:What advice would you like to give to aspiring food writers in Nepal?
JP:Start a food blog, write in the food section of newspapers and magazines, learn food photography, start cooking and experimenting with food and lastly pursue your passion with dogged perseverance.
(Image Credits: Jyoti Pathak)