Food of a Different Time

Features Issue 183 Feb, 2017
Text by Sachi Mulmi

Satya Mohan Joshi has never been shy in admitting that he is partial to a nip of alcohol before bed. “I’ve been open about the fact that I used to drink a peg whenever I got my hands on it,” he shares. He used to take it regularly at one point, because it helped him to sleep. It didn’t matter if it was wine or aila, he’d take it nonetheless. 

And why not? Alcohol is an important part of our food culture. It is what brings friends together, helping each other loosen up a bit. That’s why, whether it is samaybaji, bhwe, or any other kind of gathering, alcohol is quite indispensable. If taken in moderate amounts, it can work as medicine. Joshi, however, stopped taking it when he fell ill. Ripe old age has made the whole food experience a bit difficult for this nonagenarian, but he tries not to dwell on it too much. What’s important is that he hasn’t forgotten the taste of those delicacies that still aid him in judging any food that he takes now. 

Rice is a staple diet for most people in the country. But Joshi remember the marse rice, a special kind of rice, and notes the lack thereof in our diet nowadays. “It tastes very good and needs no special treatment, but we can’t it find easily in the market these days,” he notes. As the market is more production centric, it’s hard to find the mills that make it, even harder to find one which follows the process for that distinct taste.

Another staple food that shares the fate of the marse rice is lhuya baji. “It has a sort of sweetness in it that is unmatched by the machine-made baji, or chiura (beaten rice), found in the market,” he says. “It’s a tedious process to make them, and needs a lot of patience. Just like tikin baji, which is made by beating the rice in the okhal (mortar), and which you can’t find easily now. But, we’re living despite all that,” he chuckles. 

However, reluctant to let go of that unique taste, he’s arranged for a local from Khokana to deliver it sometimes. He relishes that it is from the man’s own field, and not polished. It might be a bit expensive than the normal beaten rice found in the market, but Joshi says he understands the price variation. 

His wife Radha has an interesting point to make. “It’s very difficult to taste and enjoy these food items the way we did in our youth. A long time back, looking for maize and preparing it for eating used to be a part of our chore. Now, it’s so hard to chew!” she says with a laugh, as Joshi joins in. 

But whether there are any subtractions of important dishes from the diet or not, one point is clear, Joshi takes pleasure in having a simple diet. “We are from middle-class family. Our diet consists of simple food and simple eating style, the same way as before,” he says. He doesn’t have any favorite dishes, or any food that he compulsorily includes in his diet, but welcomes the seasonal vegetables and fruits for their freshness and taste. 

Our festivities, and all the other auspicious occasions that come all too quickly one after the other, give us plenty of opportunities to try out various dishes. Joshi makes it a point to have kwati during Kwati Punhi, including ghyao-chaku during sankranti. “The food ritual has been laid out symbolically, and as a reminder of the keys to healthy eating. The ras of the nine grains gives you the strength after a usually trying and tiring season. It tastes even better when you put in the fried jwano (thyme seed). The ghyao-chaku warms your body,” he says.

There is one cuisine that he finds especially mouth-watering. “Kasturi biyan is made of duck egg. It is a food served with a peg of aila to the most revered of guests. It’s neither boiled nor fried. Once you break the egg in the pan, you take it out immediately after the white part is set. The yolk is half cooked and looks fiery red. That’s when you know it’s done. It tastes delicious,” he reminisces. Traditionally, Joshis shouldn’t take any other eggs, except for duck’s. The tradition has become more flexible, but he still remembers the wonderful taste of such a fine delicacy. 

He also enjoys the food and has a better appetite when it’s a meal made by his family members. Those are the kinds of food that he prefers to anything made in restaurants and hotels. After all, food tastes better when enjoyed with your loved ones, and in his tenth decade, Satya Mohan Joshi knows that better than anyone.