The Sweet Taste Of Newari Culture

Features Issue 207 Feb, 2019
Text by Dipson Pradhan

Chhyang is the rice alcoholic beverage brewed in homes of people from both the Nepali and Tibetan communities. In Nepal, brewing chhyang is more prevalent in the Newari culture, as they use it in various occasions, such as festivals, rituals, gatherings, etc. Furthermore, they also have their own name for it—they call it thon. However, the culture is slowly waning in this advancing world, and fewer chhyang brewers are seen today. But some people are still concerned with saving this tradition and continue to brew chhyang and promote it. One of the well-known Newari restaurants in Kirtipur, Lahana, still preserves this culture and it also has it in its menu. Lahana feeds people with the best quality house-made thon, which has a magnificent sweet taste to it and an inviting aroma.

At Lahana, a group of four skilled and experienced Newari women prepare thon with much delight and pleasure. Thon is one of Newari cultures most treasured drinks, so the women at Lahana prepare it with high precision to bring out the optimum taste. The weeklong process of making thon starts with soaking the key ingredient, rice. The women at Lahana do not use just any type of rice; they use a special type of taichin chamal (sticky rice) to make the sweet chhyang. The soaked rice is then steamed in a special type of pot with holes below it. When half cooked, the rice is again washed and then steamed until it’s fully cooked and prepared for further processes. 

The fully cooked rice is taken out, spread out and left to dry and cool down. Once it’s cooled down, the rice is treated and mixed with marcha, a special ingredient that helps in fermentation of the rice and also enriches its flavor.  Mostly, the amount of marcha used is responsible for the taste of the thon, so the skilled and experienced women of Lahana are the right people for this job.

Shortly after the marcha is mixed with the rice, the resulting product is kept in a big container and stored in a dark place, covered with a cloth and sukul (straw mat) for nearly a week. Once you smell the sweet taste of the chhyang, you will know that it is ready, and then water is added to the fermented rice to make the drink.

Chhyang is drunk all around Nepal and is especially important for joyful occasions and gatherings. Its sweet taste is admired by anyone who drinks it, and it goes well with any type of spicy food. The best way to enjoy chhyang is in a traditional Newari environment with friends and family and accompanied with the best Newari delicacies.