Magar is one of the indigenous ethnic nationalities of Nepal. They mostly inhabit the districts of Palpa, Gulmi, Arghakhanchi, Syangja, Baglung, Parbat, Myagdi, Tanahun, and Gorkha in the western region, as well as some other districts in the mid-western and eastern regions. A little insight on the Magar tribe: the social process of Sanskritization has drawn some of the Magar population to develop a syncretic form of Hinduism combining with animist and Buddhist rituals. The major castes of Magar are Ale, Thapa, Pun, and Rana, however, there are more than 700 sub-family names. They are well represented in Nepal’s military, as well as in British and Indian Gurkha regiments, along with Gurung, Rai, and other martial ethnic groups from the hills of Nepal.
Their national festival is Maghe Sankranti, which is celebrated with great enthusiasm by organizing various programs across the country. One of the prominent food items that is passed around by the Magar community on this day, and any other celebratory day, is known as batuk. Commonly known as bara, it is considered to be a traditional food of the Magar people. Batuk is never missed out on any festival or family gathering, and is best served alongside pork and kodo-ko-raksi (local alcohol made from millet). Batuk rotis are shaped like Western doughnuts, but the taste is easily distinguishable. The crunchiness on the outside complements the soft texture inside. Many people grow fond of this dish after just one taste, as it is something that is quite different than the usual daal, bhaat, and tarkari. However, due to the difficulties of getting genuine batuk that actually represents the authentic taste of Magars, most people remain unaware of how mouth-watering the dish actually is. Nevertheless, here are some of the simple and traditional procedures to follow in order to cook this well-known and much-loved dish of the Magars.
Batuk roti is made from black lentils that have been soaked for over twenty-four hours. After removing the outer black layer, the lentils are washed thoroughly with clean water, and then ground to form a very fine paste. Although the recipe could differ from one family to another, the most common ingredients to add are ginger paste and salt. A small amount of the mixture is then laid flat on a smooth surface (my grandmother prefers to recycle the inside of an oil packet) and formed into a small round shape with the help of the palm. A batuk is not a batuk without a distinct hole, hence, using a finger, one is created in the middle. It is fried on a deep frying pan or wok, half filled with vegetable or sunflower oil. It is best to leave it for two-three minutes, until both sides turn golden brown.
The oil should be hot enough, and the batuk should be fried on medium heat for it to be perfectly cooked. A skewer or slotted spoon can then be used to flip and remove it from the oil. The ingredients and the procedure can vary, however these simple steps are enough to come up with tasty batuks. One does not need to wait for Maghe Sakranti to cook, or eat, batuk. Although it is fried in oil, batuk is not greasy or full of oil, and has a perfect blend of versatile flavors. They are considered to be healthy snacks, full of protein. The traditional Magars eat batuk in taparis (leaf plates), where servings of four-five batuks are enough to satisfy hunger.
Amongst the many traditional foods that Nepal has to offer, batuk remains one that often goes by unnoticed. With the increasing interest in tasting different flavors of Nepal, batuk could be one to remain permanently on the menu, and may even be a reason to give Magars an approving nod for coming up with something healthy yet satisfying. Let us not wait for another whole year to try these delights!