Someone's in the Kitchen

Food Issue 161 Apr, 2015

The best daal should ultimately remind you of your home. 

There is no food more important than daal bhaat for any Nepali. Every home right about the time for lunch will be cooking daal bhaat, the staple food of Nepal. The scent of the simmering daal for me brings back nostalgic memories. Although, it is something that my mom is always cooking in the kitchen, the scent of the simmering daal always has whisked me to my fond memories of being home - to the times when my mom used to chase me to feed plain daal bhaat and how in the weekends she spent her time in the kitchen to cook for us the best lentil soup.

It reminds me of those fond memories of when my sister came back from China. How she folded her sleeves to the top to chomp daal bhaat like she was tasting heaven. Her eyes were watery that day, as she licked her fingers for the taste she couldn’t forget in her six years in China. 

And that is why I like to believe that the best daal should ultimately remind us of our home. 

One special daal that my mom always tries to make in the weekends is the Thakali daal. Thakali daal easily takes down two platters of rice. And that is the trick my mom plays. Rice can give you a round tummy and thus, I try to control my cravings. But often, I have been cheated with the smell of daal that wafts to my room. I know right then that someone is in the kitchen and is conjuring magic to please the hungry tummy. 

Sometimes, I take my time to watch my mom cook daal for us. She boils the beans with a little ghee and turmeric in a pressure cooker. She later dashes some salt into the lentil soup. For our Saturday special, she adds timur to spice the daal. She grinds ginger and garlic and stews it in the daal. She then tempers it with jimbu. Once, done she breathes in the smell and smiles to herself. Perhaps, that is when she can smell her victory.  

And when she pulls on such a trick, I can’t help but ask for more daal bhaat. The sapid taste of the garlic and jimbu is what I love the most about the daal. I sometimes add lemon to it to enjoy the tangy feeling that bursts into my mouth.
Last month on a week-long official trip, I went to Maili Didi’s Bhanchha Ghar, a restaurant in Pokhara, to try Thakali food, and their daal reminded me of home. The daal was delicious and it pulled me back to my memories.

But I still think for any of us, it’s a difficult task to describe the taste of daal because its flavor is entwined with good memories. If you wish to savor it when you are not getting your mom’s recipe right, you can always run down to the many Thakali restaurants in the valley. You may find the taste of home in one of them.