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Where there is Festival, there is Food!

Where there is Festival, there is Food!

 Nepal has many festivals through the year, and they are great times for sampling some rare delicacies.

Even the gods demand good food at the time of their worship, and especially more so when a festival is celebrated in their honor.

Kathmandu, the capital, is known famously as the ‘city of the gods’, but the fact untold is that this city of gods is home to hundreds of gods who are worshipped and offered food and drinks like nowhere in the world. The quintessence of the dominant Hindu religion has been polished by the regularity of festivals in Nepal. Festivals come almost every month in the Nepali calendar, and they have played a vital role in setting the character and spirit of the nation and the people. Festivals stand for celebration and uncompromising devotion and food. Where there's a festival, there's food!

Food has been married to festivals since time immemorial in Nepal, as one is complete without the other. People here regard festivals as opportunities to serve good food to the gods, and eat the same with their families as blessings. Also notable is that, every festival in Nepal has a distinct line of food. It is said that different foods eaten during different periods of festivals are not only culturally significant, but are scientifically remarkable, too. Festivals and food have been carved into the calendars in such a way that they seem to be season-friendly and health-friendly. There is a lot of science going on with what locals eat during the specific festivals.

 

Indra Jatra

"We used to wake up early morning, wolf down our breakfast, and sit patiently on the stony stairs of the Aakash Bhairab Temple at Basantapur throughout the day to witness Indra Jatra. It was an unquestionable annual ritual to us," reminisces my grandmother every year when Indra Jatra arrives. The excitement of the beginning of the festive time of the year is marked by Indra Jatra, the festival of Indra, the god of rain. This festival usually falls on the full moon day of October. Indra Jatra is also known as Samay Punhi in the Newari dialect, which refers to the day of full moon, when samay baji is eaten by the people of the Newar community.

Samay baji, who doesn't love it? Thanks to good Newari restaurants around the city, samay baji these days can be easily had, but the scenario was not so back in my grandmother's days. However rich a person might have been, he/she had to wait for Indra Jatra to eat samay baji. Samay baji is a Newari food platter that has to have some mandatory items, the major components being baji, beaten rice, choila, grilled and marinated buffalo meat, fried boiled egg, haku musya, black soybeans, sanya, a small but whole fish, woh, patties of minced lentils, aaloo, boiled and marinated potato, bodi, boiled beans, pieces of laba, garlic and palu, ginger, and aila, homemade alcohol. Samay baji is not only loved by the people, but according to the stories, it is believed that the gods, too, are fond of this platter, and no occasion goes by without samay baji being offered to Lord Ganesh, the god of first regard in any celebration in the Hindu religion.

There are also some logical reasons why samay baji is so popular and mandatory among Newars since the ancient times. The snacks in the samay baji platter are made in such a manner that, they do not need to be heated or re-cooked, which came in handy to those traders and farmers who worked for several days outdoors, and to those who had less fuel to cook. Also, these snacks were not only made because of their taste, but for their nutritional advantages as well. For example, ginger is good for acidity and gas problems, soybeans reduce the risk of heart diseases, mustard oil, used in making choila, helps in killing germs, and woh is a good source of protein. Hence, still today, Indra Jatra marks samay baji as an integral part of Newari history and their festivals.

 

Dashain

The foggy mornings, cool breezy evenings, colorful kites in the sky, and we know Dashain, the major festival of Nepal, is here at our doorsteps. The Dashain song, Dashain aayo, khaunla piunla…(Dashain is here and we rejoice as we eat and drink) tells plenty about the festival being a festival of food and drinks. With it right around the corner, the markets are flooded with people buying clothes, food, and every other thing needed to celebrate Dashain to the fullest. This is one festival celebrated by everyone of the Hindu community. It is a celebration that lasts for ten days, which marks the victory of Goddess Mahakali over the demon Mahisashur, the victory of good over evil. Throughout the ten days, people eat meat in copious quantities. Food during Dashain means meat. Whether you are the guest or the host, meat has to be there in the menu. On Mahasthami, the eighth day of Dashain, goddess Durga's manifestation, goddess Kali, a blood thirsty deity, is offered the blood of sacrificed buffaloes, goats, hens, pigeons, and ducks throughout the temples in the nation. After the offering, the sacrificed animal's meat is taken home and cooked as prasad, or food blessed by divinity. Eating this meat is considered auspicious, and it marks the beginning of a great feast throughout the nation.

 

 

Tihar

After the long Dashain comes Tihar, after just two weeks of the former's celebration. Tihar is a fun-filled, lighthearted festival, when the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, is worshipped throughout the nation. The whole country lights up on this night with lights, wick lamps, and candles to beseech Laxmi to ensure economic success in the coming year. Tihar lasts for five days: Kag Puja, Kukur Puja, Gai Puja/Laxmi Puja, Mha Puja/Newari New Year, and Bhai Tika. Since Dashain does enough to satisfy the meat-craving of the people for ten days, people now take a break and enjoy sweets and confectionaries known as mithai. When we think of Tihar and food, we think of fresh sweet ladoos, barfi, sel roti, and lalmohan, the popular confectionaries that are so satisfying to our sweet tooth. There is a ritual of serving pure vegan food to Goddess Laxmi, and the major highlight food of this festival is sel roti, which is prepared in almost all households only during Tihar. It is mandatory that the shape of sel roti is circular. The thick mixture of rice flour and sugar is deep fried in ghee or oil by pouring it in a circular shape. Sel roti has a significant role in shaping the feel and essence of Tihar. Every day of the festival has to have sel roti, and the celebration does not seem to be complete unless there is sel roti in the kitchen.

But, the Newars do not seem to get over their love of meat, as the Newari culture calls for samay baji, a food set that includes beaten rice, buffalo meat, fish, soybeans, woh, and alcohol to be offered to deities in almost any festival. However, gradually, keeping health issues in mind, Newars offer samay baji only to the gods, and not for themselves, at least once in Tihar. The tendency of eating meat eating in Tihar in this community is gradually decreasing.

 

Chhath

The Chhath festival falls on the sixth day of the month of Kartik (Oct/Nov). It is mostly celebrated in the Terai region. This festival is dedicated to the Sun and his wife Usha, to thank them for bestowing the bounties of life on Earth, and to request the granting of certain wishes. In Hinduism, worshipping the Sun is believed to help cure a variety of diseases, including leprosy, and helps ensure the longevity and prosperity of family members, friends, and elders. On the first day of Chhath, people worship the sun early morning, and fast without even drinking a single drop of water. The second day is known as kharna, which means kheer-roti, when devotees eat kheer, a dish of rice prepared with sweetened milk along with roti (flat bread). The people observe fast for the full day and eat this kheer-roti as dinner, after offering it to the rising moon and Goddess Ganga. This is the only time when they eat or drink anything from the starting of the day till the last day of Chhath.

The majority of the valley dwellers do not fast so rigorously but at least take the prasad from those who do. This festival is among the ones with firm rules and regulations, as the food is strictly vegetarian, and cooked without salt, onion, or garlic, which are regarded as impure among the foods in Hindu mythology. The prasad offerings of Chhath include sweets, kheer, thekua, ladoo made of rice grit and fruit, mainly sugarcane, sweet lime, and banana.

 

Maghe Sankranti

The only good thing about winter is its food, and there is no better occasion in Nepal than Maghe Sankranti, which has a special affair with food. This festival is observed on the first of the month of Magh, which usually falls on January 15, marking the completion of Poush, the former, gloomy, and coldest month of the year. Maghe Sankranti is the only festival that speaks plenty about the science behind eating specific food and specific festival in Nepal. All the food associated to celebration of Maghe Sankranti is made with ingredients that help the human body to fight the cold.

This festival is more about the celebration of the season's transitional food, and less about rituals and ceremonies. Maghe Sankranti is known as the festival of ghee and chaku, which is staple food for the day. Chaku is a sweet made out of hardened molasses cooked with ghee, milk, and toppings, such as dried coconuts, dates, and peanuts. Ghee, clarified butter, is the perfect accompaniment that goes with chaku not only on the day of the festival, but from the day to the end of winter in Nepal.

The people of the Newar community, however, eat several other varieties of food besides ghee and chaku, with rice. Yam, known as tarul in Nepali, is an essential item that is either eaten boiled or with some condiments. Similarly, sweet balls of sesame seed and chaku known as teel ko ladoo is also mandatory in the festival; not often eaten at other times of the year. This special sweet can be found in two varieties, white and black, using white and black sesame seeds, respectively. Similarly, another peculiar food eaten during Maghe Sankranti is a crunchy puffed rice ball known as murai ko ladoo. This is another sweet snack that is made by mixing molasses with puffed rice, and rolled into balls. Like with every festival in Nepal, married-away daughters and sons-in-law are invited over to the girl's house on this day, to be treated to sumptuous amounts of all these food items.

Janai Purnima

Janai Purnima is observed on the full moon day of the month of Shrawan. It is also called Rakshya Bandhan, as this festival observes the bond of security and love between brothers and sisters. The food specialty of this festival is kwati, a soup of different beans. This day is also called Kwati Punhi, where kwati is the soup, and punhi means the full moon day. On this day, Newar farmers also offer food items to frogs, believing that frogs, the agents of the god of rainfall, would help in prospering their crop production. There also lies a belief that, since this festival is observed to mark the season of plantation, drinking the soup of kwati heals any body-aches people get from strenuous crop plantation. Kwati is cooked in every household on this day and enjoyed with Nepal's staple food, daal bhaat.

Losar

Losar, the Tibetan New Year, which falls on the first day of the first month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, is a significant festival of the Buddhist community in Nepal. Losar celebrations are marked by religious ceremonies, hoisting of prayer flags in stupas, donating clothes and food, and preparing delicious traditional dishes. Since it is the time of the New Year, food cannot be ignored. This first day of the year, friends and families gather for lunch or dinner, which compromises of scrumptious Tibetan delicacies.

The menu comprises of some amazing delicacies like gyathuk, a soup consumed on New Year's Eve, with dumplings and Tibetan potato curry, a potato delight prepared specially during Losar and consumed on the first evening of the festival. Another dish to go with on Losar is a rice and potato stew known as droma. Other delicacies include dresi, sweet saffron rice dessert, and kapse, the most loved Tibetan food not only among Tibetans, but with everyone. It is a food that binds people from many religions together.

 

Yomari Purnima

Yomari Purnima is a popular Newar festival observed post-harvest during the full moon of December. On this day, people of Kathmandu Valley worship Annapurna, the goddess of grains, for a good rice harvest. Everyone loves yomari; also, maybe because it is cooked only once in a year in most Newari households. The essence of this festival is its food, yomari itself, a creamy, soft, and melting confectionary that you can never have enough of. Yomari translates to ‘most loved bread’ in Newari. It is made from rice flour with fillings of molasses and sesame paste or dried condensed milk. Sometimes, meat is also stuffed in yomari, which is assumed as Lord Ganesh, while yomari stuffed with black lentil is regarded as God Kumar. It is said that eating yomari relieves cold, and it is also believed that the longer the tail of yomari, so too winter will be, and vice versa.

The festival cuisines in Nepal are set is such a way that they not only appeal to your taste buds, but also have several health benefits, as well. The crafting of the seasons of festivals and the determination of the food to be eaten on every occasion has been established with great science and logic. And, with a row of festivals lined up, it is the time of the year for the most amazing foods and dishes to feast on and make our lives jollier.

Where there is Festival, there is Food!

Content: Nepal has many festivals through the year, and they are great times for sampling some rare delicacies.

Synopsis: Even the gods demand good food at the time of their worship, and especially more so when a festival is celebrated in their honor.

Pramita Shrestha

Kathmandu, the capital, is known famously as the ‘city of the gods’, but the fact untold is that this city of gods is home to hundreds of gods who are worshipped and offered food and drinks like nowhere in the world. The quintessence of the dominant Hindu religion has been polished by the regularity of festivals in Nepal. Festivals come almost every month in the Nepali calendar, and they have played a vital role in setting the character and spirit of the nation and the people. Festivals stand for celebration and uncompromising devotion and food. Where there's a festival, there's food!

Food has been married to festivals since time immemorial in Nepal, as one is complete without the other. People here regard festivals as opportunities to serve good food to the gods, and eat the same with their families as blessings. Also notable is that, every festival in Nepal has a distinct line of food. It is said that different foods eaten during different periods of festivals are not only culturally significant, but are scientifically remarkable, too. Festivals and food have been carved into the calendars in such a way that they seem to be season-friendly and health-friendly. There is a lot of science going on with what locals eat during the specific festivals.

Indra Jatra

"We used to wake up early morning, wolf down our breakfast, and sit patiently on the stony stairs of the Aakash Bhairab Temple at Basantapur throughout the day to witness Indra Jatra. It was an unquestionable annual ritual to us," reminisces my grandmother every year when Indra Jatra arrives. The excitement of the beginning of the festive time of the year is marked by Indra Jatra, the festival of Indra, the god of rain. This festival usually falls on the full moon day of October. Indra Jatra is also known as Samay Punhi in the Newari dialect, which refers to the day of full moon, when samay baji is eaten by the people of the Newar community.

Samay baji, who doesn't love it? Thanks to good Newari restaurants around the city, samay baji these days can be easily had, but the scenario was not so back in my grandmother's days. However rich a person might have been, he/she had to wait for Indra Jatra to eat samay baji. Samay baji is a Newari food platter that has to have some mandatory items, the major components being baji, beaten rice, choila, grilled and marinated buffalo meat, fried boiled egg, haku musya, black soybeans, sanya, a small but whole fish, woh, patties of minced lentils, aaloo, boiled and marinated potato, bodi, boiled beans, pieces of laba, garlic and palu, ginger, and aila, homemade alcohol. Samay baji is not only loved by the people, but according to the stories, it is believed that the gods, too, are fond of this platter, and no occasion goes by without samay baji being offered to Lord Ganesh, the god of first regard in any celebration in the Hindu religion.

There are also some logical reasons why samay baji is so popular and mandatory among Newars since the ancient times. The snacks in the samay baji platter are made in such a manner that, they do not need to be heated or re-cooked, which came in handy to those traders and farmers who worked for several days outdoors, and to those who had less fuel to cook. Also, these snacks were not only made because of their taste, but for their nutritional advantages as well. For example, ginger is good for acidity and gas problems, soybeans reduce the risk of heart diseases, mustard oil, used in making choila, helps in killing germs, and woh is a good source of protein. Hence, still today, Indra Jatra marks samay baji as an integral part of Newari history and their festivals.

Dashain

The foggy mornings, cool breezy evenings, colorful kites in the sky, and we know Dashain, the major festival of Nepal, is here at our doorsteps. The Dashain song, Dashain aayo, khaunla piunla…(Dashain is here and we rejoice as we eat and drink) tells plenty about the festival being a festival of food and drinks. With it right around the corner, the markets are flooded with people buying clothes, food, and every other thing needed to celebrate Dashain to the fullest. This is one festival celebrated by everyone of the Hindu community. It is a celebration that lasts for ten days, which marks the victory of Goddess Mahakali over the demon Mahisashur, the victory of good over evil. Throughout the ten days, people eat meat in copious quantities. Food during Dashain means meat. Whether you are the guest or the host, meat has to be there in the menu. On Mahasthami, the eighth day of Dashain, goddess Durga's manifestation, goddess Kali, a blood thirsty deity, is offered the blood of sacrificed buffaloes, goats, hens, pigeons, and ducks throughout the temples in the nation. After the offering, the sacrificed animal's meat is taken home and cooked as prasad, or food blessed by divinity. Eating this meat is considered auspicious, and it marks the beginning of a great feast throughout the nation.

Tihar

After the long Dashain comes Tihar, after just two weeks of the former's celebration. Tihar is a fun-filled, lighthearted festival, when the goddess of wealth, Laxmi, is worshipped throughout the nation. The whole country lights up on this night with lights, wick lamps, and candles to beseech Laxmi to ensure economic success in the coming year. Tihar lasts for five days: Kag Puja, Kukur Puja, Gai Puja/Laxmi Puja, Mha Puja/Newari New Year, and Bhai Tika. Since Dashain does enough to satisfy the meat-craving of the people for ten days, people now take a break and enjoy sweets and confectionaries known as mithai. When we think of Tihar and food, we think of fresh sweet ladoos, barfi, sel roti, and lalmohan, the popular confectionaries that are so satisfying to our sweet tooth. There is a ritual of serving pure vegan food to Goddess Laxmi, and the major highlight food of this festival is sel roti, which is prepared in almost all households only during Tihar. It is mandatory that the shape of sel roti is circular. The thick mixture of rice flour and sugar is deep fried in ghee or oil by pouring it in a circular shape. Sel roti has a significant role in shaping the feel and essence of Tihar. Every day of the festival has to have sel roti, and the celebration does not seem to be complete unless there is sel roti in the kitchen.

But, the Newars do not seem to get over their love of meat, as the Newari culture calls for samay baji, a food set that includes beaten rice, buffalo meat, fish, soybeans, woh, and alcohol to be offered to deities in almost any festival. However, gradually, keeping health issues in mind, Newars offer samay baji only to the gods, and not for themselves, at least once in Tihar. The tendency of eating meat eating in Tihar in this community is gradually decreasing.

Chhath

The Chhath festival falls on the sixth day of the month of Kartik (Oct/Nov). It is mostly celebrated in the Terai region. This festival is dedicated to the Sun and his wife Usha, to thank them for bestowing the bounties of life on Earth, and to request the granting of certain wishes. In Hinduism, worshipping the Sun is believed to help cure a variety of diseases, including leprosy, and helps ensure the longevity and prosperity of family members, friends, and elders. On the first day of Chhath, people worship the sun early morning, and fast without even drinking a single drop of water. The second day is known as kharna, which means kheer-roti, when devotees eat kheer, a dish of rice prepared with sweetened milk along with roti (flat bread). The people observe fast for the full day and eat this kheer-roti as dinner, after offering it to the rising moon and Goddess Ganga. This is the only time when they eat or drink anything from the starting of the day till the last day of Chhath.

The majority of the valley dwellers do not fast so rigorously but at least take the prasad from those who do. This festival is among the ones with firm rules and regulations, as the food is strictly vegetarian, and cooked without salt, onion, or garlic, which are regarded as impure among the foods in Hindu mythology. The prasad offerings of Chhath include sweets, kheer, thekua, ladoo made of rice grit and fruit, mainly sugarcane, sweet lime, and banana.

Maghe Sankranti

The only good thing about winter is its food, and there is no better occasion in Nepal than Maghe Sankranti, which has a special affair with food. This festival is observed on the first of the month of Magh, which usually falls on January 15, marking the completion of Poush, the former, gloomy, and coldest month of the year. Maghe Sankranti is the only festival that speaks plenty about the science behind eating specific food and specific festival in Nepal. All the food associated to celebration of Maghe Sankranti is made with ingredients that help the human body to fight the cold.

This festival is more about the celebration of the season's transitional food, and less about rituals and ceremonies. Maghe Sankranti is known as the festival of ghee and chaku, which is staple food for the day. Chaku is a sweet made out of hardened molasses cooked with ghee, milk, and toppings, such as dried coconuts, dates, and peanuts. Ghee, clarified butter, is the perfect accompaniment that goes with chaku not only on the day of the festival, but from the day to the end of winter in Nepal.

The people of the Newar community, however, eat several other varieties of food besides ghee and chaku, with rice. Yam, known as tarul in Nepali, is an essential item that is either eaten boiled or with some condiments. Similarly, sweet balls of sesame seed and chaku known as teel ko ladoo is also mandatory in the festival; not often eaten at other times of the year. This special sweet can be found in two varieties, white and black, using white and black sesame seeds, respectively. Similarly, another peculiar food eaten during Maghe Sankranti is a crunchy puffed rice ball known as murai ko ladoo. This is another sweet snack that is made by mixing molasses with puffed rice, and rolled into balls. Like with every festival in Nepal, married-away daughters and sons-in-law are invited over to the girl's house on this day, to be treated to sumptuous amounts of all these food items.

Janai Purnima

Janai Purnima is observed on the full moon day of the month of Shrawan. It is also called Rakshya Bandhan, as this festival observes the bond of security and love between brothers and sisters. The food specialty of this festival is kwati, a soup of different beans. This day is also called Kwati Punhi, where kwati is the soup, and punhi means the full moon day. On this day, Newar farmers also offer food items to frogs, believing that frogs, the agents of the god of rainfall, would help in prospering their crop production. There also lies a belief that, since this festival is observed to mark the season of plantation, drinking the soup of kwati heals any body-aches people get from strenuous crop plantation. Kwati is cooked in every household on this day and enjoyed with Nepal's staple food, daal bhaat.

Losar

Losar, the Tibetan New Year, which falls on the first day of the first month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, is a significant festival of the Buddhist community in Nepal. Losar celebrations are marked by religious ceremonies, hoisting of prayer flags in stupas, donating clothes and food, and preparing delicious traditional dishes. Since it is the time of the New Year, food cannot be ignored. This first day of the year, friends and families gather for lunch or dinner, which compromises of scrumptious Tibetan delicacies.

The menu comprises of some amazing delicacies like gyathuk, a soup consumed on New Year's Eve, with dumplings and Tibetan potato curry, a potato delight prepared specially during Losar and consumed on the first evening of the festival. Another dish to go with on Losar is a rice and potato stew known as droma. Other delicacies include dresi, sweet saffron rice dessert, and kapse, the most loved Tibetan food not only among Tibetans, but with everyone. It is a food that binds people from many religions together.

Yomari Purnima

Yomari Purnima is a popular Newar festival observed post-harvest during the full moon of December. On this day, people of Kathmandu Valley worship Annapurna, the goddess of grains, for a good rice harvest. Everyone loves yomari; also, maybe because it is cooked only once in a year in most Newari households. The essence of this festival is its food, yomari itself, a creamy, soft, and melting confectionary that you can never have enough of. Yomari translates to ‘most loved bread’ in Newari. It is made from rice flour with fillings of molasses and sesame paste or dried condensed milk. Sometimes, meat is also stuffed in yomari, which is assumed as Lord Ganesh, while yomari stuffed with black lentil is regarded as God Kumar. It is said that eating yomari relieves cold, and it is also believed that the longer the tail of yomari, so too winter will be, and vice versa.

The festival cuisines in Nepal are set is such a way that they not only appeal to your taste buds, but also have several health benefits, as well. The crafting of the seasons of festivals and the determination of the food to be eaten on every occasion has been established with great science and logic. And, with a row of festivals lined up, it is the time of the year for the most amazing foods and dishes to feast on and make our lives jollier.