Master Chef Bhimsen

Text by Anil Chitrakar / Photo: ECS Media

W   hen you walk into any traditional eating place or ‘bhatti,’ you will notice a framed picture or idol of Bhimsen. In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Bhimsen is a very illustrious character who is one of the five Pandav brothers. As the story goes, the Pandavs are tricked into and end up gambling away their kingdom, wealth and even their wife Draupadi to their cousins, the Kauravs. If this was not bad enough, they are also required to spend 12 years in the wilderness and an additional year incognito. It is during this incognito year (gupta baas) that the local Newars believe Bimsen spent his time as a chef and cook.

The idol of Bhimsen, the Master Chef, can be seen
in almost all traditienal Newari eateries in the
Kathmandu valley

The epic tells us that Bhimsen found work as BALLABH, the cook at King VIRAAT’s palace and this role served as a good disguise for him for the whole year. It is in recognition of Bhim’s role as a master chef that the local eating places have a special alter or a framed photo of Bhimsen and is worshipped each day before serving the clients with the various tasty and popular local dishes. In the Kathmandu valley and most Newari settlements across Nepal, there are large temples and annual festivals dedicated to Bhimsen who, the local people believe, enables them to profitably run local eating places.

It is, therefore, not a simple coincidence that traditional eating places (bhattis) in the Kathmandu valley and outside are often located around Bhimsen temples. In Patan, the temple and eating places are at the north western corner of the Durbar Square and, in Kathmandu, just south west of Hanuman Dhoka at Bhimsenthan. In Bhaktapur, it is at the western end of the Datattreya Square. All these temples are multi-storied, very large and are rectangular in shape. Other temples are square in shape. This year, the festival of Bhimsen (Jatra) falls on the night of September 2, 2010. Local traders also believe that the trade with Lhasa was a contribution of Bhimsen.

If you watch TV regularly, there is a very popular show called “Master Chef Australia” that is on three times a week. It is a captivating competition where 50 of Australia’s best chefs are aspiring for the title of Master Chef Australia. In the Kathmandu valley, we could very well launch a franchise and organize our very own “Master Chef Bhimsen Festival” annually. Recently, the World Food Program organized a photo exhibition on food and there is going to be a book on the same theme. Cooking is one of those professions that will never go out of style or value.