Festive Fare:Celebrating Festival Food
As a child, Dashain meant two things, relatives and good food. Things haven’t changed much. I still enjoy the company of people but it is food that I’ve had a lifelong relationship with.
They don’t call it the biggest festival of the year for no reason. You don’t just need to imagine; you can feel the clarity and the crispness in the air each October. The crispness also means Dashain is near and no festival is celebrated more lavishly in Nepal. Having been brought up in Kathmandu, Dashain meant wider and less crowded streets and delicacies that welcomed me everywhere I went. I still find myself quite a big fan of both these things. For those of you wondering what I am talking about, here is a short inside story on our big festival.
Each year, during Dashain, Kathmanduites return to their nests outside the valley throughout the country to celebrate this festival with their family members. People from far and wide come to Kathmandu throughout the year for work and education. But Dashain means returning home. For those of us who have their homes in Kathmandu, it means wider and quieter streets and less pollution. It also means—everyone is happy.
The description of Dashain is never complete without its food. Like what turkey is to Thanksgiving or mithai to Tihar, good food in plenty holds similar importance for Dashain. Luckily, we don’t have only one particular food we can enjoy during this festival. Having more cultures than can be counted on our fingers, it is impossible to point out any one good food in particular. But we have plenty and that is the beauty of it all.
Bara: This dish is traditionally made in Newari families but has been a big part of all other homes for a really long time. With the base of black lentil, bara is enjoyed as an appetizer during almost all festivals. But, in Dashain, during get togethers, it is particularly loved by almost everyone.
Momo: Which Nepali festival would be complete without momo? This national sensation, as I like to call it, started off as a simple dish but changed into one of the most preferred delicacies in Nepali homes. With the fillings of paneer (cottage cheese), vegetables, or meat, momo is found in all shapes and sizes suitable for every palate and purse. Hence, Dashain sees a spur in momo consumption.
Khasi ko masu: What would Dashain be without khasi ko masu? It is a festival of Goddess Durga who is believed to be pleased through animal sacrifice. So, you can imagine the love and abundance of meat during Dashain. Every household has meat during Dashain. And, in the entire five days, guests are served with various delicacies of meat, khasi (goat meat) being the most popular in many homes.
Chatamari: This Nepali “pizza” is another gift from Newari culture. With rice base, eggs, and lots of delicious ingredients topped onto it, chatamari makes a great main dish for food lovers. Like momo, you have the liberty of choosing vegetarian or non-vegetarian toppings, making it a universally loved dish. In Dashain, it is traditionally made in many homes.
Aalu bodi taama: Just the smell of it and you remember heaven! To those who love tama, there is no better dish. People prefer eating their entire plate of bhaat (rice) with aalu bodi tama. This bamboo shoot is sour to taste and is prepared with potatoes and beans. It is spicy and tasty, just as any festival delicacy should be.
Bhuttan: It is the insides of the goat or buffalo, which are deep fried. In Dashain, bhuttan makes a great addition to our main course or even just as snacks. Like said earlier, there is abundance of meat during Dashain, and hence the varieties are many. But, among those that are loved the most, bhuttan is one. The gizzard or pangra of chicken is an equally popular dish.
Furandana: Furandana has, in recent times, become a big part of Dashain. While traditionally, Dashain meant serving daal, bhaat, tarkari, and maasu to the guests, with changing times, it is impossible to prepare and then serve everything for five days to all the guests, as tradition calls for. It is an even bigger torture to eat all that in all the houses we visit. So, an easy yet delicious option of furandana has come into existence. Fried beaten rice is mixed with bujhiya and dried fruits, and served with meat or curd in almost all households today, making furandana a new yet equally tasty Dashain food.
Kauli and Saag: Though vegetables are enjoyed in every season, October calls for special love towards cauliflower and spinach. All Dashain parties or get togethers have these vegetables. The main reason behind this could be the eternal love of Nepali people towards these vegetables. Almost everyone loves it.
Kheer: Kheer, or rice pudding, is the king of desserts in festivals. Cooked with little effort and enjoyed with grand hearts, kheer forms an integral part of Dashain cuisine. Cooked with milk and rice, this dessert is a big part of our puja and our parties as well.
Sel roti: Nothing defines Nepali dessert as well as sel roti. Cooked with grinded rice, sel roti with its unique doughnut like shape and divine taste represents Nepali culture and Dashain festival, both at once. A big part of our pujas, sel roti is enjoyed both hot and cold, and as older people say, a day-old sel roti is still better than the fresh ones. I don’t know about that, but it definitely aims to please, and it does, in so many ways.
Suji ko halwa: Traditional Nepali homes have suji ko halwa (semolina pudding) during any festival. Prepared with relative ease and served with great love, this delicacy is traditional yet enjoyed even today.
Curd: It is simple yet integral. For generations, we have been serving curd as an important form of dessert in our culture. At the end of every meal, curd holds an important place. It is served with almost all main courses and is easily prepared overnight at home in most cases.
While there are options wide and far when it comes to Nepali food, there are some that are enjoyed by many and during many occasions. We have included those foods that have come to become common names in Nepali households and are enjoyed and shared with great pomp and love. Dashain is all about family and food and when members meet to discuss lives and enjoy delicacies, there is little left to complain about. This season, let’s enjoy the foods that have come to our lives through our parents and their parents. Instead of growing old, these foods have somehow managed to hold us together and entertain our palates for centuries. Happy feasting!