The revival of chaku wasa:What was once an almost forgotten Newa edible item, chaku wasa:, which is known for its medicinal properties, is now seeing a resurgence in popularity.
In December 2020, in the midst of the first wave of the pandemic, Shova Laxmi Gosai received a phone call from a relative. He urged Shova to make some chaku wasa: for his wife, who was bedridden because of Covid-19. Shova, who has been making chaku wasa: for years for her family members, was used to getting requests from near and dear ones to make chaku wasa: for them.
When the relative posted a photo of Shova’s chaku wasa: on Facebook and thanked her for it, Shova started getting requests from people to make chaku wasa: for them and many were willing to pay her for it. This made Shova realise that she could actually use her skills to earn money.
"It was an eye-opening moment for me. I learned how to make chaku wasa: from my mother and grandmother, and I have been making it for my near and dear ones for years," says Shova. "But I never thought that there actually can be a business made out of selling chaku wasa:."
In Nepalbhasa, one of the meanings of chaku is jaggery taffy, which is normally eaten during winters, and wasa means medicine. So, in a literal sense, chaku wasa: means medicine containing chaku in it. Chaku wasa: is also one of the names of the ingredient used in thwon (Newa rice beer) to make it sweet. But in common parlance, chaku wasa: is known as a sweet medicine that has a lot of herbs in it.
In Newa households, chaku wasa: has traditionally been consumed to boost one’s immunity. However, making chaku wasa: is a rigorous and time-consuming process.
Chaku is mixed along with other ingredients and cooked in sija foasi: ( a traditional copper vessel) for more than four hours until a fudge-like consistency is achieved. According to Shova, making chaku wasa: is not easy and requires experience. “One has to find the right balance between the desired taste and thickness,” says Shova.
According to historian Tri Ratna Manandhar, Newas have historically eaten chaku wasa: for its medicinal properties.
"Chaku wasa: is made using a lot of herbs, and consuming it helps people to maintain good health. It is especially helpful for new mothers. When I was a kid, I used to have it regularly,” says Manandhar. “But as our society started becoming more and more dependent on allopathy, chaku wasa: began losing its popularity.”
In Shova’s hometown of Bhaktapur, she says it was common for families to prepare chaku wasa: and consume it, especially during winters.
"During those days, the majority of the town’s residents worked on farms, and it was common for people to prepare chaku wasa: and eat it after meals, more like a dessert," shares Shova. “But things have changed now. People no longer make chaku wasa: in their homes like they once did nor do they consume it regularly.”
As the popularity of chaku wasa: waned, vaidya pasa (traditional Ayurvedic shops run by Newa people) became the only place in the city where people could buy them. Some vaidya pasa also sold ingredients needed to make chaku wasa: for those interested in making it at home.
But in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, as people began looking for ways to boost their immunity to protect themselves from Covid-19, the humble chaku wasa: found itself becoming prominent once again.
"For centuries, Newa people have relied on chaku wasa: to stay healthy. With ingredients such as chaku, milk, ghee, and more than 32 ayurvedic herbs, chaku wasa: has been known to boost immunity and help relieve ailments such as cold, cough, pneumonia, diarrhoea, and indigestion,” says Manjib Shakya, proprietor of Vaidya Aausadi Pasal, an institution that has been selling chaku wasa: for more than a century. “Every year when the weather changes and people become particularly prone to ailments such as cold and cough, Newa people would come to our shop to buy chaku wasa:.”
What was once a dish that was consumed almost exclusively by Newas, chaku wasa: today is also gaining popularity in non-Newa communities. And Shova credits this phenomenon to the Covid-19 pandemic. And this was what led Shova and her son Bipul Kisi to get into the chaku wasa: business by starting their own brand named Chaku Wasa: in 2020.
"The pandemic has made people realise the importance of taking good care of one’s physical wellbeing. And this has helped our business flourish,” says Shova.
Shova handles the manufacturing aspect while Bipul handles the marketing, branding, and the product designing. Their products are packaged in recyclable plastic containers and are priced at Rs 1,200 for one kg, Rs 600 for 500 grams, and Rs 300 for 250 gms. So far, the duo has sold more than 500kgs of chaku wasa: to Nepali and international customers. They have also made their products available in various local outlets.
“We are trying to make our product more accessible by making it available at more outlets. We also want to go international, so that more people can take health benefits from what is a traditional Newa edible item,” says Bipul.
While the popularity of chaku wasa: has surged in the last two years, many still believe in the misconception that chaku wasa: is only to be eaten by new mothers.
There's a common misconception among most people that only lactating women can consume chaku wasa: which is untrue, says Madan Kaji Shakya who also sells chaku wasa: at his shop Madan Ayurvedic Store in Itumbaha."People think that one can only eat chaku wasa: if they give birth, but it's not true as all of us—from those who easily get sick, to even old people–can consume it moderately. It's beneficial for all of us.”
When Urmila KC, a beautician from Dallu, gave birth to her first child a few years ago, her grandmother prepared chaku wasa: and fed it to her. This, KC believes, helped her immensely with her postpartum healing.
“When I gave birth to my second child, my grandmother had already passed away and no one else in the family knew how to make chaku wasa:, and thus I was unable to have it at the time,” says KC.
But a few months ago KC’s daughter showed her a Facebook advertisement of Shova’s Chaku Wasa:, and KC immediately ordered a packet of it.
"Since then, every time anyone in the family starts feeling unwell, I feed them chaku wasa:, and I have noticed that the illnesses don’t last long,” claims KC.
"I am happy that there are businesses that sell readymade chaku wasa: for it is very helpful in boosting immunity and giving energy.”