Newa Lahana’s ode to the buffaloKirtipur’s community-run restaurant celebrates all things Newar, so that means it’s all about the buff.
If a buffalo has it, so does Newa Lahana. Eyes, various parts of the stomach, the testes, spinal cord, brain and liver—the menu is a celebration of all things buff, and all things Newar. So would you want that piece of animal fried, boiled, steamed, in a curry, or with samay baji?
Newa Lahana is a restaurant whose name precedes itself, coming up in every one-upping conversation between offal lovers in Nepal. As the conversation has gone many a time, I would say, “I went to Honacha, the sapo micha was intense, but good. Kwacha’s kachila is far better though.”
“Cool. But, have you been to Newa Lahana?” they would proclaim with a glint in the eye.
The conversation would typically touch on ideas of offal, Newar culture, and of course the community-run model that the restaurant works on. But, it’s in Kirtipur, they would say. That’s where the conversation would end. Kirtipur may as well be, for all intents and purposes, a thousand kilometres away for Kathmandu dwellers.
Finally, after much warming up, I made my way to the restaurant. A few wrong turns, many quick conversations with locals, and we were still lost. Eventually, we found the second version of the restaurant down an alleyway.
Fanning out from the dark alley, the breezy shed-like space is lined with straw mats. While the autumn sun shines through the large garage door windows, and with various trinkets adorning the walls, it’s actually the many aromas that welcome customers. Like a swift punch to the nose, the chhyang sticks to the nostrils and roasting bhatmas fills them.
There’s one wide-eyed tourist sitting in front of his bara, within view of the doorway. Shoes off, we linger in and find that he, along with the line of women sitting next to him, are the only ones eating. Shortly after we arrive, a few locals follow. But other than them, it’s just us and the platoon of buff-cooking didis.
Quietly nattering as they languorously man the stoves, the ladies are uninterested and friendly in equal parts. It may as well be their home kitchen, because we’re treated like their kids—don’t ask, don’t get. On the other side of the room, in a depressed part of the space with a small karai, the culprit behind the scent can be found. A lady sits roasting black soybeans until they splinter to reveal their white constitution. There’s an equally uninterested cat sleeping in the autumn sun.
Looking at the utensils and the menu, one can see this is a pretty well-run outfit. Perhaps the biggest mascot of the restaurant’s success is its heavy brass plates—some of them engraved with the restaurant's name, like the spoons and forks.
Looking at the menu, one learns the restaurant’s modus operandi. As you should know by now, but to reiterate: sorry vegans and vegetarians, this restaurant probably doesn’t want you around. That also goes to the white-livered, prime-cut, boneless meat-eating folks too. This place celebrates every inch of the buffalo and it’s proud of it. The size of the dishes necessitates a tapas-style of plate sharing, to explore the flavours of the buffalo’s anatomy.
It shows its sense of pride for the animal in several of its dishes. Tongue, for instance, is sliced thick. It’s fried by the slice, and the skin is left on. Each cross-cut slice retains its texture, as if the cooks want you to feel the buffaloes’ posthumous licks as you chew on the bovid’s remains. It’s not for the faint of heart, not much at the restaurant is, but fortune favours the brave.
The spinal cord is also celebrated, along with the brain—the restaurant does both in their own right, or together. The amber-stained mixture looks like hard-scrambled eggs, but tastes slightly metallic, reminding one of the iron-rich nature of the cerebral cortex. The spinal cord is a different story, however. The cord, cut into smaller strands, is an equally perplexing texture. In terms of taste, however, it is hard to distinguish because everything is shrouded by an intense mixture of turmeric and mustard oil, possibly some mustard seeds too.
While I consider ordering sapo micha, I falter because I know how rich it is and I can’t face eating four packets by myself. I will have to trust that the marrow melts and the stomach is crisp.
Then there’s the kha go, which can only be described as one of the buff's stomachs. Chewy and fatty, with a meaty layer, the rumen is crispy and rich and would be perfect eaten as sitan. There’s nothing in the way of seasoning, and that’s okay by me. Give me a plainly seasoned fried pork belly and I’ll be just as happy—they're not entirely disimilar. With everything going on within this rich menu, and the several variations of its items, there’s only one option for me when it comes to wo and chatamari, and that is plain. The chatamari is chewy and sticky, and ricey, and it’s begging for an achaar or curry to be dipped in. Luckily, we ordered a portion of chicken curry.
That chicken curry, while not remarkable in its own right, is a nice touchstone when eating a rather macabre meal. Brains too much? Take a spoonful of chicken curry. The curry itself is mostly dominated by ginger but underscored by the same-same salt-laden meat masalas one can find anywhere. There’s a little spice in it though, which is nice for the chatamari, which sticks to the roof of the mouth without lubrication. I would advise going for a meatier or eggier variety. I’d actually advise the same with the wo.
The wo—or bara as so many might know it—is great. Plain too, this one has the distinct sour sting of fermented lentils and a wet-but-not-that-wet cook. It’s crispy and doughy and filling, and would be great with some crispy buff keema. An egg would be nice too, but not today. Room needs to be saved for all that buffalo flesh.
While there’s many a restaurant around Kathmandu serving Newar cuisine, Newa Lahana remains a place deserving of pilgrims. Its name precedes itself but unlike so many places around the Valley, it actually lives up to its reputation.
Newa Lahana: Rs 125-700pp