Come over for some khajaAmong the handful of upscale eateries dedicated to Newa cuisine in Kathmandu is Tamarind Khaja Ghar, serving authentic food in a more exclusive setting.
The popularity of Newa cuisine in Kathmandu is evident in the sheer number of hole-in-the-wall, humble eateries that dot the city. Almost everyone in the city has their favourite Newa eatery with which they share a passionate allegiance to. But in the last few years, the city has seen a small but noticeable increase in upscale eateries dedicated to Newa cuisine, and one of the latest to join the list is Tamarind Khaja Ghar, a modern upscale restaurant serving Newa and Nepali dishes.
If the name Tamarind rings a bell, you have probably visited or heard of Tamarind, a multi-cuisine restaurant located in Jhamsikhel. Both the restaurants are owned by the same people, who also own and operate four other restaurants in the city.
“Out of the six outlets we operate, three serve multi-cuisine, one serves Thai cuisine, one is a cafe, and Tamarind Khaja Ghar is our only restaurant dedicated to Newa and Nepali cuisine,” said Sajita Basnyat, managing director of Tamarind Khaja Ghar.
The decision to start a Newa and Nepali restaurant, says Basnyat, is to pay tribute to these two cuisines that the owners grew up on.
“My husband is Newa so the cuisine is something he is very familiar with. I also grew up in a neighbourhood where there were many Newa families and getting to try authentic Newa cuisine was one of the reasons I so looked forward to visiting their houses and taking part in their festivals,” said Basnyat. “So their food was one of the main draws for me every time I visited their homes and took part in the festivals. So Tamarind Khaja Ghar is our tribute to the cuisine we grew up on and love so much.”
Another reason to start the restaurant, says Basnyat, was the lack of restaurants in the city that served authentic Newa cuisine with an ambience and facilities where families felt welcome.
“As a lover of Newa cuisine and a mother, I had to think twice about visiting some of my favourite Newa restaurants in the city with my family because most of them didn’t have the environment where our family would feel comfortable,” said Basnyat. “So all of these factors led us to start Tamarind Khaja Ghar.”
But the establishment has had a rocky start. It opened in October 2019, and just when the restaurant started gaining a steady flow of diners, says Basnyat, Covid-19 hit. “Our plan was to have an official opening of the restaurant in February 2020, but by then it had become pretty evident that Covid-19 was going to disrupt our normal lives,” said Basnyat. “What we had not anticipated was how this would stretch for so long. But we have been able to sail through and things are now picking up. We are all very optimistic about the future.”
To make sure the food served at Tamarind Khaja Ghar is as authentic as possible, it was important, says Basnyat, to get a chef for whom Newa cuisine has played an integral role in his/her life as it has for the owners. And that’s how the search for the chef led them to Kushal Pradhan.
A resident of Kirtipur, Pradhan started learning to cook Newa dishes very early on in his life from his grandmother and father.
“I began my career as a helper at my brother-in-law's Newa restaurant in Kirtipur. After that I joined Kirtipur’s famed Newa Lahana,” said Pradhan.
One of the reasons that made Pradhan join Tamarind Khaja Ghar, he says, is the prospect of showing foreigners who come to Nepal what Newa cuisine is.
“Most foreigners who come to Nepal are highly unlikely to go to local bhattis to try Newa food and the only option for them to get a taste of what Newrai cuisine is at places like Tamarind Khaja Ghar,” said Pradhan. “Here, we not only take pride in the strict safety and hygiene standards but we also ensure that the ingredients we use and our cooking methods are as authentic as possible.”
For example, says Pradhan, the kitchen uses mustard oil, something that’s been traditionally used in his and many Newa families for years.
“And most of the sauces we use in the kitchen are made in-house to give it that authentic taste,” said Pradhan.
And keeping true to its theme, the restaurant’s menu, the covers of which are designed in such a way to emulate yesteryear’s files used in government offices, not only features dishes that are omnipresent in all Newa joints, like chatamari, samay baji, sekuwa, but also lesser common dishes like tisya (buff spinal cord), goat head, kachila (raw buff), phokso (stuffed goat lungs) and sapu mhicha.
“Some of the dishes that I recommend to guests are our chicken sekuwa, mutton tass and buff samay baji set,” said Pradhan.
The restaurant, says Basnyat, now has plans to start serving breakfast very soon. “The breakfast menu will have set Nepali breakfast with our beloved sel roti and gwamari apart from also serving the usual suspects of breakfast menu like American and Continental set breakfast,” said Basnyat.
While business has improved a lot compared to last year, says Basnyat, it is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.
“Things have been improving since last November,” said Basnyat. “A lot of people who have visited us after we reopened have appreciated what we are trying to do at Tamarind Khaja Ghar.”
Where: Tamarind Khaja Ghar, Panipokhari
Opening hours: 11 am to 10 pm