Nepali cuisine, explainedMasterchef Santosh Shah’s cookbook ‘Ayla’ and Prashanta Khanal’s ‘Timmur’ have made a mark in the national and international culinary scenes by promoting authentic Nepali cuisines and recipes.
The diversity of Nepali food is unexplored by Nepalis. Most of us connect Nepali food with Indian or Tibetan influences. However, Nepal's many traditional and indigenous dishes remain unknown. Writer Prashanta Khanal says that food is the epitome of a country’s culture. The food that we eat is handed down from generations and embodies our history and our legacy. Our food not only tells our stories but also reflects our ethnic, geographical, and cultural differences.
The Nepal Literature Festival 2022 featured a very special session dedicated to Nepali gastronomy held in the scintillating backdrop of Taal Barahi. The session titled, ‘Timmur dekhi Ayla samma’ was about two eclectic cookbooks—‘Timmur’ was written by Prashanta Khanal and ‘Ayla’ by Santosh Shah. These two books have their own individualistic flairs and differences yet portray a lively and vibrant picture of Nepal’s scrumptious delicacies.
Prashanta Khanal is passionate about food and this comes out in his writings. He studied environmental management, is a columnist in the Post writing on urban mobility, air quality control, and sustainable cities, and of course, food. He started writing about Nepali recipes, food culture, and history through his blog ‘Gundruk’.
Khanal says that he loves writing about cuisines as he always has been passionate about exploring food cultures and different culinary practices across the world. He also likes experimenting with new food and cooking techniques. Cooking, he states, is almost therapeutic for him.
Khanal had been wanting to make a pdf with the different recipes he had collected over the years since 2016. Despite knowing so much about Nepal’s food culture and history, Prashanta was never content. Every time a new friend would introduce a new delicacy, he would question his awareness of the kinds of food made in Nepal. It was this quest of discovering new foods, that led him to the doors of friends from different ethnic communities who taught him about their cultural dishes.
“The thought of compiling my knowledge of Nepali food items came to me when I tried kinema, fermented soybean from the Rai/Limbu community. Till that point, I thought it was a Japanese delicacy. I had no idea about its existence in Nepal,” claims Khanal adding that this incident led him to do more research on Nepali food. He attended numerous regional and national food festivals in search of more Nepali foods items he knew nothing about. Finally, in the winter of 2016, he approached FinePrint to manifest his food dream into a physical reality and worked on it for years. ‘Timmur’ was published in February 2022 to an overwhelming response as a recipe book of Nepali cuisine had not yet been published on this scale or quality.
The book is named after the Nepali pepper 'timmur,' which has a diverse flavour and is commonly used in Nepalese cuisine. According to Khanal, ‘Timmur’ captures the country's ethnic and cultural variety, as well as its diversified topography and cross-border influences. The book reflects many narratives and history, as well as over a hundred different recipes from Nepal, including ones the author grew up with. With colourful pictures, ‘Timmur’ will compel you to run to the kitchen and try out an authentic Nepali recipe.
Nepal's rich and diverse flavours are frequently overpowered by the clamour of cuisines from neighboring nations India and China. It is only when you develop a palate for Nepali cuisine, that your tastebuds understand the true celebration and exploration of flavours that Nepali food provides. Masterchef Santosh Shah is often called the ‘celebrity chef’ of Nepal and he has left no stone unturned to promote Nepali cuisine among international food fanatics.
Shah got the title of ‘Masterchef’ after being declared the second runner-up of the UK’s popular reality cookery TV series, ‘BBC MasterChef: The Professionals’, in 2020. He was also announced as the winner of the UK’s BBC ‘MasterChef: The Professionals Rematch’ in 2021. He was lauded by many for cooking delectable Nepali dishes at the tournament including Yomari and Nepali khana sets.
Immediately after Shah finished the championship in 2020, a senior official from Dorling Kindersley Limited (DK) left a letter at his door asking if he was interested in writing a cookbook. DK is a British multinational publishing conglomerate and part of Penguin Random House, specializing in illustrated reference books for adults and children in 63 languages.
‘Ayla’, Shah’s cookbook was released in February last year. The name refers to a Newari beverage made from fermented foods such as rice, cereals, and millet. Shah says, “Every time I go to a Newari restaurant, they served me Ayla. It became an insignia of hospitality and welcome to me. Through my book ‘Ayla’, I want to welcome the world to the doors of Nepali cuisine.”
The response ‘Ayla’ got in the international market was ginormous. It became a bestseller overnight. It has amazing reviews on Amazon and even won the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2023.
Much like ‘Timmur’, ‘Ayla’ is sure to provide much inspiration to fill your plate with the bright flavours of this underappreciated cuisine.