With its profound biodiversity, one-of-a-kind ingredients, and time-honoured cooking processes, Nepal’s food culture is truly unique, though surprisingly little has been published on it. Helping this vibrant cuisine get the recognition it deserves on the global stage is Santosh Shah, MasterChef finalist and author of new cookbook, Ayla. A collection of 60 vibrant and authentic recipes, interspersed with fascinating cultural insights and truly beautiful photography, Ayla explores the ingredients, influences, and traditions that shape Nepali and Himalayan cuisine.
Ahead of the Lunar New Year celebrations kicking off across the world, we caught up with author Santosh Shah to find out more about how the festival is celebrated in his home country. Here’s what he had to say . . .
From the book
Ayla: A Feast of Nepali Dishes from Terai, Hills and the Himalayas
Vibrant and authentic Nepali recipes
From MasterChef:The Professionals finalist, Santosh Shah
From street food snacks to dinner ideas, drinks to desserts.
Each year in Nepal we celebrate more than 50 festivals across a range of communities and religions. Our food culture is strongly based on these traditions; they connect us to the seasons and harvests, to what we eat, and to our family and friends. Coming together to share a meal is often a key part of festivities.
In Nepal, people in different communities have a variety of customs and traditions around New Year. In Newari culture, they celebrate Nhu Dan. This community follows Nepal’s own Lunar calendar system, known as Nepal Sambat. In Gurung culture, meanwhile, they celebrate Tamu Lhosar. They have their own calendar system called Tamu Sambit. They celebrate Tamu Lhosar by getting together and wearing cultural and traditional clothes, and by making feasts. In addition, many Nepali people celebrate Magdhe Sankrantri, a festival that takes place in mid-January and corresponds to the winter solstice. People from Tharu, Magar, and Kirati celebrate this as the new year. They make feasts from new harvests, with dishes made from sesame, yam, and rice. The traditional sweet of this festival is Tik Ko Ladoo, a crispy ball of sesame seeds and jaggery toffee, pictured below. There is a whole chapter dedicated to Festival Food in Ayla, where you’ll find a recipe for Tik Ko Ladoo.
I celebrated the Lunar New Year festival as a child in Nepal. Early in the morning, my mother would wake me up and lots of people from the village would go to the holy river “Kamla River”. We would go to have a bath and pray on the river bank. When we came back home, my mother would prepare food including yam, Bagiya (made from rice), and pudding. We would eat this, and then we would wear new clothes and go to the festival in the afternoon where all the people from the village would come to the temple to see some cultural programs arranged by the local community. We would shake hands and say ‘happy New Year’.
If you are celebrating the Lunar New Year or are simply keen to try your hand at some of Santosh’s recipes, here are three dishes that could form part of a New Year’s feast. You can access the full recipe for the yam curry on The Happy Foodie, and you’ll find the other recipes in Ayla. Get your copy here.
A simple but richly spiced dish, this Himalayan curry can be made using any kind of yam. Serve it with rice, yoghurt, and pickles.
Kacho Kera Ko Tarkari (Plantain Curry)
This dish of curried plantain hails from the Tharu community, an indigenous group from the forests and foothills of the Himalayas.
Lahre Aap (Himalayan Passion Fruit Cream)
Finish of your New Year’s feast with something sweet in the form of this fragrant passion fruit cream.
Discover more of Santosh’s recipes here.