Going Down the Memory Lane: Thank you Chef Santosh Shah (#nepalneedsyou)

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We are not the same growing up and our food culture has shifted to fast foods only, leaving behind the plethora of native flavours of Nepalese dishes.

It was just the day before yesterday, Chef Santosh Shah stood in the first runner up position at the world famous cooking show “MasterChef: The Professionals - 2020”. I have been hearing about him for many days, as some people in my friend list had been sharing posts of him making various cuisines (especially Nepali) and winning the hearts of judges and people around the globe. While many people were sharing his achievements in the competition round after round ; captioning it was the proud moment for all the Nepalese. I was overlooking the feeds and posts about him until I got a message from my chef friend who’s been studying culinary arts abroad. The thumbnail portrayed the image of Chef Santosh Shah, posing cross handed in his masterchef apron. I was not interested even to open that link because I had no appetite for masterchef before. (I am a vegetarian by the way and didn’t like to see all the other stuff actually cooked  there!) “What should I do with this? Why r u sending me ?”, I replied to her annoyingly. She said,” Just open the link and you’ll find your favourite dish cooked on masterchef!” 

Her words were not much alluring then because it was already 11 PM that night and I was full of my stomach. I shut down my device and slept away. The next day, I was alone in my home, wondering how to pass the time, for it was a leave and I wanted to do something creative on my own. Filled with boredom, I was scrolling my newsfeed and checking messages. I happened to open the message link about Santosh Shah. The headline of BBC news didn’t entertain me, rather I scrolled down and saw a mouthwatering scene.Two Yomari dumplings garnished with cinnamon! Going through the article, what amazed me was that his Yomari was the best dish of that day on the show. I suddenly went on craving for that dish. 

My City - Nepali chef Santosh enters finale of 'BBC Master Chef  Professionals 2020'

For a moment, it was all the happiness around me like any other Nepalese citizen would have, to know that Nepali cuisine was  appraised by the top notch cooking show, which has its audiences all over the world. And Chef Santosh had tried his best to represent Nepali food culture through his exquisite culinary skills sharpened by years of his experiences and hardships. And the fact of him cooking the Nepalese household dish “Yomari” and wearing Dhaka Topi on the finals has even strengthened the feeling of brotherhood and togetherness among diverse cultures of Nepal. A person from Terai region, making the food which is most popular in Newari community, he has given the message to all the Nepalese to respect each other’s culture because above all, we are Nepalese. My hunger grew even more and I searched for the ingredients all over my kitchen. Unfortunately, I had no molasses for the fillings and could not make them. I was content in watching that image of his dish. 

I fed my hunger with WaiWai Quick Noodles, for it is very easy and quick to prepare. The next day in the morning, I ran to the nearest shop, bought rice flour and a brick of molasses.  My sister was a pro in making Yomari. So, she took the lead in our home masterchef. In the day time, she began to get her hands in the journey of showcasing her talent. I just kept watching her making the dough of flour; shaping Yomari dumplings with a hole; placing the melted molasses, heated sesame and shredded coconuts inside that hole; closing carefully giving a perfect shape and then placing them on the cooking pot for steam. I enjoyed the whole process and was waiting for the time to run sooner that I would get those dumplings in my mouth, savouring the juicy and sweet fillings inside it. 

After around 10 mins of cooking, our plates were served neatly with 3 yomaris each for 5 people. The taste was so delicious that I couldn’t resist asking for another 2. It brought back all the reminiscence of my childhood days, where I used to watch my Newar neighbours (who raised me under their care actually) making a circle of around 10-15 family members and preparing a feast on the day of Yomari Punhi.

According to the legends, "Yomari" means "tasty bread" in Newari language. On the day of Yomari Punhi, people of Kathmandu Valley worship to Annapurna after they harvest their crops and prepare Yomari from the fresh yield of rice from their field. 

This local Newari eatery was the thing that I loved the most among all in my childhood, because I didn’t use to go to my neighbours in other festivals, when they had non-vegetarian foods cooked.  But on the day of Yomari Punhi, I used to watch keenly each and every process of making that sweet and yummy dish. And I was happy that they were not bothered by my stupid childlike questions- “Tyo chaku kina pagaaleko?, Khuwa rakhyo vane  dherai mitho hunxa ho? Malai pani banauna dinus na euta. “ They used to offer a big basket of Yomari to our family and we used to give them some titauras which my mother used to make. I loved Yomari to such an extent that, even the day after Yomari Punhi, I used to wander around my neighbours’ houses one after another to check out if there’s any left over. 

Not only at home, but also the environment of school did also grow my craving for Yomari. I have a close friend from school whom we used to tease by calling “Yo-mari” and he used to revolt by calling us names in return. Then, again to intimidate him, we would sing the song-” Yomari Chwamu, Ukhe Dhunhe Hyamu…..”, though I do not know its actual meaning even today. (My friend, if you are reading it now, please tell me leaving all the harshness we unknowingly had in our childhood.) 

Every year, we used to have a Yomari making competition in our school to celebrate our local festival, where we would gather in the school ground with all our teachers and try out making various shapes of Yomari dumplings. It was more of a fun-filled gathering then. I was born and raised amidst the Newari neighbourhood, where I got familiar with many Newari rituals, feasts and festivals, cuisines and cultures. This has developed a sense of respect and cultural  tolerance. Even my neighbours till today, respect our choice of being a vegetarian by food culture. 

Well, Yomari is just an example. There would be a long list of Nepalese dishes like- Puwa, Pani roti, DudhRoti, Gundruk Sadheko, Vatmas Sadheko, Fulaura and many more that are unique in their taste, which would be a great treat for the foreigners. However, I feel sometimes sad that we are not the same growing up and our food culture has shifted to fast foods only, leaving behind the plethora of native flavours of Nepalese dishes made with much love by our parents and neighbours. Thanks to the handful of  youtube channels like Yummy Food World , Rita ́s Kitchen, Chef Suni , Mero Nepali Kitchen  and some others more, who are creating amazing contents on different Nepali food recipes.  

Finally, much more thanks to Chef Santosh Shah, who has won the heart of  judges by preparing typical Nepali dishes like Kodo ko Kheer and Yomari along with other unique cuisines at his best and uplifting Nepal’s image all around the globe once again through his expertise and love towards his motherland. At last, I would like to quote what he said after being selected for the competition, which inspires us all to love our nation more,” If I am not specifically required to experiment, I am planning to cook only Nepali ingredients for most of my dishes. Master chef has a wide audience worldwide, and I am planning to make the best use of this exposure.” Definitely, he has secured a place in everyone’s heart though the winning title got away from him. Thank you once again chef, for placing the authentic Nepali flavours served to the world. 

Manoj Shrestha 3 yrs

Love it.