When you think of ‘taas’, you think of Chitwan. It’s a much-loved mutton dish that is basically marinated mutton pieces cooked in a generous amount of mustard oil on a griddle. The meat cooked thus becomes tender, succulent, and rich in flavors. This iconic dish is perhaps an identity of Chitwan. However, taas didn’t originate in Chitwan. Its roots can be traced back to Raxaul, a small border town near Birgunj.
During the Panchayat era in Nepal, people from Kathmandu traveled all the way to Raxaul for shopping and to watch the latest Bollywood movies. Rangoli Meat Hotel, located just opposite Krishna Talkies in Raxaul, was a popular spot to enjoy taas. It wasn’t the only place selling this dish though. There were a few stalls near Pankaj Talkies that also served the delicacy.
In April 1987, Gobinda Tiwari started Bhetghat restaurant in Bharatpur. The restaurant served taas. Apparently, he brought taas to Chitwan, and the rest is history. It became popular and today Chitwan is incomplete without taas. I’m a huge fan of ‘Chitwan ko taas’ as well. Every time I visit Nepal, I make some excuse to go to Chitwan just to visit Bhetghat Taas Ghar, one of my favorite eateries.
During one such visit to Bhetghat, I told the waiter to get me one standard plate of taas. This normally includes the taas meat along with tomato achar, salad, and bhuja (puffed rice). I eventually ended up ordering three plates. My mum and brother who had tagged along were surprised to see my insatiable appetite for taas. I had ordered eight plates when my mother stopped me from ordering more and said, “Ma banai dinchu ghar mai.” (I shall prepare it at home.)
What makes taas stand apart from any other meat dish prepared in Nepal? These boneless lamb cubes are marinated in coarse Nepali spices and herbs and are grilled in as little oil as possible. To prepare taas, people use a large, near-flat concave thick-bottomed pan called tawa. Cooking this meat in the tawa, in medium heat, results in an assertively spiced crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside succulent meat.
But what makes taas special is not just the grilled marinated meat. It’s the right combination of the whole set, including puffed rice, tomato chutney, cucumber and radish salad, green chilies, red onion, and lemon salad. My personal preference is eating taas with fermented pickled radish.
There was a time when I tried having the taas khaja set meal at Bhetghat’s outlet in Anamnagar, Kathmandu. But it didn’t match the original taste of their Chitwan outlet. The recipe might be the same but the dish didn’t have the same taste or texture. The taste of food is not only about recipes and technique, it’s about the vibe that the surrounding gives. Food tastes different depending on where the products are coming from. So, the taste of taas in Chitwan beats all other copycat places that offer taas dishes.
You wouldn’t think of having fried fish, aloo chop with tomato achar, and beer inside cities like Kathmandu or Pokhara. But the same dishes with a little bit of dust, vehicles’ noise from the surrounding taste heavenly on road trips. Everyone is in a holiday mood, and the rush and sounds of the road give a different experience which you will not find in either Kathmandu or Pokhara.
As much as I wish I could, I can’t go to Chitwan every time I crave taas. So I have tried the original recipe several times. I’ve also introduced it to my restaurant’s menu. Here, I’m sharing my version of the taas recipe.