The curious case of chaurasi byanjan
As a young chef, I was fascinated by the idea of chaurasi byanjan, which means a grand feast featuring 84 different dishes all served at once. It’s not your typical three- or four-course meal. It’s an incredible array of flavors and textures. ‘Chaurasi’ in Nepali means 84, and ‘byanjan’ refers to various types of food. This intriguing tradition is deeply rooted in Nepali culture and is reserved for special occasions like weddings and rice-feeding ceremonies, which mark a child’s transition to solid foods.
I started looking for information about these 84 dishes in books and online, but I couldn’t find much. Gradually, I went from just being a chef to becoming a research and development chef with a hobby of exploring Nepali cuisine and promoting it internationally. When I had some free time, I searched the internet to learn more about chaurasi byanjan. I was fascinated by it and wanted to learn more.
I found something similar called ‘chhpan bhog’ in the Indian context. It was a completely vegetarian meal that used to be served to Lord Krishna. So, I wondered, did Nepali people add 28 meat dishes to the 56 dishes of chhpan bhog? The problem was I didn’t know much Sanskrit which made it really hard to access Eastern knowledge. There had to be some way for me to find out more about this elaborate feast.
I turned to people who seemed knowledgeable about chaurasi byanjan. The first theory connects it to Maharshi Charak, the father of Ayurveda, and his book Charak Samhita, but detailed information is scarce. Another theory links it to the wedding ceremony of Ram and Sita, hosted by King Janak. Yet the details are elusive. There are many other theories too but the information is either limited or vague.
The most convincing theory suggests that this tradition began during the Malla dynasty and it’s purely an indigenous way of serving a feast. It’s said that this tradition continues at Bikramshil Mahabihar (Bhagwan Bahal) in Thamel, Kathmandu.
After uncovering these facts, I sought out gurus with knowledge of chaurasi byanjan. After months of following these experts, some claimed to be writing books on the subject, promising details upon publication, while others said it was their lifelong research and chose not to share. People claimed to know about it but were hesitant to share the details.
I resumed my research and discovered that chaurasi byanjan is more than just a feast. It’s a celebration of balance and variety. Each dish on the menu holds a special significance, whether it’s the spiced lentils of bara or the fermented leafy greens of gundruk. The culinary journey begins with staples like rice and dal, representing the heart of Nepali cuisine, and extends to intricate desserts like peda and rasgulla, showcasing the country’s sweet tooth.
Chaurasi byanjan doesn’t have a fixed set of varieties. It all depends on preferences, seasonality, locality, region, and the dishes typically associated with celebrations. The choices of a multimillionaire and a middle-class family would differ. Exploring Nepal’s chaurasi byanjan is a sensory journey, offering insights into the rich tapestry of culture, the abundance of nature, and the artistry of cuisine that defines this remarkable culinary tradition. Next time you see a feast laid out, try noticing all the different food and drinks there are on the special spread.
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