A season of Nepali sweets
Nepali Mithai comes in a variety of forms, each with its regional influences and distinct ingredients. These sweet delights are a true testament to the rich tapestry of Nepal’s culinary heritage
Tihar is here. Diwali, Dipawali, or Tihar—this is the festival of fruits and sweets. Dashain was for meat lovers, but Tihar is turning into a purely vegetarian festival. And whenever we discuss celebrating Tihar in the Nepali community, people often ask, “Where are the Nepali mithais (sweets)?”
What are Nepali mithais? Is selroti actually a sweet item? Can we use it as a dessert? Personally, I don’t think selroti is a mithai. It’s a unique Nepali item, a celebration of Nepaliness. This is my opinion. You might feel differently. But the question remains, what are Nepali sweets?
I can provide a list of mouth-watering sweets available in the Nepali market: jeri, swari, halwa, lakhamari, lalmohan, anarasa, pustakari, gudpak, rasbari, laddu, barfi, peda, dudhbari, rasmalai, khoya badam, and rajbhog. And this is, by no means, an exhaustive list either.
Jeri, swari, halwa, lakhamari, anarasa, and lalmohan were the traditional Nepali sweets that used to be served by middle-class families to the Royal Palace of Kathmandu. However, the popularity of these traditional sweets has declined, and new kinds of sweets have taken over. You can find every sweet, from Indian to Turkish, in the luxury market of Kathmandu Valley, but do they carry the spirit of our festival?
Nepali Mithai is the delectable sweet treat that graces the tables of Nepali households. These desserts, deeply rooted in the country’s cultural and geographical diversity, offer a unique and delightful experience for your taste buds. Nepali Mithai comes in a variety of forms, each with its regional influences and distinct ingredients. These sweet delights are a true testament to the rich tapestry of Nepal’s culinary heritage.
Most Nepalis think that Nepali sweets are slowly losing their appeal, thanks to the infiltration of all the Indian sweets in the market. But I don’t believe in the geographical boundaries of culinary art. The food we now enjoy has likely reached our culture after traveling a long journey. For example, Anarasa, the most popular traditional Nepali sweet of the Tihar festival, has Indian roots. In India, it’s called anarsa or hilsa and is a rice-based biscuit. It’s also commonly associated with the Hindu festival of Diwali in Maharashtra and Bihar. Its ingredients include jaggery, rice, poppy seed, and ghee in India.
Then, if you claim that traditional Nepali sweets are dying, then what have you done to preserve them? The majority of Nepalis (including the Nepali diaspora) love to blame others for doing nothing, especially the government of Nepal and political parties. But if you want to preserve your culture, you have to do it. Miss Nepal 2019 Anushka Shrestha is doing her bit to preserve and popularize Nepali sweets through her brand Makkusé. Makkusé is redefining Nepali desserts by producing a selection of pustakari, gudpak, and cookies.
But now, let’s get back to the Tihar festival. Your favorite traditional sweet could be the anarasa or lakhamari or the versatile peda but mine is simple kurauni and kheer. One of the most beloved and universal Nepali sweets is kurauni. This sweet, condensed milk delight embodies the essence of Nepali childhood. It’s made by simmering milk until it reduces and thickens, resulting in a creamy, sweet concoction. The slow reduction process creates a unique depth of flavor, and it’s often garnished with crushed nuts and spices for an extra layer of richness. Kurauni is not just a dessert. It’s a trip down memory lane, a taste of innocence, and a reminder of the simplicity of life in Nepal.
Kheer, which is rice pudding, is another timeless Nepali dessert. It’s simple, yet it never fails to delight. A creamy mixture of rice, milk, and sugar, kheer is seasoned with cardamom and garnished with dried fruits and nuts. This dish embodies the essence of comfort food and is often prepared on special occasions and festivals, bringing families together over its sweet and heartwarming flavors.
Nepali mithai isn’t limited to these classics. The diversity of Nepal’s landscapes has given rise to a plethora of regional delicacies. The northern regions, influenced by Tibet, often feature rice flour and wheat flour-based sweets. These include the delicious khudo, a treat made from sugarcane molasses, and various Tibetan-inspired dumplings, which are both hearty and sweet.
In the Madhes region of Nepal, the sweets draw inspiration from neighboring India, featuring sugary, milk-based delights like sandesh (kalakanda), rasgulla, and gulab jamun. These treats are a testament to the cultural exchange that occurs across Nepal’s borders.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Nepali mithai is their natural, chemical-free preparation. The desserts have traditionally been made without the use of preservatives or additives. Instead, they rely on natural ingredients such as ghee (clarified butter), milk, and locally sourced flavors. This makes them delicious and a healthier option in a world inundated with processed sweets.
It’s essential to bring Nepali Mithai into the limelight. These delectable treats deserve recognition for their unique flavors, cultural significance, and the love and care that goes into making them. Let’s celebrate the sweetness of Nepal, share these delightful treats with the world, and ensure that the tradition of Nepali mithai continues to flourish. Let’s savor these natural, clean, and rich sweets that are a testament to the beauty of the Himalayan nation’s culinary heritage.
The author is a London-based Nepali R&D chef
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