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The tales of Nepali potato

The tales of Nepali potato

The only negative connotation you can find in the Nepali language about potatoes is, “s/he eats aalu (potato) in the final exam”. As the shape of a potato resembles zero, it’s popularly termed as ‘potato grade’ in our society. Aside from this, the potato holds an all-time favorite status in Nepali society, as implied by the phrase “s/he is just like a potato,” meaning one can fit anywhere, just like a potato goes well with any vegetable.

While browsing the online version of Annapurna Post, I suddenly noticed a detailed story about ‘Tharu aalu’ from Tikapur in Kailali. I had never heard of a potato species named after the Tharu indigenous community. So, I read through the entire story. According to the report, this species of potato is exclusively cultivated by the Tharu community and is considered indigenous.

Potatoes entered Nepal 176 years ago, introduced by British naturalist Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker in Taplejung during an ecological expedition in eastern Nepal from October to December of 1848. Sir Hooker was accompanied by Brian H. Hodgson, a naturalist and ethnologist who later became a British resident in Kathmandu. Potatoes then spread across Nepal and became a national favorite.

The per capita consumption of potatoes in Nepal is 75 kg, which is one of the highest in Asia, with almost 90 percent of potatoes consumed by Nepalis being cultivated in Nepal, while only 10 to 12 percent is imported.

Potatoes, scientifically known as Solanum tuberosum, are believed to have originated in the Andes Mountains of South America, particularly in present-day Peru and Bolivia. These early potatoes were smaller and had a wide range of shapes and colors, quite different from the standardized varieties we know today.

Potatoes quickly adapted to the diverse agro-climatic conditions of Nepal, making them a vital crop across different regions of the country. Their adaptability and ease of cultivation made them especially appealing to Nepali farmers.

Potatoes became more than just a crop; they were a solution to food security issues. In a nation with a complex geography, ranging from the lowlands of the Tarai to the towering Himalayas, having a reliable source of sustenance was crucial. Potatoes provided this reliability, as they could be grown at various altitudes and in different soil conditions.

Potatoes have left an indelible mark on Nepali cuisine, being a key ingredient in a variety of dishes, including aalu chop, aalu ko achar (potato salad), and often served with sel roti and puri. The adaptability of potatoes allows them to be incorporated into both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, making them an essential part of Nepali gastronomy.

The aalu dum is a ubiquitous dish that features potatoes simmered in a flavorful tomato-based gravy. Variations abound, with some adding peas or cauliflower. It’s a staple enjoyed year-round.

Aalu sadheko is a spicy potato salad that is popular in Kathmandu Valley. It’s a delightful twist on the classic potato salad. Boiled potatoes are tossed with a tangy dressing of chilies, ginger, garlic, and herbs. Perfect for any occasion.

Mustang aalu, on the other hand, is a deep-fried and fiery delicacy. This crispy potato snack is a specialty of the Mustang region. Packed with red chilies, timur pepper (or substitutes), and other spices, it’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. It’s best enjoyed during colder months.

Baglung, Gulmi, and Palpa regions offer chukainu, a refreshing yogurt-based potato curried salad. Chopped potatoes are combined with vegetables, herbs, and a creamy yogurt dressing, making it a light and healthy option. Tempering with fenugreek seeds is very important.

Sherpa communities in the high Himalayas have their own potato delicacy – rildok. Mashed potatoes are mixed with nettles or other wild greens, offering a unique taste and essential nutrients during the harsh winters.

Malekhu is popular for its aalu chop. This dish features deep-fried potato wedges tossed in a spicy and tangy sauce. While its exact origin is unclear, it’s a popular street food enjoyed across Nepal.

Thicheko aalu, that’s a local delicacy in Pokhara, literally translates to ‘pressed potatoes.’ This dish involves flattening boiled potatoes and pan-frying them until crispy. It’s a simple yet flavorful snack.

Originating from the Madhesh and popular nationwide, aalu bhujuri is a simple and delicious item made from potatoes. Just thinly slice the potatoes and fry them in hot oil with seed spices like cumin or fennel. Cook until brown. Add salt, grated garlic, chili, and turmeric, and cook for a while.

This is just a taste of the many potato dishes that grace Nepali tables. Each region and community has its take on this versatile ingredient, reflecting the rich heritage of Nepali cuisine. So, next time you’re looking for a potato dish with a twist, consider exploring the culinary delights of Nepal.

The author is a UK-based R&D chef