Oh My Goodies!
Story of Anita Balami, a local restaurateur
by Eena Shrestha
We were all very very hungry and all we could see was a sea of trees, grass and rocks. Now we can’t eat that! And to make things worse, Pallav sir, Sabita didi and Bhagwati maam were talking about what to eat, where to eat, and what would be really hot, fresh, tasty. My mouth was watering at the thought of momos and chowmein and other meaty meats and I was asked about gwaramari, sel rotis, samosas and pakodas. Only asked, mind you. We were still driving away.
We had come back after a long time of walking and were starving. We saw the KC shop and the other tea houses and small eateries. The van sped on past them and Pallav sir kept saying no no no. And when he went yes yes yes, Bhagwati maam and Sabita didi would say no no no.
Now it was more hopeful. We were in Thaiba. And this was a township. He asked the driver to go through a smaller by way and pointed to another street and asked that the van be stopped. The van stopped and we got off in search for a place to eat. We would keep walking until we found someplace we liked, he said. The kids were waiting where the van had stopped while we, the olders were going through the street.
Far far away, we saw a glimmer of what we probably sought, we had struck a bonanza three shops next to each other! A dairy where they sold milk and tea and bakeries; a momo shop that sold meats like heads and feet of chicken (which I did not want) and momos and sekuwa fried meat and chowmein; and a samosa restaurant that had on display a big pot of cooking oil, samosas, pakodas and gwaramari and jeri and sel roti.
The gwaramari is something I love, so I wanted to go to the samosa restaurant… but Pallav sir had a different Idea and went to the dairy to find that they only sold tea, milk and bread so I hoped we would go back to the samosa restaurant but once again… nopes… we were left standing and talking and he went to the momo place from where he came out and asked if we wanted to eat chicken feet! I wanted to jump up and down because chicken feet disgusted me, I don’t want to eat the feet of anything because… just no, Nooooooo! Yup, it was right then that a pigeon pooped on the inside of Pallav sir’s glasses so he had to go into the samosa place we were standing at to get that cleaned!
Finally at the samosa restaurant, we try a gwaramari, it had been like 2 or 3 months since I’ve eaten one and it was great [By the way, I had 5 gwaramaris for breakfast this morning]. After eating the gwaramaris standing outside the shop, we washed our hands and went inside to have a seat. When I went in I also saw jeris I wanted to eat them but no one ordered jeri and that made me sad.
We then went on a eating spree: we then had pakodas, and then it was time for spicy chowmein and then we had samosa. Utu couldn’t eat the spicy chowmein so I got to eat more.
Then came our learning session. We had to interview the shopkeeper. I found out that her name is Anita. And of course that was more than a little interesting because Anita is also my friend at school and we went to an art exhibition where the artist was also Anita!
This Anita’s husband was Bishnu and she had two sons: Abim and Ashish. Anita was carrying her youngest son who was 19 months old. Her older son, who is nine years old helped out at the shop as I talked to her. He sold hot samosa and pakodas and took the money counted out the change and did very good business.
Soon, all the gwaramaris, samosas and pakodas were gone and another lady in the shop started making more as Anita talked to me and my friends. She told us that they had owned the show for seven years. Her husband Bishnu had been working as a waiter, helper, and cook at Indian food restaurants since he was 12. He started by washing dishes and used to get paid 300 Nepalese rupees per month.
Over the years of watching and learning, he became an accomplished cook. “We are famous around here,” he told us. Indeed, the gwaramaris, the pakodas, and the samosas that we had were great. For me, I would have liked them to be a little less spicy, especially the chunks of green chillies he had put in the samosa and pakodas were something to watch out for! But the others just loved their food hot in terms of freshly out of cooking oil and super spicy.
They make everything in the shop and there were many sweets and delicacies there also. I asked Abim what he liked best and he said that he likes the samosa, (chicken), and jeri the most. He is in grade 3 and just a year younger than me. It is wonderful how he balances helping out at the shop and going to Everest School.
Now let us talk about the food that they sell:
Gwaramari: Most of us Newars have happy memories of eating Gwaramari and warm milk or tea for breakfast during the chilly winter months. In fact, gwaramari wouldn’t taste half as good without some milk or tea. There is an art to eating this food. First of all, you select the largest gwaramari in the batch that’s in front of you so that no one else can have it. Then, you carefully break it in half and keep the other half where no one else can get at it. Then you eat the inside of the gwaramari until only the edges remain, it becomes a tiny makeshift bowl. You now scoop up milk or tea in that tiny bowl and eat it while still crunchy with milk or tea. In the Newari language ‘Gwara’ means round and ‘mari’ means bread so Gwaramari means round bread, exactly. To people who have tasted it and liked it, it is not just any normal bread but a very delicious one with a very different taste.
Sel Roti: Sel roti is very common and popular Nepali traditional bread made by people who live in the hills. Sel rotis are thinner in shape and larger in diameter than a normal donut. It’s made with rice flour, sugar, oils, fruit such as banana, and other stuff. Sel rotis taste AMAZING when it is fresh, it becomes slightly tough the next day, even though it still tastes good this way. Well, sel roti can last for months and months and was the main delicacy of Tihar, the festival of sweets so you can imagine that it super. Sel roti is made and eaten throughout Nepal in Tihar (Dipawali), during wedding parties and other special events as well. It is an important food in most Nepalese cultural and traditional events. In Nepali ‘Sel’ means donut shape and ‘roti’ means bread, Sel Roti is very enjoyable by itself, but can also be eaten with plain yogurt, tea, and milk.
Pakoda: In Sanskrit pakoda comes from the word pakvavata, pakva meaning cooked and vata meaning small lump. The best pokodas have lots of vegetables held together by besan, or chickpea flour. It is important to deep fry it in oil and eat it while its crispy and hot. Onion, cabbages, spinach, cauliflower and other stuff can be in it and the best ones have less flour and more veggies. Healthy and often very spicy, pokodas are fun and warm you right up, especially your cheeks if you are feeling cold.
Samosa: The samosa is claimed to have been created in Arab countries such as Turkey and Egypt, where it is known as sambosa previous to the 10th century. Now thaaaat is ooooold. I wasn’t even born then. I have only been alive for a decade you know. Samosa comes from the Persian word sanbosag. The name of other baked goods in other countries can also come from this source, such as the arc sanbusak or sanbusaj in Arab, and samosa in India. It is triangularly shaped with wheat flour exterior that has some seeds. Inside is potatoes, beans, onions and spicy stuff. Lovely. The samosa is deep fried in boiling hot oil. It is yummy. And we were wondering how much more yummy if it were filled with chicken mince instead of potatoes!
Sweets: The Rajkarnikars are Newari, supposedly the original people of the Kathmandu Valley, which is the capital of Nepal. Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur are in the valley. The traditional Rajkarnikar occupation is making candy and sweets, known as "mithai" in Nepal. Although slowly falling in number, hundreds of Rajkarnikar sweet shops can still be found in the valley and in other cities and towns with traditional Newar communities. Some of the popular sweets from sweet shops are Jeri Swari, Puri, Burfi, Laddoo, Malpuwa, Halwa, Guwaramari!