Culinary home-cooking background and statement by main contributor, Deepak Tamrakar:
From a very young age, brought up in the Far West (Dadeldhura, Mahakali) of Nepal in my home and village environment, I came into contact with Nepali home cooking and loved the scents of the foods in their various stages of preparation, from fresh ingredients being prepared to the aromas and tastes of the final stage of the meal, dish or snack. I think I am not uncommon in having this fascination as a child for the foods of our great, beautiful country, but I found cooking something of wonder, and quickly wanted to watch and learn as foods came together in our home kitchen made by my mother and grandmother, my grandfather. And also, in some cases simple single food dishes (Kerala / Bitter Gourd fried, etc. – we had Kerala growing from one of the walls of our garden; very good for health) made by my father when I accompanied him out on travel and activities in the country.
These were all magical memories for me, and I felt core parts of my family and broader social lives. I think too that as in Nepal we are so blessed with having almost all our main cooking ingredients found growing or existing nearby, and often near to ones’ home and village – meaning extremely fresh and aromatic – that food for us is something sacred connecting us, with broader Nature itself. This is something that is not so easily appreciated for those living in major cities, especially in the West.
Soon I was asked to help sometimes in the preparation stage of ingredients, and even aspects of making the main dish itself, under helpful eye and supervision of family, and sometimes at friends’ family homes, or on festival, broader social and religious celebration occasions. Still when young, at home, I learned just how important it is to check on and know about the freshness of ingredients and understanding why essential to get this just right. Otherwise, if the quality is poor, taste and sometimes texture of part of a dish is changed, and ruined. Mastery of amounts, blending, and combinations of different spices is perhaps the greatest contribution Nepali cookery makes to the broader world of food.
In my early 20’s I went to study in Kathmandu, taking my passion for learning about cooking with me. This was a huge learning experience for me, as Kathmandu is fabled across the whole of South Asia, not only Nepal for the quality, richness and great range of its types of foods, as the capital, although mainly Newari, was the centre of the nation from which so many different types and traditions of food from the high Himalaya to the Terai (Thakali, Tharu) are present, and the very best experts in these, thriving. I learned so much from living and socialising with friends in the capital, and studying new forms of Nepali home cuisine, and in due course understanding about how to experiment with, refine these whilst keeping the essential ingredients and respecting the traditional cooking processes.
I had started to learn as a child, but now in Kathmandu had the full realisation on what ingredients were compatible with each other within a dish, about the pace of adding/incorporating ingredients, the big matter of ensuring bringing out the natural taste and/or aroma of individual ingredients in dishes. And also, about getting salt and chili balances right, and that these relate to Not swamping ingredient natural flavours, and when cooking for others to know how salty or chili hot they want their food. On this the options I thought best were to also keep to a minimum, but still sufficient, and to have fresh chilis and salt available for adding at need by those eating the dish.
Coming to the UK I have continued to advance my knowledge and technique in Nepali home-cooked dishes, and have not been surprised to learn how prized are Nepali chefs in British Indian restaurants because of their grasp of knowledge of a very wide range of South Asian dishes, and as most Nepali are first generation, the value of still fresh contact with the land of origin and its culinary cultures being particularly powerful in informing cooking capability, and especially a very real reverential passion for the culinary arts.
Here, I have found in some ways, far fewer fresh ingredients and the full range of these I have been used to in beautiful Nepal, except for the value of South Asian grocery shops that provide some mitigation of this drawback. But on the other hand, other ingredients (frozen peas, broad beans, and particularly fresh fish), including a really good range of types of potato, that enable refinements and experimentations with aspects of traditional Nepali dishes. This is exciting, for ultimately home cooked food is the source from which classical dishes have been born over millennia, and those dishes to evolve into many different variants.
I am honoured and proud to be the main contributor to this booklet and culinary arts educational project, and know there are others like me with the same passion and abilities where the Nepali home cooked foods are concerned – I hope this book and information resource will encourage them to be proud of and share their skills in the Nepali culinary arts more broadly outside our community. Food is though more than flavour, texture, taste, it is also about good health or poor health.
We are aware of this in Nepal and South Asia and broader Asia, perhaps more than in the West, but this is changing. This is why looking at existing Nepali and South Asian food guides the Heritage project initiated and facilitated by the UK Nepal Friendship Society opened up the opportunity to explain this through ingredients health and nutrition sections, explaining why foods have certain health and medical benefits that can be gained, making one feel good, as well tasting delicious. Our Asian ancient health & wellbeing systems such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, have major food philosophy components.
I am excited about through this project and book, sharing this from a layman’s perspective, and also playing a small part in promoting Nepali foods, especially home cooked forms, to be profiled to, it is hoped, become greater features in different restaurants menus, and to boost the number of Nepali restaurants here in Britain, and in Ireland, and in the broader West.
UKNFS Arts section co-founder and officer
Example comment on Deepak’s Nepali cuisine expertise:
“I had the pleasure to taste Deepak wonderful home cooked food.
All I can say is I have never tasted anything as good as what he cooked for us, all the flavours and spices were delightful.
His food is very authentic and delicious, full of wonderful spices and aroma. I love spicy food so this was just perfect for me. I tried his Momos (Nepali Steamed Dumplings) Oh my God this was something special, truly tasty, I loved it. I also had the tomato achar, smooth and fiery in a delicious flavoursome way, as an accompaniment and it went really well with the Momos I even asked him to give me some of his recipe as it was so nice, and have asked him a number of times to provide some for me to eat at home.”
Fatima Adjilani. President of Bournemouth Volleyball Club, and French national
I first met Deepak at a volleyball club and we got on straight away; I could see he was a kind and genuine man. As a result, we became friends and found we had cooking and food in common.
I was brought up in an Italian family and food and cooking was a big part of our culture.
I was interested in Deepak’s culture and food as I know the difference between Italian home cooked and restaurant food. One evening Deepak invited me and some friends to his house for dinner.
When we sat down to eat Deepak brought out this awesome spread of home cooked Nepalese food. There must have been 6 different types of food on the table, and all were delicious. I was especially fond of the little dumplings, called Momos. We had 2 types: a veggie version and also a pork version. Both were amazing. They had a very delicate pastry with a full-flavoured filling.
A couple week later and I still couldn’t get the Momos out my mind, so asked Deepak if he would teach me how to cook them. He was happy to share his knowledge of cooking with me, and was a very good teacher as I have since made them myself and they are now one of my favourite foods to prepare and share.