I have started writing our Nepal journey in a very unusual way – the first post on Nepal being the last day of our trip. Probably the divine experience of seeing the Mt Everest and the Himalaya can’t be written anywhere else but on the first post of my Nepal travelogue! But that doesn’t mean that our other experiences were any less than ordinary. For example – the pleasure of experiencing traditional Newari/Nepali food or our stay in a hotel that is as beautiful and rich in history as the city itself. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is situated in the Kathmandu valley which is one of the largest valleys in the Himalaya. Kathmandu is not a copybook beautiful city. It is over-crowded with people as well as the modern brick structures that house these people – all jostling with each other for space. The grey smog that surrounds the city as cars, vans, two-wheelers wheezes past is definitely not the romantic grey clouds blurring the surrounding Himalayas. The beauty of the city lies else where – the warmth of the round and smiling faces of the Nepalese, the innumerable make-shift souvenir and curio shops on the streets, the sudden emergence of ridiculously wired up electrical poles along along with lush green trees. (Wired up is another favourite topic of mine – I already have numerous photographs of Kolkata all wired up but wired up Kathmadu takes the cake, really!)
Hotel Yak & Yeti, Durbar Marg, Kathmandu
5* Heritage Hotel; Centrally Located; In the mountains
Our hotel – Hotel Yak & Yeti is beautiful and grand. In comparison, I can’t say the same about the rooms housed in the older section that we were given initially. However, the view of the room compensated everything. The rooms in the newly renovated section are much superior. The brick structure of the exterior, the intricate wooden paneling in the interiors almost replicate the wooden panels of the houses in the UNESCO Heritage site of the Durbar Square in Old Kathmandu. Some of these panels are actually 200 years old. Boasting of a fantastic art collection, signature restaurants, famous residents like Sir Edmund Hillary, the famous mountaineer or the neo-classical Lal Durbar or Red Palace which was built more than a century ago by the then Prime Minister Bir Shumshere Jung Bahadur Rana, the history of the hotel seems to run parallel to the history of Kathmandu itself. Perhaps, more about this historical hotel in future posts.
The previous night rained heavily with deafening thunderstorms. In the morning, the landscaped gardens outside looked fresh, lush and wetty green! We Dubai-ites have a special yearning for the rains and we rarely complain about the rains even if it is at the cost of spoiling the sight-seeing and everything that is written in the itinerary. Have a glimpse of the day post-rain and let me know what you think…
A little peep into the food and the traditional festive decoration of our hotel on the occasion of Nawa Varsa (Nepali New Year) might be able to convince you that one post probably is not enough!
Sikarni Raan or Marinated Lamb Shank
Category – Main-Meal ; Cuisine type – Nepali
Today’s recipe is Sikarni Raan or Marinated Lamb Shank obtained from the Chéf himself of the hotel’s Sunrise Café. The café is a misnomer – actually another signature Restaurant of the hotel serving Buffets and various A-la-Cartes. Absolutely delicious and succulent, this grilled lamb dish is to die for or should I say to live for! Though Sikarni is a very famous Nepali dessert made with hung yoghurt/curd mixed with dried fruits, here the word Sikarni probably indicates it’s association with yoghurt/curd.
For the printable recipe→
Serves 20 persons (if not more)
Preparation time – 4-5 hours (marination -2-3 hours; mashing, grilling – 2 hours)
1 Big Lamb Leg, 3-4kgs
Ginger Garlic Paste – 10 tsp
Peanut Oil – 1 cup
1 big Raw Papaya (grated) or 1 big Pineapple (paste). You may also use meat tenderiser.
Brown Onion Paste – 2 cups
Hung Curd (thick) – 2 kgs
Roasted Cumin Powder – 5 tsp
Nutmeg Powder – 5 tsp
Cardamom Powder, Mace Powder – 5 tsp
Saffron (soaked in milk) – 2 tsp
Coriander Powder – 10 tsp
Garam Masala Powder* – 10 tsp
Kashmiri Chilli Powder or Paprika – 4 tsp
[*Garam Masala Powder used in Nepali dishes is slightly different from the Bengali or Indian Garam Masala. I have come to realise that though some ingredients like Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves are common to Garam Masala being used in various regions, each region or culture probably adds its own touch.
The proportion of ingredients that goes into making the Nepali Garam Masala (from The Nepal Cookbook)
Dry roast the following whole spices separately until fragrant:
5 ttbsp Coriander Seeds
3 tbsp Cumin Seeds
1 tbsp black pepper Corns
2 tsp Black Cardamom Seeds
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp Whole Cloves
1 tsp ground Nutmeg
Grind the above roasted spices into a fine powder.]
Roasted Cumin Powder – 4 tsp
Method of Preparation
- Marinate the Lamb shank for 2-3 hour
- Pre-heat the oven to a temperature of 180°C/350°F
- The entire marinated Lamb Shank should take a minimum of 2 hours. Or continue till the meat is tender. Do not overcook – it should taste soft and succulent
- Garnish with Coriander leaves, squeezed lemons and Roasted Cumin Powder
Serve with Tandoori Nan (Indian Flat Bread) or plain white Rice so that the aroma of the Sikarni Raan can seep through your veins. While you are waiting for the oven to do it’s job why don’t you pour yourself some Red Wine?
A bit about Nepali Cuisine
Let me also share a bit that I’ve learnt from my stay in Nepal and also from my recent purchase from the Kathmandu airport – The Nepal Cookbook.
Nepali Cuisine is influenced by the cuisines of both India and Tibet. The use of ingredients is very similar and some of the most commonly used ingredients are as follows – Hing/Asafetida, Mungrelo/Black Cumin Seeds, Cardamom – Alaichi/Black Cardamom, Sukumel/Green Cardamom, Chilli Powder, Red and Green chillies, Hariyo Dhaniya Paat/Cilantor or Coriander leaves, Curry powder, Methi/Fenugreek (most importnat in Nepali Cooking), Saunf/Fennel Seeds, Garam Masala (dry roast of whole spices like Coriander Seed, Cumin Seeds, Black Peppercorn, Black Cardamom Seeds, Ground Cinnamon, Whole Cloves, Ground Nutmeg), Turmeric, Garlic, Ginger, Onions, Scallions, Gundruk (Nepali vegetable dish prepared from green leafy vegetables that are fermented and then sun-dried and is used in soups, pickles and other dishes), Jimbu (aromatic grass from the Himalayan regions and is sold in strands – a pinch is enough to flavour a dish; not available in Asian supermarkets, hence bulb garlic roots are used as a substitute), Jwanu/Lovage Seeds (Ajwain in Hindi), Timbur (another important ingredient used in Pickles), Tamarind pulp.
Dishes are cooked in Ghiu/Clarified Indian Butter (Ghee in Hindi) or Mustard oil, Corn oil and Soybean oil.
Achar/Pickles, a special condiment perfumed with ginger, garlic and hot chillies, is considered indispensable to a Nepali meal. They may be served as a vegetable dish in its own right or as a condiment and may use either raw or cooked cooked vegetables and may be preserved or prepared fresh.
Dal/Lentils, Bhat/Rice, Tarkari/Curried vegetable and a small amount of Achar/Pickle – this is the main staple diet of most Nepalese though festivals call in for more elaborate Nepali meal with Masu/Meat, Macha/Fish and other Nepali Desserts amongst which the most popular is Sikarni made with hung yoghurt/curd mixed with dried fruits. Regional variations in cooking styles and dishes quite obviously exist with the geographical/topographical variations within Nepal as the mountains in the North roll down into Tarai/Plains in the south.
So, Nepali Cuisine is not too different from the Bengali or the Indian fare that I have grown up eating. For those who haven’t read my previous post, let me slightly recap that though I am born in Kolkata I have a ‘crawling’ association with the Nepalese language and hence such a strong urge to visit the actual country to which this language belongs. Till I was about one and a half years old, we were living in the beautiful Himalayan hill town Kurseong (very close to Darjeeling, another well-known hill town in Bengal) where my father was posted. His posting there in the initial years of his career in the civil services made him very enthusiastic to the Nepalese culture and language. As a result both my parents became quasi-Nepalese! They used to speak in Nepali language and I grew up amidst Nepalese care-givers, the names of a few of them still reverberates in my mind as my Mum keeps on telling stories about them – Golé, Tolu, Ganga, Basanti and so many more. Their names sounded so quaint and sweet in my ears. My Mum also learnt a few Nepali songs, not to mention a few Nepali dishes as well!While I haven’t yet tried out the Sikarni Raan at home, in case you happen to cook it before I do please do share your thoughts. Looking forward to hearing them, maybe with some trouble- shooting tips as well.
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Official Website: http://www.yakandyeti.com//home/index.php
References or Books I’m reading/ Or lying on my bedside table for reading:
A Golden Souvenir of The Himalaya – Author: Pushpesh Pant
Kathmandu Pokhra-Chitwan - Author: Thomas L.Kelly, Daniel Haber
The Nepal Cookbook - Author: Padden Choedak Oshoe