Spices such as garlic, ginger, onion, coriander, cumin, turmeric, and chilli are commonly used across Nepal, but there are also many lesser-known spices and flavouring ingredients distinctive to communities or regions. The Sherpas use the whey dregs of buttermilk, known as serkam. They also ferment it to make somar, and milk cream to make shosim, both of which add a sharp pungent flavour to soups and achar.
In Nepal’s western parts, bhang (hemp seeds) is widely used to make achar. The Tharu of the eastern Tarai use aalash (flaxseeds) to flavour curries and achar. Timmur and jimbu (aromatic wild Himalayan allium) are among the important flavouring ingredients in Thakali cuisine, and also commonly used by hill communities. The Kirat burnt ash from a rooster’s inner feathers to use as flavouring to make a delicacy known as wachipa or wamrik.
Nepali cuisine is characterised by the one quality that distinguishes almost every facet of Nepali life: its diversity. With wide geographic variance, ethnic diversity, rich culture and heritage, Nepali food culture is intricately and extraordinarily unique. Nepal has managed to carve out a unique niche for itself, borrowing not just from its neighbours, but also cultures farther afield.
The identity, culture, religion, ethnicity, and beliefs of the communities are connected to food, it is imperative to understand and preserve Nepal’s food culture.
Excerpt from Prashanta Khanal’s book Timmur: Stories and Flavors of Nepal