• Issue 2
  • 13 May, 2014

Traditional Shops of Asan Tole

Traditional Shops of Asan Tole

The Shankha Pasal (Conch Shop) at the opposite on the road going towards Indra Chowk. It was the first one to start the spice trade in Nepal in addition to selling conch.

Any local of Kathmandu Valley knows where to find a ghyao-tel pasal. In fact, there are half a dozen such shops found behind the Annapurna Temple (Asanmaru Ajima) in Asan Tole, the historical, cultural, religious and commercial center of the Valley.

At one corner is the Asanmaru Ajima (The Goddess of Abundance) and close to it, are a row of small shops selling ghee, oil, chaku (molasses) and candles. That’s all these small shops have been selling for the last hundred years or so! With no individually identifying name, they are simply known as ‘ghyao-tel pasal’ meaning, ghee-oil shop. Many Newar families have made their fortunes through the business acumen of Tel Sahus (oil merchants) and Ghyao Sahus (ghee merchants). Today too, their great grandsons sit on small cushions in those tiny ‘heritage shops’.

The Grand Wool Center in Kamalachi Lane in Asan could also be said to be one of Kathmandu’s more traditional enterprises and is one of the most successful businesses in the Tuladhar community, who make up most of the old timers of business in Asan. Tula means to scale.

Another traditional shop is the Shankha Pasal (Conch Shop) at the opposite on the road going towards Indra Chowk. It was the first one to start the spice trade in Nepal in addition to selling conch.

Near to it and opposite the Machhindra Bahal is a shop dealing in brass and copperware. It is simply called Tama Pasal (Copper Shop) and also passed through a couple of generations, being run now by the third generation of the family. Tama and pital gagris (copper and brass water vessels) are the most important items they sell along with a variety of household utensils and items for religious purposes. Once upon a time, gagris were essential wedding gift items.

Ganesh Mandir Pachadi ko Mithai Pasal (Sweetmeat Shop Behind Ganesh Temple) too is an ancient shop near Kamalachi Lane which sells mostly traditional Newari sweetmeats. Run by Laxmi Shrestha, a middle aged lady, she is single-handedly and determinedly keeping alive the ancient tradition of Newari sweetmeats. Business is good during festivals and she is satisfied with what she’s doing in despite the lack of interest from other family members. The shop has been around for at least the last 50 years, though for how much longer is anybody’s guess. Laxmi certainly plans to keep going: “As long as my health allows me to.”

Ason-Market-Nepal

Some of the oldest sweetmeat shops have survived opposite Kasthamandap Temple in Maru Tole near Hanuman Dhoka Square in Basantpur. Such mithai pasals traditionally have been the prerogative of the Rajkarnikar clan (a Newar clan) down through the ages. Since time immemorial, these shops have always been known as Maari Pasals (bread shops) by locals and a daily to-be-visited shop for buying breakfast and snacks. Here one must remember that bread loaves made their presence felt in the Valley only during the mid-70s with the advent of the Krishna Pauroti Bhandar in Kamaladi, Kathmandu.

Maari doesn’t refer to just any one type of bread and it can be of various kinds: for example, selroti, khajur, rodh, aanti, aainhthi, fini, Punjabi, puri, khasta, gajur and so on. No matter what name it goes by, you can be sure that each is as delicious as the next. Indeed, the making of maari is a good indication of the artistry of the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley even in their cuisine. Known as much for their love of festivals as for their many delicious dishes, they posses a long tradition of art and carving too.

According to local tradition, Purna Das Rajkarnikar was the man responsible for establishing one of the oldest such shops way back in 1880. Now called Purna Ashok Mithai Pasal, the fourth generation of the family, 50-year-old Yogendra runs it today. Purna Ashok Mithai Pasal has quite a reputation to live up to, with its sizeable number of loyal customers. An interesting item to be found in such shops is known as waasa (literally, ‘medicine’ and sutkeri masala in Nepali). According to the salesman there, waasa, which costs NRs.1,000 per kilo, is part of the post partum diet for new mothers. It is a highly nutritious mix of gund (edible gum), dry fruits, battisa (a mixture of 32 herbs), jwano (thyme), methi (fenugreek) and sound (dill). Considered a potent concoction that imparts almost all the essential nutrients in concentrated amounts, it is taken dissolved in milk or water.

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