During one of my visits to Nepal, I stayed in Bhaktapur, at the home of a Newari family. Newar are the historical inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley and nearby areas. They have their own language, culture and cuisine. Not only did I enjoy their heartfelt hospitality, but also daily feasts of homemade Newari food.
With a great interest in all things related to food, the lady of the house Punya Sori taught me how to cook some Newari dishes. On one cold and crisp December morning, she called me to her kitchen. With a big smile on her face, she started kneading dough, so at first I thought it was time for me to learn how to make chapatis. But with deliberate and fast hand movement, she created pointy pockets of dough, which were then filled with a sweet substance, closed up and steamed into delicious explosions of sticky sweetness.
Preparing yomari isn’t just about following a recipe passed on from generation to generation. It is a culinary creation that ties taste, culture and religion proudly together. Festivities and food go hand in hand among the Newar people. Punya Sori explained that “there are lots of traditional staple foods we eat all year round, and then there are those special foods like yomari that we prepare once in a while for a special occasion. Not just to eat, but also to offer to the Gods”.
Myth has it that a couple named Suchandra and Krita played around with flour made from recently harvested rice. Their venture took the shape of a yomari, which they offered to their fellow villagers who loved the taste, hence the name yomari, which means “tasty bread” in Newari. The myth further tells that on that same day, the couple offered a yomari to a passerby, who after accepting their kind offer, disclosed his real identity. Kuber, the God of Wealth, blessed the couple with riches. He also declared that whoever prepares yomari on the full moon of December and observes four days of devotion to God, will erase poverty.
Nowadays, the fish-shaped delicacies are homemade in honor of the Yomari Punhi festival. Held during the full moon in December, to celebrate the end of the rice harvest. Freshly harvested rice is grind into rice flour. The dough is a mixture of rice flour and water. After shaping the dough it is filled with chaku, a sweet paste made of jaggery and sesame seeds. Next it is steamed and served hot. There is a believe that the longer the tail of the yomari, the shorter the winter will be.
At home I wanted to make the yomari by myself. As it looked so easy when Punya Sori showed me, I started preparing them with confidence. When the bottom of my first yomari fell out, spilling the chaku all over my table, my confidence faded away and was rapidly replace by frustration. I obviously made the dough too wet, as the consistency of the dough needs to be exactly right, not too dry and not too wet. I kept on trying until I had it right. It took a while, but the reward was worth it: delicious yomari from my own kitchen. To make your own, you can watch this video from Anup Kitchen.
Article by Ira de Reuver. Ira is a freelance photographer/writer, she was based in Asia for 15 years. During this time she lived in China for almost ten years. Over a period of 5 years she regularly visited Nepal, it felt like a second home to her. Her work is published in several Asian travel magazines. Currently she is in The Netherlands.