23-29 August 2013 #670

Honacha

One of Kathmandu's oldest existing eatery serves authentic Newari fare

In the heart of Patan Darbar Square behind the majestic edifice of Krishna Mandir you will come across a narrow alley. As in most of Patan, the streets are littered with colourful shops displaying silver jewelry and handicrafts. Unexpectedly you will find a low doorway that leads you through a dark and drab passage to Honacha, one of the most popular eateries in the city. It is a mix of an old time European bar, a pub, and restaurant with roots deep into Nepali history.

There were no restaurants at all before the late 1940s, except bhattis like these and they too were few and far between. Farmers travelling from the outskirts of Kathmandu to sell their produce lingered around at these eateries, drinking aila or jaand (a milder and thicker brew), and tasty snacks, before making the long walk back home. They formed the bulk of Honacha’s customers. But it was not unusual for rich merchants or young aristocrats to drop in surreptitiously for a few sips of the forbidden brew and romantic forays.

The setting has hardly changed: the old brick walls and the flooring look ancient and the menu we are told has remained constant. Once you enter the big room the focus shifts to the formidable woman in the middle who is the director, manager, chef, and cashier all rolled in one.

On the large round iron tawa straddling the centre of the room the chef is cooking baras, an essential preparation in any Newari household, especially during festive occasions and a signature dish at Honacha. It is made out of lentil generally of the dark variety (moong and mas), soaked overnight, crushed and pounded, mixed with masala which varies in every household and minutely sliced fresh herbs before being shaped into round, flat roti, ready to be lightly fried in mustard oil. It is fragrant and tasty on its own but can be topped with fried egg sunny side up, or mince meat and some hot chutney. Alu tarkari is another favourite among locals and bideshis alike. The soft and melting potato curry is piled high on another large tawa and is served in small steel plates.

The crunchy and spiced sukuti, sun dried and smoked meat of buffalo or antelopes is found in all parts of the country whereas chhoyala, is unquestionably a specialty of Newari cuisine. The fresh meat thoroughly marinated in mustard oil, paste of ginger, garlic, hot spices, and a crunching twist of lemon juice is slowly cooked in a hot coal oven. The meat is deliciously chewy, as only buffalo meat can be. Chiura, beaten rice, again a common and long lasting cereal, and aila serve as integral companions of the hot and hearty meal.

The constant flow of customers through many decades of its uninterrupted existence is ample proof of the quality of food and value for money that Honacha provides. A full meal with cold drinks for four sets your wallet back by a mere Rs 500. If you want to breathe in the multiple flavours of the common men and women of the country, there is no better place than Honacha. But if you are one of the delicate ones, take home some baras, switch on your favourite channel, and enjoy them with apéritifs in the comfort of your home.

How to get there: Honacha is located rigth behind Krishna Mandir at Patan Darbar Square.

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