Fairfield by Marriott's 'Newari Bhoj' has been gaining quiet the traction on social media and press but turns out, behind the scenes, the hotel's very first grand food festival is a rather intimate affair.
After we were received by the PR head, Shiwani Shrestha and ushered into their dining hall where the bhoj was in full swing, we were introduced to two chefs, Pranjal Gogoi, Fairfield's Executive Chef and Bima Shrestha, "my mum", she introduced.
When the hotel was brainstorming ideas and themes to host a food festival, Newari wasn't initially on the list. "There were talks of Hyderabadi, Thai, all sorts of international cuisine but then we realized that was the trend. It was rare for local cuisines to have a showcase of this level in hotels," explains Gogoi, "So that's why I thought it would be a good idea."
The other good idea, collaborating with Shrestha's mother, apparently came from the management itself. "One day, our GM asked me to bring her around. At that moment, I didn't understand why," shares Shrestha.
As it turns out, many at the hotel had already tasted Bima's food as she packed lunch for her daughter. Most days, it was the usual items from a Newari kitchen, the likes of choyela, chatamari, momo and Shrestha clearly enjoyed sharing it with her colleagues.
"If the food doesn't have an authentic taste, there is no point in serving it," says Gogoi and just like that he and his team at Fairfield opened their kitchen to Bima and three of her other friends, Rohani Tuladhar, Sharmila Raj Bhandari and Samjhana Shrestha. Together they have been hosting the bhoj for a week now.
The dining hall has been decorated with traditional Newari red and black cloth drapes. You will find the staffs from the reception desk itself decked in traditional Jyapu attire as well. Walking into the hotel there is certainly no confusion of what you are walking into.
Then there is the buffet laid out in delicate clay pots especially ordered for the occasion. It makes quiet the first impression. They have managed to maintain the simplicity of the dishes but, at the same time, elevate the presentation of the food that is usually sold in bhattis and small local food joints.
Also this may be a festival but they are serving you three full courses. We are told there are about 12 items served for the khaja set options (snacks/entrée) to warm up your taste buds to Newari flavors. The main dinner course has both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options and sums up to about 10 dishes.
Whether you prefer kwati, taama bodi, fried egg with masala, fish achhar or wish to satisfy your carnivore cravings with local kukhura ko jhol, sukuti, bhuttan, khutti jhol, you shall find something you like. But that’s not the end. There is more. To round off your meal, they are serving treats like jeri, swari, malpuwa, juju dhau dahi, yomari, items all the locals nurse such a soft spot for. You have the liberty to choose from six to seven dessert options here as well.
It's a bhoj alright – a full blown Newari style feast. What's more, the chef seems to have succeeded in his attempt to preserve the authentic taste. You will notice that the food here doesn't taste like restaurant food, and it's also not quite like the dishes that you get at popular Newari food spots either.
For starters, there were no traces of garam masalas, just a lot of spices that you will find in your kitchen. Garlic is roasted, cumin and Sichuan pepper had been grinded the traditional way in silautas, and there is a generous sprinkling of fresh coriander as well. Here the dishes had the taste of home.
At this, Chef Gogoi smiles and shares, "Madam (he always seems to address Bima as such) is very strict with the techniques and the steps. If one of us feels like there could be an alternative, she just flatly rejects it. We are following all the steps and cooking these dishes the way it has always been cooked."
This was, after all, the whole intent of collaborating with Bima and her team of housewives. And when we spoke with Bima, she said, this was to be expected. "This is what happens when you let mothers into the kitchen," she said. She believes putting attention and care into the food comes naturally to them. When asked if the prospect of running a commercial kitchen made it a little challenging though, she says no. Here she thanks the efficiency of the hotel kitchen staff. The collaboration has been an effective one indeed.
For example, they are serving fokso as a main course as well. This dish apparently took nearly four hours to prepare. They literally had to inflate the goat lungs with traditional filling. Bima shares that she had seen her mother use milk packets to pump in the required filling into the goat lungs before frying them and that's exactly how she got to do it here for this Newari food festival as well.
She seems to realize that for many guests, especially foreigners, this might be the first time they get to experience the real flavors of their Newari kitchen and she is glad to be able to do it just right. Personally, she says, she loves cooking meat and also guarantees that a lot of hard work has gone into it. As a recommendation, she suggests trying the rice with the slowly cooked kebab, qwati ko rass with the tomato and timur acchar. Also don't forget to put some ghee on top.
Fairfield by Marriott, Thamel will host this Newari Bhoj till August 27th. The event starts at 7 pm.