What’s Cooking in… Nepal

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 44 of the August 2018 issue.
Chef Keshab Ram Shrestha, executive chef at Hotel Shanker in Kathmandu, presenting a dish of Chicken Choyala in the dining room. Photos by Sandra Scott

Kathmandu has been on my “wanna visit” list for years. The perfect opportunity arose in March 2017 when my husband, John, and I were in Kuala Lumpur (better known as KL), Malaysia. AirAsia (airasia.com), an excellent budget airline, was flying from KL to Kathmandu, Nepal, for $169. Perfect!

For $83, we booked a room at Hotel Shanker (Lazimpat, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal; phone +977 1 4410151, www.shankerhotel.com.np) because it was a family-owned heritage hotel. The location was excellent, and they had a pool and Internet access.

The hotel was in the process of restoring and updating its main lobby, which had been damaged during the devastating 2015 earthquake, but the work didn’t impact the guests.

In Kathmandu’s historical center, however, the quake had severely damaged Durbar Square, including the iconic, 186-year-old Dharahara Tower, but there were still many historical buildings and places to visit in the city, even in Durbar Square.

I like cultural shows, especially if the show includes a meal of traditional food. Hotel Shanker’s tourism guide booked us tickets for dinner and a show at Bhojan Griha (phone +977 1 4416423, bhojangriha.com), located in a renovated 3-story building that first belonged to the royal priest of the king of Nepal.

Entrance to Hotel Shanker in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Dinner and the music were reflective of several ethnic Nepalese groups. The low tables, with floor chairs and brass tableware, were typical Nepalese.

The next day, the guide wanted to know how the dinner went and what we liked best. We said we were very pleased with everything. We loved the music, the costumes and especially the chicken choyala. He said that the dish was easy to make and he was sure that the hotel's head chef would share the recipe with us.

(I have found that chefs, while essential to the success of a restaurant, seldom get the applause they deserve and are happy when people inquire about their dishes.)

Keshab Ram Shrestha, Hotel Shanker's executive chef, agreed to meet me after breakfast the next day in the dining room, which had a show kitchen, and share his recipe. The staff gathered around to watch and seemed to enjoy the diversion just as much as I did.

Chicken choyala (choila) is a typical Newari dish that is found at all local festivals. The Newari, inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley, are considered the originators of the history and culture of the area.

Originally, choyala was made from spiced grilled water buffalo. Nowadays, any meat can be used, including chicken, duck or mutton, and the spiciness can be adjusted to taste. Usually accompanied by rice, choyala can be served as a meal or an appetizer.

Sandra Scott can be reached by email at sanscott@gmail.com.

Chicken Choyala

1⁄2 tsp mustard oil
1 lb boneless chicken cut into
1⁄2 tsp turmeric powder
1⁄2 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1⁄2 tsp ginger garlic paste 1⁄2 tsp lemon juice
Salt as desired
Fresh cilantro for garnish

Heat oil in a pan. Add chicken, and fry for about 2 minutes. Add turmeric and fenugreek and continue frying until the chicken is golden brown, then remove to a bowl. To this mix, add the chili, cumin, ginger garlic paste and lemon juice (and salt, if needed). Mix until the chicken is well coated. (The chef said he usually pounds it a little with his st to make the taste more even.) Garnish with cilantro, and serve with rice.

Quake-damaged buildings under repair in Durbar Square, Kathmandu.
Part of Kathmandu's Durbar Square as seen in March 2017.
Dining room, with low chairs, in the restaurant Bhojan Griha in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Dancers in the cultural show at the restaurant Bhojan Griha — Kathmandu.
Chicken Choyala plated and ready to eat.