Most of the time, I’m proud of my self-planned itineraries, which are both practical and comprehensive. But not in Bhaktapur, no. At Sunny Café, where the balcony overlooks the crowded durbar, if I’d known, I’d have allocated an extra hour to chew my samay baji. This was my first Newari dish in Nepal and it certainly left a lasting impression.
To be honest, I didn’t know what samay baji was until that very afternoon. When I saw the rather exotic name on the menu, I just knew that I had to give it a try. It was a whole new universe on a plate for me. By now, I can tell that samay baji is a ritual dish, an assembly of, among others - spiced potatoes, black-eyed peas, scrambled eggs, buffalo jerky, fried julienned ginger, black soy bean, and hard, beaten rice placed at the center of the dish.
Upon ordering, the kitchen got busy and it didn’t take long before the different aromas of fried spices started permeating the air in the dining hall. Because it took more than 30 minutes to prepare, I’d almost turned to leave thinking that Sudip had probably gone to the guards to report a missing tourist. I’m glad I’d stayed and was served a dish with everything freshly cooked, which explained the lengthy preparation time. Somehow, nothing was fiery hot, but just well-spiced. While I finished every other side within seconds, the jerky and cereal-like beaten rice greatly impeded my speed and had me testing the strength of my jaw and my patience. Despite the tiring exercise, I must say that it’s a great option for dieters as the more you chew, the lesser you’ll want to eat. There’s some psycho-physiological truth there but I’ll just leave it at that, for now.
I was told that Bhaktapur is famous for its yoghurt. It’s called juju dhau or king of curds. Indeed, the king was rich, smooth, creamy and sweet, making it a good end to the samay baji lunch. Before I left, the owner offered me a shot of raksi, a local distilled rice wine. It certainly brought some warmth to the cold winter’s day. But this raksi was a monster and had me dazed as I left the Lion’s Gate. And was I glad that I made it back to the parking lot...despite being already late for more than 2 hours.