By: Avinav Bista
Every culture has it’s own traditions come the holiday season, with Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and others dominating our calendars in December. However, there are a few cultural holidays that simply don’t get enough attention, yet are just as fun and historically founded as the rest. In Nepal, around the end of December, the Newari Culture celebrates one of it’s most important holidays and, the kicker is, it falls around the same time as Christmas, usually.
Yomari Punhi is a festival like any other in Nepal, with food and drinks being the focus of children and adults alike, and add to the mixture an interesting origin story and you’ve got one of the most exciting holidays in the Nepali Calendar. Yomari Punhi is named after the food “Yomari” which is a type of steamed sweet bread. The origin of this delicious local delicacy is said to have been in the Kathmandu Valley, when a couple experimented with the first yield of rice from the fall harvest and shared it with their neighbors and people passing by. One such traveller was in fact Kuber, the Hindu god of wealth and prosperity, who upon tasting the small delicacy immediately fell in love with it. He blessed the couple and the food, thereby starting the tradition that anyone who makes Yomari during this time of the year will be blessed with wealth and prosperity. In fact there is a little known tradition, which involves throwing the Yomari up in the air as people around try to catch it. Those who do, are considered to be blessed by the gods.
The entire festival lasts four days, the first being today the 22nd of December, and is dedicated to the four gods; Kuber, Ganesh (Deity with elephant head), Subhadra and Annapurna (deity of food & grains). The last day falls on a full moon day and families all over the valley eat and pray in the name of the Hindu pantheon. The unique feature of Yomari is its odd bell shape that denotes the north and south direction respectively. If that wasn’t symbolic enough then the duration of winter can be judged, supposedly, by the length of the tail the Yomari has.
One can find authentic Yomari all over the valley, but it’s not a Honeyguide article if we don’t practice what we preach. The following places were all visited by us and are suggested to all our readers, Nepali or otherwise.
You can also find Yomari joints in many parts of Newari towns such as one in Kirtipur called Lahana. The latter is an adventure in itself, with a large Newari population, you can glimpse at the manner in which the festival used to be celebrated a few decades earlier.
A few locations for an adventurous soul looking to try a cultural food may not seem enough but the truth of the matter is Yomari are best found at home. If you have a friend from the Newari culture it might be worthwhile to ask them for the Yomari they surely will make come Friday and the taste will be quite different from any restaurant or lunch house.
Patan Durbar Square
First and foremost is the Newari community in Patan, as one of the original settlements in the valley, this entire location oozes history and culture. As you delve deeper into Patan Square, you will come across a number of shops that sell yomari and other authentic Newari dishes. These shops are collectively called “khaja ghar“ or lunch houses, so you don’t have to go to a specific store to try authentic Newari cuisine.
You can also travel the the Pulchowk line where you will find a quaint little bistro called “the village café”, which does little to mask it’s slightly western influence. However, the food there is completely nepali in design and you can even find some of the best yomari’s in a restaurant setting.
Third and perhaps the most notorious yomari place in the valley is the restaurant in Basantapur that shares its name with the dish. Yomari is an up and coming eatery that presents its customers with a variety of Newari and other cultural food items.