Eating Kwati - A brief cultural background
Updated: Aug 30, 2020
The way in which food culture migrates and evolves and in this process of migration how different ethnic communities within Nepal come to adopt food practices is a fascinating area of food study. For example, when we look at the practice of eating Kwati, a beans-based soup consumed during Kwati Purnima and the Hindu festival of Janai Purnima, several culinary and cultural insights can be gained. Growing up in an indigenous community of Gurung out of Kathmandu valley, consumption of Kwati was not a culinary practice. So, for many in our community, can it be described as an adopted cultural food practice as part of an assimilation process observed against the background of moving into a new cultural community?
However, during our conversation on food, a different view is expressed by my friend’s mother, Shashi Bajrajcharya. A mother and a housewife, who holds a broad and in-depth traditional culinary knowledge, she narrates, Parbates, referring to the various indigenous and non-indigenous groups of Nepal, celebrate Kwati Purnima differently. When I ask her how so, she says the beans that are used for kwati are sprouted for four days, which on the day of cooking are wrapped in a piece of cloth, and the sprouts are removed and prepared. Within the Newar traditions though, this technique is rarely performed, and the two variations manifest in different ways. In one variety the beans are cooked in a thin broth-like soup with momos dipped in the mix. In a modern kitchen, the beans are cooked in a pressure cooker, and spices such as jwano (lovage/ thyme seeds), methi (fenugreek), jeera (cumin), marich (peppercorn), dhaniya (coriander powder) are tempered in ghui, along with garlic, ginger, and chilies. If one version defines the culinary tradition of Kwati in this way, another version reveals the use of roti, which is cooked separately and consumed by dipping in the kwati soup. The culinary traditions described in version one seems to have been in practice from older days, and the origins of this practice certainly have more room for further exploration.
Pictured: Nine varieties of beans prepared for Kwati Purnima
The beans used for kwati pictured above are of nine varieties, and the explanation of eating kwati can perhaps be seen as an indication of the changes in nature. As the seasonal changes also bring an end to the monsoon, with the start of colder days ahead eating kwati can be seen to fulfill a lot of nutritional requirements. When we pay attention to this cultural explanation of food practices, it is also interesting to note how we are constantly being informed about our natural world, and the connection of food to our well-being seems deeply to be rooted within this natural order of the world. This explanation certainly seems to be compatible with the farming members of the Newar community, for whom the laborious process of rice plantation has just ended. The accounts provided by folklore have their unique versions. The saying goes that since it is Purnima, a full-moon day, the person drinking the soup can view their reflection in the thin kwati-soup. Another explanation is in a seasonal context, which narrates the brothy soup as a food technique for trapping and getting rid of the mosquitoes during monsoon season.
Shashi Bajrajcharya - a mother, housewife and a reservoir of food knowledge
According to Shashi aunty, these days in the contemporary kitchen, the preparation of kwati seems to have undergone a slight change, and the trend as observed is that of a thick soup instead of broth-like soup. Tomatoes, onions, coriander leaves seem to mark the new trend of Kwati soup. The origins and accounts of kwati are fascinating, and tomorrow, as each of us observes and consumes kwati soup, let us not forget that this dish has a broader connection to our cultural background and well-being.
Happy cooking and eating!
Note: This is a work-in-progress, so please check with the author for any citation.