I still remember the first day i tasted it. It was in old mamaghar, top floor kitchen that overlooked rows of naspati tree bowing down in full bounty that ran along the tukuche khola. I was seated on the special little pirka, the one that ama had woven for the grandchildren. Beneath my special seat, the floor still reeked of fresh red mud smell that maiju so diligently painted the three story high and almost a hundred year old house with. Every morning, before dawn she mixed just the right amount of gobar to the rato mato that she ground with a pastel exclusively made for mixing cow poop. The uneven rhythm of maiju's chura and the crumbling of the rato mato, used to wake up my mamaghar, every morning. That particular night, maiju had prepared a special meal for her little bhanji who had a big appetite. Everyone knew to cook extra if they invited me, even when i was six. As mama smoked his hookah, the gurgling sound and smell of the tobacco tickled my nose. Every now and then, maiju would bend over to fan the chula, and her fire lit her face. The smoke from the firewood to this day reminds me of dinners at mamaghar. Thul'dada had just restocked fresh cut firewood. On a normal evenings, dada was too busy running around with the other grown up boys of the tole air-kicking the shit out of bruce lee. This day, since i was there, his favorite bhai (only cuz i refused to admit that i was a girl until i was almost 12), he not only brought wood but allowed me to help him.
As the firewood crackled, maiju leaned over the pot and sprinkled red and black and white and yellow spices, ground herbs, broke big fat red peppers, chopped saag, drained rice water and i sat there bewildered by her swift and graceful moves as she glided through the small kitchen, as she poured water from the copper gagri without spilling a drop, and all the while managing to change mama's tamakhu and water for the hookah. As mama sipped his home made rakshi, he smiled at me and said, "Bhanji yo ta mama ko okhati". When maiju shook her head and said, "taiyar bhayo", I noticed a strong pungent smell. Too shy to ask, i just covered my nose with my hands. And maiju started laughing, she said, "bhanji, tapai lai bhanera banako jhol. Ek patak khai ta hernus, ani ganaudiana." I didn't want to, but i was raised never to say no to mama maiju. I was still ecstatic because I saw that i was being served on my own special khande thaal and a seperate chares kachaura for jhol. At home,
we didnt get to eat in khande thaal and our daal and jhol were just poured on top of the rice. As she scooped out a big heap of rice, the one they had harvested from budhanilkantha plot, I sat and waited for the plate to fill. There was tori ko saag from our tori bari, the one I had brought. I proudly watched maiju portion out the saag on the plates and everyone acknowledged how fresh the saag was. I was beaming. Then there was golbheda ko achar, pahad ko ghiu that maiju's family had just brought. She burnt dried red pepper and placed it on another plate. I knew not to eat until she went inside the puja kotha and offered the plate to the Kul deuta. And when she came back, like every other meal, mama said, "khaye hai". I never knew if he was asking for our permission or making a statement.
As I looked at the modest feast laid out in front of me, I still had some reservations for the strange
and pungent smell that crept up from my soup cup. But i was not the kid to back out on a culinary challenge, i used to eat anything and everything, and i usually like it. except for karela, unless it was sun
dried and fried- by ama. Maiju getnly nudged and said, "bhanji chaknus na, ek patak, gau bata liyera aako, mero ghar ma banako." I knew i had to give in. I poured the broth, the bowl looked interesting,
there were big green scallions floating on the top and a layer of red oil- must've been the red chilli powder she was grinding all day. At the bottom, there were chunky beans. I mixed it with the steaming rice and maiju poured a generous serving of ghiu. It didnt so much like old rotten socks anymore so i had my first handful. It was divine. I could taste the muskiness of the chunky beans, the earthy smell of fresh jeera, the sharp red chilli powder, it was a flavor that i had never tasted before. the one that i knew, I could never get enough of. As i mixed more of it with achar, with saag, with ghiu and rice, i could taste the ingredients maiju had handpicked from the garden, the spices she had broke and cracked and sprinkled, the herbs she had evenly sliced in her chulesi. I could taste everything there was to this food, and i wanted more. By the end of the meal, I had realized that this was the beginning of my life long affinity to the one of the world's greatest food, Kinema.
Its been 20 some years since that happy meal.I had tried to cook Kinema in crammed american apartments kitchens and had seriously concerned neighbhours ask me where the stench was coming from. I tried a few more times, and to the non-native eaters- even my other nepali roomates, the
smell was too overpowering. Not many people knew about it here. Eventually i gave up. the last time I went back home, my old mamaghar was not there anymore. there was a big marble building and no naspati trees. Maiju's colorful chura laid quietly atop the godrej cupboard and mama walked around the house with a familiar stoop, just a little sadder than before. When we were invited for lunch, it was momo and sausage and full blown nepali meal that didi had prepared. The ones who knew what i loved, usually prepared Kinema, but it was never like maiju's. Maiju passed away a few years ago. I know she is in heaven,and she took her secret recipes along. No one can ever make it like you did maiju. Sleep in peace.
Last edited: 04-Aug-09 08:43 PM