By Sophiya Uprety (Freelance Nutritionist) and Dr. Aruna Uprety (Public Health Specialist)
Khaja is the Nepali word for snack. Comprised of two words ‘kha’ and ‘ja’, in colloquial sense might mean ‘eat and go!’ The practice of Khaja is embedded in the culture and dietary tradition of Nepal. They have been the lighter foods eaten in between the morning and evening meals. There are a wide variety of wholesome, unprocessed and nutritious Khaja.
Simple, easy and quick to make, they can be a good alternative to unhealthy fast foods and highly processed foods.
Why are they nutritious?
Nepali Khaja are made with wholesome and balanced ingredients from different food groups. Usually, sources of good carbohydrate is combined with sources of protein and micronutrients. Foods that complement each other in taste and palatability are used. In addition, they utilize recent harvests and seasonal produces.
A variety of vegetable oils and ghee which are healthy sources of fat, are moderately used for preparation. There is ample use of spices that confer health protecting benefits. Pickles made up of vegetables, oil seeds and fresh herbs often accompany the various Khaja. They provide a tangy addition with a nutritional punch.
Delicious and nutritious Khajas
Some examples of the varieties of Khaja that can be combined to make delicious and nutritious combinations are: -
Beaten rice or chiura
Roti and porridges (puwa, haluwa) made from buckwheat, whole wheat, millet, maize or barley
Fried rice (bhuteko bhuja) with egg, chicken and vegetables
Moong or maas bara (green and black lentils patties)
Potatoes and other vegetables
Boiled sweet potato and yams (sakharkhanda, tarul, pidalu)
Freshly made and fermented pickles (achar)
Jaulo or Khichadi
Legumes (peas, chick peas, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, etc. )
Roasted maize, soy bean (makai bhatmas)
Green corn roti (hariya makai)
Healthy momos (whole wheat or partial buckwheat flour based)
Home-made chatpate (tangy mix of sprouted seeds and legumes with puffed rice)
Sweet dishes like sel roti, kheer, teel ko laddu, yomari and sikarni (fruits and yoghurt combination)
Yoghurt (dahi) and buttermilk (mahi)
Varieties of serbat and tea
There are many more regional and ethnic varieties. Samay Baji is one such holistic example from the Newari culture.
Decline of Nepali Khaja
Nepali Khaja have been gradually displaced in recent times. Unhealthy fast foods and packaged foods that are high in sugar, salt, harmful fats and refined carbohydrates are unfortunately proliferating. Most restaurant foods also tend to be made up of ingredients of low nutritional value such as refined cereals, commercial sauces, etc. Salt, sugar and unhealthy fats are excessively used. There is very little use of wholesome carbohydrates and vegetables and fruits. It is frustrating and challenging to find healthy and nutritious options.
There is actually a risk that the traditional knowledge and indigenous food preparation methods might get lost in the near future.
This is due many reasons – lifestyle changes, aggressive marketing of junk food and lack of awareness and even oblivion about the dangers of such unhealthy foods. Such changes have also contributed to the rise in non-communicable diseases like heart diseases, cancers, stroke and diabetes.
Our food, our pride
Food is at the core of any cultural identity. Traditional Nepali foods and diet have been incredibly diverse and wholesome. They should be recognized and appreciated for the profound nutrition wisdom. They are a powerful and a proud means to portray Nepal to the world. We must not let Nepal’s rich food culture be overshadowed in the face of globalization and urbanisation.
Nepal Tourism Board recently launched Nepali Heritage Cook Book. It was a joint initiative of public private partnership with Nepal Hotel Association, Chef Association of Nepal, Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal. This is a highly laudable and an inspiring effort to promote Nepali cuisines in the national as well as global arena.
Promoting Nepali Khaja
Nepali Khaja needs to be given prominence in homes, canteens of schools and offices, restaurants as well as during special events and celebrations. The agriculture, health and nutrition community should not only raise public awareness but also provide and promote Nepali Khaja during gatherings, meetings, workshops and conferences.
As awareness rises, the segment of health conscious people looking for healthy options also gradually grows. If homemade taste can be provided with simple and wholesome ingredients, people will certainly opt for it. Tourists visiting Nepal are also bound to appreciate the authentic local food experiences.
Nepali Khaja will actually be more economical than the prevailing commercial options. The protective health benefits, both in the short and long terms, adds even more value.
We call upon families, education institutions, workplaces, food industries, farmers and concerned professionals to promote our own nutritious and healthy snacks. Let us jointly embrace Nepali Khaja with pride!