The Absolutely Divine Taste of Chhoila

Text by Bibeka Bazra

Chhoila ! The incredible hot and spicy grilled buffalo meat, served cold with spring onions, is a dish that will make anyone want to befriend a Newari friend, and especially, their mother. Coming from a Newari background, I personally have witnessed my friends getting along with my mother for their love of Newari cuisine. Chhoila is one such dish included in a Newari feast, the samay baji, an indispensable Newari set of food items that holds both religious and cultural significance. It is prepared occasionally as an offering to the gods on every festival, and the same is given to the family members as prasad. Samay Baji includes rice flakes (chiura), buffalo meat (chhoila), fish, soybeans, woh or bara (a patty made of lentils), and alcohol.

Among the dishes of samay baji, chhoila, for many, shines the most. The individualistic style of the making of chhoila and the assortment of all the lovely seeds and spices—cumin, cardamom, turmeric, pepper, chili—and buffalo meat, is what’s striking in the taste of chhoila. The delectable taste of chhoila literally hits your taste-buds, and the chewy and tender texture makes it a flavorsome, spicy, lip-smacking appetizer. Newari foodies usually prefer to devour chhoila with family and friends, and a choice in alcoholic beverage between chhyanng (a sweet, muddy white, home-brewed liquor made from fermented rice), and aila (clear, strong, home-brewed liquor made from broken rice grains).

Traditionally, chhoila is made by roasting buffalo meat in an open fire made from hay. As only the tender part of meat is used, the hay fire quickly chars the meat on the outside, while the inside remains medium rare. This method infuses the meat with smoky and earthy flavors. But, nowadays, It doesn’t always have to be buffalo meat; chicken, duck, lamb, or goat meat can also be used. The cooked meat is carefully cut into thin cubes and left to cool down. Then, the meat is coated and mixed with spices (salt, cumin, pepper, chili powder, and turmeric) and a healthy dab of ginger and garlic paste. The local experts, including my mother, prefer using their hands to mix the spices and meat, as they say the real taste is in the hands! The garnishing is the last part; you can use finely-chopped coriander and lemon juice to sprinkle all over your hot meat dish, and voila! your chhoila is ready to be served. A slight variation to this dish, when it is made for regular meals at home, would be adding grilled tomato purée to chhoila, to be eaten with rice, veggies, and curries. The served snack, each bite containing chunks of meat, spices, garlic, ginger, onion, and tomato, is spicy and savory, alternates between chewy and crispy, and is absolutely delicious.