The Ranas ruled Nepal for just over a century, as Prime Ministers, and are famous to date for their stucco, colonial style palaces, beautifully manicured gardens, magnificent jewelry, palace intrigues and autocratic rule. This glamorous, colorful regime that shaped the history of the country for 104 years, imported ideas concerning architecture, dress and even administration from far off Europe but in the field of culinary art they did not stray too far from their homeland. The local cuisine was influenced to a certain extent by the khansamas (cooks) brought in from Mughal India after the loot of Lucknow during Jung Bahadur’s time.


The festivals and ceremonies always brought on more pomp and pageantry making the menus more elaborate than ever. The tables groaned under the display of various delicacies. The main ceremony, which totally involves and rotates around food is the Chaurasi Byanjan. This ceremony is still a must during Pasni (rice feeding of a child), Bartamand (sacred thread Ritual) and Biyah (wedding). This tradition goes back to the epical story of the Ramayan and the wedding celebration of Sita’s marriage to Ram where King Janak is supposed to have served 84 Chaurasi (varieties of food) at the banquet. The display is usually served in beautifully handcrafted silver platters surrounding one massive platter (thaal) consisting of one paathi of cooked rice, decorated with boiled eggs and dried fish, topped by a bhadrai bird. The heads of a wild boar, goat, a whole duck and fish would be smeared with a preservative paste of mustard oil and turmeric powder and proudly displayed with a variety of other meats, vegetables, fruits and sweetmeats comprising the 84 dishes that the lucky child or bridal couple were expected to partake of.

In the old days the wild boar used to be hunted in the jungles of the Terai. Many succulent recipes were tried and perfected and still are a favorite in any celebration. Various other wild game mainly from the deer family found their way to the silver platters of the Rana households.

The bird species including jungle fowl, partridge, pheasants, ducks, quail and peacocks were hunted by the Ranas themselves on their many Shikar trips or by their trained Shikaris (trained hunters), separately maintained by each Rana household to ensure the constant flow of fresh meat to their tables. The only bird that did not reach their ornate platters was the common chicken, because it pecked at dirt and droppings so was not considered hygienic. With the waning of shikar trips and shikaris the chicken finally found its way to the cooking pot, although in a separate kitchen.

Khasi Ko Tandruk (Mutton Gravy)

Recipe credit to Col. Jeevan SJB Rana, son of Rukmani Rajya Laxmi, grand daughter of Maharaja Padma SJB Rana.
Preparation time: 45 minutes
Serves: 8 persons

Courtesy: The Rana Cookbook: Recipes from the Palaces of Nepal, by Rohini Rana, Penguin Viking.

1 kg mutton
2½ cup mustard oil
1½ tsp. turmeric powder
2 Tbsp. cumin powder
1 Tbsp. coriander powder
1 tsp. timur powder
1 Tbsp. Kashmiri mirch
1½ Tbsp. red chili powder
1½ cups onion paste
3 Tbsp. garlic paste
2 Tbsp. ginger paste
3 Tbsp. ghee
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. carom seeds
¼ tsp. fenugreek seeds
1 tsp. jimbu
1 cup fried onions
Salt to taste
Whole spices
4 bay leaves
4 cloves
2 cinnamons sticks
5 small cardamoms

Cut the mutton in 2 inch cubes and place in a large bowl, add all the ingredients from section 2 and salt and mix well, marinate overnight or for 6 hours. Heat the oil till it smokes and add the fenugreek and carom seeds, jimbu, bay leaves and whole spices and let it crackle, add the sugar and marinated meat. Stir and cook for 20 minutes till the oil separates, add 3 cups of water and pressure cook for 4 whistles. Let the pressure cooker cool open and add 1 cup of fried onions and cook till the water dries and the oil floats on top. Garnish with coriander and serve.

Tare Ko Chara (Fried Chicken Gravy)

Recipe credit to Mr. Nanda SJB Rana Baber Mahal, family of Maharaja Chandra SJB Rana.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Serves: 6 persons

Courtesy: The Rana Cookbook: Recipes from the Palaces of Nepal, by Rohini Rana, Penguin Viking.

1 kg chicken cut in approximately 2 inch pieces
½ cup mustard oil
½ cup ghee
½ tsp. asafetida powder
1 ½ cup sliced onions
1½ cup chopped tomatoes
3 Tbsp. garlic paste
3 Tbsp. ginger paste
2 tsp. cumin powder
1½ tsp. coriander powder
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1½ tsp. Kashmiri mirch powder
1 Tbsp. ground kudke achar (if available)
2 Tbsp. chopped green coriander for garnish
Salt to taste

Make ½ inch slits in the chicken pieces and keep aside. Heat mustard oil in a heavy bottomed pan till it smokes and add ghee and asafetida powder and onions. Stir till they are light golden color then add ginger and garlic paste and stir for a further 5 minutes, till the raw smell dissipates. Add the chicken, salt and turmeric powder and stir from time to time till the chicken changes color to a light brown, now add the cumin, coriander and chili powders, stir for 2 minutes and add the tomatoes and kudke achar. Lower the heat and keep stirring till all the ingredients are well integrated and chicken cooked and the oil separates. You can add ½ cup of water if the chicken is not cooked. After the chicken is cooked, add ½ teaspoon whole spice powder (garam masala) to the dish, stir and garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve.

Excerpted with permission from The Rana Cookbook: Recipes from the Palaces of Nepal, by Rohini Rana, Penguin Viking.