Thursday, May 2, 2013

Kaaphal or Kafal Fruit - काफल - (Bay-Berry)

Kaaphal or Kafal - काफल - A Very Popular Wild Fruit of the Central Himalaya

Himalayan Wild Fruit - Kaaphal - काफल  - photo courtesy S Bhattarai
Nepali name: Kaaphal or Kafal
Common name: Bay-Berry, Box myrtle
Bot. name: Myricaceae Buch-Ham. ex D.Don. (M. nagii Thunb.)
Family Myricaceae - information source - An Introduction to Nepalese Food Plants by Regmi

Kaaphal is one of many extremely delicious wild fruits found throughout mid-Himalayan region. The fruit looks somewhat like deep-red colored raspberries.  They barely have any pulp, have a big round seed in the center.  Since they are very refreshing to eat, they are well liked by many Nepalese.  When I saw the above picture of Kaaphal in the Facebook, captured by Saroj Bhattarai (around April-May), it made my mouth water. I was remembering my childhood days.  

The fresh fruits have a reputation for being a little acidic even when they are ripe, but more sour when unripe. They have a limited harvesting period and available for a short period of time only.  When they were in season, local villagers picked and gathered the berries carefully from the wild growing areas and transported to Kathmandu in a wicker baskets (doko-daalo). We loved to eat the fruits with sprinkling of salt or rock salt and chili powder and it was a popular treat in the beginning of the summer months.  We were prevented eating under-ripe ones because they caused upset stomach, but we were hooked on these sweet, salty and spicy snack berries.  Now I wonder how simple things in life that made us so happy. Today I want to share with you the much loved wild berries that is growing throughout many parts of Nepal.  If you can get a hold of it, it is worth trying!     

I am so happy to introduce this weeks guest blogger, Bindesh Shrestha, and delighted to share his posting on the "Wild Berry from the Himalayas Kafal" written and posted originally at DesiGrub on July 28, 2012 (click the link). I have been a long-time fan of Bindesh's blog and find it very creative and inspiring. Please visit his site at "DesiGrub" (shared adventure with food from around the world)  and you will discover a very educational and informative site.   

Often described as one of the tastiest wild fruits, Kafal is a berry found on the foolhill of the Himalayas.  The raspberry-looking fruit with sweet and tangy flavors has a thin fruit coating with a large stone core, thus it's a drupe.  Eating kafal required you sucking on the fruity outer layer followed by spitting out its pit - (photo and text from DesiGrub)

Kafal is picked from a dozen-meter long wild trees during May and June.  Kafal trees are found on hills of Nepal and Northern India, between the altitudes of one and two thousand meters above sea level.  Kafal changes to reddish purple color ellipsoid-shape fruit at its maturity.  In scientific journals, kafal is mostly called Myrica esculenta, but also referred as Myrica integrifolia and Myrica nagi.  In ancient Sanskrit language, kafal is often called Kaiphala or Katphala, and believed to have a medicinal property in its bark. - (photo and text from DesiGrub).
Still today, street hawkers go door-to-door to sell kafal from a bamboo baskets in Kathmandu.  Once ordered, kafal are measured in a rusty tin container called manas (half liters), poured into a paper cone made from old newspaper, and sprinkle with spicy salt seasoning.  Since the shelf life of kafal is very short, only 2-3 days, people interested in eating kafal are recommended to fly to Kathmandu during May-June.

Kafal is celebrated with unprecedented number of songs and stories unlike any foods in the region.  Even a surname "Kafle" is said to be in honor of those kafal trees that gave fruits to people for millennia.  There are many songs about kafal such as reli khola bagar, kafal pakyo lahar (Nepal), kafal gedi kutukai (Nepal), Kafal pakyo hola banma (Nepal), and Rangeelo kumaon kafal kheja (Uttarkhand). Kafal is celebrated with unprecedented number of songs and stories.

There is much folklore interwoven with kafal and life in Himalayas than any other fruits.  Here are my two favorite tragic tales about why birds sing during kafal season.

A Nepali tale of a brother who leaves his sister to join an army.  He promises to return every year to enjoy kafal together.  He never returns, but she continues to send message every year when kafal ripens.  Even after her death, she now returns as a bird to let us know "kafal pakyo" or kafal is ripe".

Another story from Indian state of Uttarakhand is about a mom, who picks up a basketfull of kafal to sell.  She asks her daughter to look after the kafal basket and not to eat any fruit.  When mom returns, she realizes the kafal has lost some weight.  Suspecting her daughter must have eaten some, mom punishes her by beating.  The daughter kept on crying that she didn't taste any kafal.  It rains and kafal gain back some weight that they had lost due to scorching summer heat.  Unfortunately the girl died, and now she comes back every year in kafal season as a bird to sing "kafal pakko, meil ni chakkho" or kafal has ripened, but i didn't taste them."Often these stories are tragic, may be ripening of kafal symbolizes the change of season and end of beautiful Spring, kafal being one last sweet fruits of Spring before a harsh Summer. - (Photos and text - DesiGrub) 
Images of Kaaphal in the tree - photos courtesy xNepali
 The street vendor cries out, “Kaapfal aayo, kaaphal aayo” (the fruit has arrived) - photo from ECS magazine
Kaaphal for sale - photo courtesy Manoj Joshi

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  1. i really enjoyed kaphal in Nepal..and Bindesh's blog is always a delight to read about food and his adventure. thanks for sharing this

  2. Thanks. Its really good article. Though I have not tested the fruit, mukh ma paani aayo, I want to hear the sound of bird kaafal pakyo, kaafal pakyo.
    C Nepal

  3. Thanks. Its really good article. Though I have not tested the fruit, mukh ma paani aayo, I want to hear the sound of bird kaafal pakyo, kaafal pakyo.
    C Nepal

    1. Thanks, please keep checking my new entries...

    2. have you heard of yangmei? it is the domesticated version of this fruit, found in china it is one of my favorite fruits

  4. woowww ...such a great fruit..

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