Sunday, July 26, 2015

Yomari or Yoh-Mari (योमरी, योह-मरी)

Discover Nepal's delicious steamed rice-flour bread with mouth-watering filling,
Yomari or Yoh-Mari (
योमरी, योह-मरी)!

Freshly steamed Yomari bread
Many of you who have been reading my blog for a while may have noticed my absence from posting new entries.  Please accept my apology for the lack of posts, especially over the last two months. I've been distracted by Nepal's devastating earthquake on May 12, 2015 and the numerous aftershocks.  Hopefully, things will get back on track and my blogging routine will continue.

Yomari or Yoh-Mari (योमरी, योह-मरी) is a delicious steamed bread with mouth-watering filling made from a new harvest rice flour dough. According to cookbook writer, Hind M. Vaidya, in her book, Nepalese Cookery, the steamed bread plays a very important role in many auspicious ceremony in Newar community.  Newars are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the capital valley of Kathmandu, and they have an important cultural tie in the country.  They are well known for their festivities and preparing unlimited sumptuous feasts. The name yomari originates from Newari language, "yoh" means to love or to like, and "mari" means bread dish.  Ms. Vaidya says, "literally as the title says, it is one of the most loved and liked steamed bread with stuffing."  She also highlights a popular teasing song, where a group of young children go around their neighborhood from house-to-house and asking for steamed bread and singing yomari song on the special festival of Yohmari Punhi.

The customary traditional song is -- "yoh mari chwamu, ukke dunne chakku, byuma lyassi, mabyuma buricha"  --
"त्यछिं त्य वकछीं त्य लातापाता कुलेचाँ जुछिंत्य, योमरी च्वामु उकी दुने हाकु ब्युसा माकु मब्युसा, फाकु ब्युसाल्यासे मब्युस बुढी कुटी"
-- (translation -
"The bread is pointed, the filling is sweet, if you give me a bread, you will be a pretty lady, if you don't, ugly ...)".

Yomari is quick and easy to make. This dish involves four basic steps.  In the first step, the rice flour is kneaded into a smooth dough and left covered with damp towel. In the second step, the filling is prepared. In the third, the rice dough is shaped and designed into small pockets.  Then the filling is added and sealed.  It is molded into different shapes that often represent animals, nature, fruits, ceremonial lamp stands and figurines of gods and goddesses.  The most popular shape is the dough shaped like a pointed fig fruit. In the last step, the individual pieces are steamed.  It is eaten warm or at room temperature, by itself or with beverage. Yomari bread has a soft delicate texture with a bit of chewiness without being sticky, and a perfect combination of sweet filling with a great flavor. The filling varies according to family preferences which includes milk fudge (khuwaa - खुवा), spicy ground meat and bean paste, and even sesame seeds or coconut.   The most popular filling is prepared with chaaku and roasted and ground sesame seeds.  Chaaku (चाकु) is an unrefined sugar made from the juice drained out of sugarcane stalks.  The juice is then purified and boiled to produce a thick, dark-brown syrup which ultimately turns into firm chunks.      

Yomari is a very popular festive dish, traditionally prepared during post-harvest celebration of Yomari Punhi (योमरी पुन्ही) or Dhanya Purnima.  The celebration is observed during full moon from December to January. During the festival, the people of Kathmandu worship the goddess of grains, Annapurna for good harvest and enjoy a grand feast after all the hard work of the harvesting season.  Yomari is prepared and offered ritualistically to the gods.  Although the festival has its roots in the Newar farming community, today it is observed in almost every Newari home in Kathmandu and surrounding areas.  It is prepared during the celebration of children's birthdays, where a yomari garland (योमरी को माला) is used to honor the child. Yomari is widely prepared and served in many other auspicious occasions, such as rice feeding ceremony of a child (paasne -पास्ने ), Dhau-Baji -धौ-बजी celebration of expectant mother (feast before child birth), as a Sagun food - सगुन को खाना (auspicious food, representing good luck, fortune, and good health), Janku celebration - जन्कु (celebration of an old age), Indra Jatra, samaya-baji festival, new house moving celebration and many more.

Home-made Yomari The following recipe has simple ingredients and a quick preparation.  Grab some rice flour, boiling water, brown sesame seeds, shredded coconut, dark brown sugar and let me show you how to make yomari.

For dough
3 cups rice flour

1 to 1-1/2 cups boiling water or as needed

3/4 cup brown sesame seeds
3 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup chaaku (if not available substitute to brown sugar
1 cup water

In a large bowl, combine the rice flour and 1 cup of boiling water and mix well with a spoon.  When cool enough to handle, knead the dough until smooth and pliable.

If the dough is too firm, add 1 teaspoon of water and knead again.  Cover with a damp towel and set aside to rest at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes.

While the dough is resting, prepare the filling.  Heat a small skillet or a cast-iron pan over medium-low heat.  Toast the sesame seeds, stirring and shaking the skillet, until lightly browned and aromatic.  Remove and cool.  Use a spice grinder to make a fine powder.  Add the coconut in the same grinder and grind to make a fine powder.  In a small bowl, mix the sesame mixture, brown sugar and a cup of water and stir until well mixed.  Heat in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and simmer, stirring frequently until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. 

When ready to proceed, place the rested dough on a flat surface, and knead some more, about 1 to 2 minutes.  With lightly oiled hand, divide the dough into 10 to 12 equal portions. Take one portion in your hand and start molding the dough into small hollow pockets and 
place 2 teaspoons of mixture inside, holding each rounds pocket in one hand and using your thumb and fingertips to seal tightly.  Once sealed, you can create any shape.  If there are any crack in the surface, be sure to seal them.

Cover with damp kitchen towel until it is ready to be steamed.  Repeat the same process with the rest of the dough.  Yomari should be steamed right after shaping.

Delicious, soft, tender and chewy yomari is the perfect way to fill the house on Yomari Punhi festival
Add enough water in the lower part of the steamer and bring to a boil over high heat.  Grease the steamer trays with some oil.  Arrange the yomari on 1 or 2 steamer trays; making sure that there is 1/2-inch space between each. allowing the steam to circulate.  Place the steamer trays on the steamer, cover, and steam for 8 to 10 minutes or until cooked and they appear glazed.  Remove carefully, and transfer to a serving dish and serve hot.

Just steamed Yomari with milk fudge filling (khuwaa)
 A large model of "Yomari" (a bread of rice flours) during the celebration to mark Yomari Punhi ( (योमरी पुन्ही) in Kathmandu, Nepal. Newar community celebrates the festival by making Yomari and performing traditional songs and dances.  Photo Courtesy - Xinhua/Sunil Sharma
As Sarva celebrates his fourth birthday, a garland made out of yomari is put around his neck.  Parents and grandparents bless him and offer yomari breads to eat along with other ceremonial dishes.  They also shower him with other gift items.  There is an old tradition in Newari culture that yomari garland is only made when the child reaches even number of birthdays, such as two, four, six, eight, ten and twelve.
Celebrating Ishani's 2nd birthday wearing garland of yomari bread. In keeping with the culture, yomari is one of the main item on the child's second-year birthday celebration.
Listed below are some of the useful and informative links about yomari and check out several beautiful YouTube tutorial on how to make yomari bread.
1. Yomari Stuffed with goodness : Festivals in Nepal

2. From Kiran Shrestha - Yomari Punhi - Nepal Information

3. Yomari Punhi from We All Nepali

4. YouTube Video - Sweet Rice Flour Yomari Dumplings, a Newar Delicacy from Nepal (In Nepali)

5. YouTube video - Yomari- an ethnic Newari (Nepali) Food - Anup Kitchen

6.  YouTube video - Sherpanichef and guest chef Namrata demonstrate how to make delicious yomari for the Newari celebration of Yomari purnima. 

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