Samay baji is not so much a dish as a collection of dishes that, together, represent celebration and festivity to Newari Nepalis. Traditionally, samay baji meals were (and continue to be) served at Newari festivals and celebrations as offerings to the gods: After the food has been blessed, it is served to the mere mortals to eat. The components represent good luck, wealth, and health. Samay baji is very important to Newari cuisine because of its versatility—it can be eaten as a simple lunch or as the starter to a larger feat (called a bhoye); it can be given as an offering to the gods; and it can feed a community during festive occasions. It goes without saying that the best way to eat an authentic samay baji set is to be invited into a Newari home during a festival or personal celebration. Failing that, you can buy samay baji meals at Newari restaurants any day of the year, where it’s often called simply “Newari set.”
So what’s in it? First and foremost, there’s chiura (beaten rice), the essential component. The other accompaniments can vary, but usually include some or all of the following: black-eyed pea curry, soybean curry, batmas (fried dried soybeans), spiced and sautéed spinach, fried boiled eggs, a potato curry, bamboo shoot curry, bara (pancake), sel roti (sweet fried ring of batter), a meat curry or dried meat (sukuti), and a dry pickle of sliced garlic and ginger. Given its festive tradition, this is, in fact, a party on a plate.
Where: A stronghold of Newari cuisine, Nandini Food Court (Swotha Rd, Patan 44600, map) does a great samay bhaji set, and it’s just a short walk from the Patan Durbar Square. You can sit on stools outside the café and gaze upon the ancient stone temples of Swotha Square.
When: Daily, 11am-late
Order: The samay bhaji set is called the Newari set (Rs 100) here, as it is in many eateries. Pictured is a plate of chiura with spicy beef cooked with ginger and garlic, pickle, spinach curry, fermented gundruk pickle, piro aloo (spicy potato curry), batmas (fried soybeans), tomato chutney, mushrooms, and white beans. While you are here, you may want to try the hard-to-find sapoo mhicha, a Newari buffalo dish of tripe and bone marrow (see Roads & Kingdoms' love letter to this dish).
Alternatively: Newa Lahana (Kirtipur, 44818, map) is well-loved for being one of the best places in the valley to get Newari food. People from all over the city make the trip out to Kirtipur just for lunch or dinner at Newa Lahana. We’ve heard good things about the samay bhaji (aka Newari sets) here.