The Culture of Yogurt: From Juju Dhau to Froyo

by Lauren Paquette

What better way to examine the transition from traditional to modern Nepali culture, than through yogurt? In an age of change and development, it is often a challenge to hold onto time-honored ways.

Juju Dhau, a thick and sweet yogurt originating from Bhaktapur, Nepal, has been integral to Newari cuisine for centuries. Served in small red-clay pots called maato ko kataaro, this treat has long been served at events large and small. You can grab one at a local shop on your way to work, or at a lavish Newari feast; either way, the delicious creation will be the same.

Fresh buffalo milk is commonly used to make the Juju Dhau, whose name translates from Newari to mean “king of yogurt.” The mixture is prepared, poured into pots, and wrapped in cloths to be warmed and set. The porous clay allows the excess liquid to evaporate, leaving behind a wonderfully rich, custardy treat. When your spoon clears the thick top layer of the yogurt, it discovers a softer and sweeter heart underneath. Though the pots are made to be disposable, I find them perfect for collection and reuse. However, if you return as often as I do, prepare for your kitchen cupboards to overflow.

Steadily over the past decade, there has been an increase in outside influences on large Nepali cities such as Kathmandu, resulting in an unavoidable digression from traditional food and culture. People, especially those of the younger generation, harbor an inevitable desire to experience new things. Each year, more restaurants are diverting attention away from age-old traditions and toward flashier and newer cuisines.

Four years ago, Deepak Bhandari found a way to move forward with modern interests and keep tradition alive at the same time. By opening the outlet Froyo, Bhandari introduced the first major frozen yogurt shop in Nepal. The process of making the icy treat involves combining flavoring and milk with the authentic local yogurt. Customers can select their preferred flavor as well as any desired toppings, or they can order a more elaborate, preplanned dessert.

As would be expected the major client base is Nepali youth, those who, unlike their parents and grandparents, are more inclined to test the boundaries of food intake. Customers are, likewise, becoming more adventurous in choice of flavors. Years ago, it was common for vanilla to be the primary choice on average, but according to Bhandari, flavors like mango and strawberry are now the most readily ordered.

Business for Froyo is increasing steadily, and current outlets in Kathmandu and Pokhara will soon to be joined by others in the south. Since Bhandari opened Froyo, others have followed his example and opened similar styles of frozen yogurt shops around the country. They, too, see the value of incorporating Nepali traditions in new ways in order to keep their culture alive. Though times are changing and cultures are developing, this evolution of yogurt demonstrates that Nepal will never truly lose its tradition.