Your new favorite food – Momo

It’s been days that I’ve been thinking and thinking on what to write next. I had many ideas in my head but none of them seemed to be inspiring enough. And then I had a palm-slap to the forehead moment – MOMO! How could I possibly forget that mouthwatering food of gods!? Just thinking about it makes my stomach growl and my lips smack in delight. Often times I have dreams of lying on a cloud surrounded by endless supply of momo. OK, that’s clearly exaggeration, but you get the point – I love momo.

Say what? You don’t know what momo is? Well, don’t mind if I fill you in. Apparently there is this land where they take the eggless pasta dough, roll it out thin, fill it with perfectly spiced meat or veggies, and then close it up like neat little packets. And then they steam it! Yes, steam it. And it comes out to be this amazing steaming hot, spicy and juicy concoction that is then dipped in equally wonderful sauces and eaten in one bite. If your mouth can stand the heat from the steam. Or if you had no idea it’s so steaming hot and you, following everyone else’s example, innocently popped the whole thing in your mouth only to realize you no longer feel any part of your mouth, but it’s too late and too awkward to spit it out so you swallow it hoping your guts survive. My point – momos are hot so be careful.

Here’s a little less amateurish description of this amazing and very popular Nepali snack. The dough for momos is quite simple and is made of water and flour, possibly with a tiny bit of salt, and sometimes a bit of yeast. It’s rolled out thin and cut into circles that are then filled with a variety of different fillings. Meat ones could be made from minced pork, chicken, goat, or buffalo combined with shallots, garlic, ginger and a bunch of other spices. Veggie version is usually made of potatoes or cabbage. My understanding is there are other types of filling, but I’ve never tried those. Anyways, to make momo shape, circles are closed into half-moon dumplings, or little round packages. Nepali people are very skilled at making the edge all nice and decorative. Very impressive. Momos are then steamed over a boiling pot of water or stock, and served with chili sauce.

This is not the best looking bunch, but go easy on me - I'm neither a good photographer nor a Nepali chef

This is not the best looking bunch, but go easy on me – I’m neither a good photographer nor a Nepali chef

When in Nepal, or a Nepali restaurant, absolutely and without hesitation order yourself a plate of momos. Oh what the heck, go wild and order two! Dieting can wait for better times. Happy eating!

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Things you probably shouldn’t do when in Nepal

1. Eat from a roadside stand

This is a big no-no for me. I understand there are adventurous people who like to try everything, but for me adventure doesn’t really entail getting violently sick while touring Swayambhunath temple and desperately looking for a bathroom while monkeys eye me suspiciously. No matter how inviting those snacks might look, I strongly suggest to pass it up. (tip: don’t try to pet the monkeys while at Swayambhunath – it probably won’t end well, for you)

2. Ride on top of the public bus

When I went to Pokhara I saw this tourist ride on top of the bus heading the same way. The road to Pokhara is a winding 200 km road where trucks stop for no one and nothing. Buses as well. They drive like crazy and not rarely does a bus fly across the cliff and into the river. Riding those buses is a lottery, and riding on the roof of those buses is a suicide, at least for a tourist. Poor girl I saw on top of that bus to Pokhara looked so pale, holding onto her dear life probably thinking “what the hell did I get myself into!?”. I bet she kissed the ground when she finally got off 4 hours later. You don’t wanna do that to yourself.

3. Try to blend in

Let’s face it, unless you’re Indian, you’re probably never ever going to be able to blend in. You can learn Nepali, wear a saree, hop on the bike sitting sideways (if you’re a girl) in your flip-flops in the middle of December, but if you’re white, all your efforts are in vain. You will always stick out like a sore thumb, shining bright in the Nepali sun. And everyone will stare at you. Openly. And you’ll feel awkward. Until you decide to wave to people staring at you. Then they’ll feel awkward. Not that I’ve done that or anything.

4. Get frustrated with traffic

There is just no point. Traffic in Nepal is crazy and don’t try to understand it, or even worse correct it. I honestly think Nepalis enjoy the chaos of traffic in Kathmandu (minus Mr.B. who hates it beyond reason). Most of the time traffic gets so congested and people get so frustrated that only an army guy can settle problems. I found traffic police to be totally useless there. The most annoying thing is how people form gazillion lanes making the traffic even more congested.

Yup, traffic in K-city

Yup, traffic in K-city

5. Assume you’ll be able to eat toast in the morning

One of the great perks of living in Nepal, is having to deal with load shedding. Oh, the infamous load shedding. Be prepared for lots of quiet time sitting in the dark hoping you get sleepy soon. If there’s electricity do everything you possibly can that requires electricity at that time and don’t leave anything for later because the chances of you not being able to have toast for breakfast are high. You better be a fan of cereal with cold milk.

6. Force Nepalis to show up on time

It’s simply not happening. They all operate on Nepali time which is about 45 minutes behind the real time. So don’t expect your friends in Nepal to be there at the exact scheduled time. Well, actually, they are showing up on time, it’s you who’s early. Don’t fret over it because you might as well lose your mind soon. Grab a book and read or just do some good old people watching. Wave to everyone who stares at you. Help the army guy sort out the traffic jam. Or not.

What’s in the name?

The first time I went to Nepal it was May and the days were already long, hot and rainy. During the day Nepalis were hurdled in houses, staying as far away from the sun as possible. Just like the majority of houses in Kathmandu, Mr.B.’s house has a flat roof that’s easily accessible. At night, when the heat would subside and clouds would disperse, we would go up to the roof with cups of masala tea and gaze at stars, talking longingly about our future together. I loved being on the roof, looking down on the neighborhood and wondering about the life people lead in houses around us.

Next time I visited Nepal it was December. The weather was much cooler and days were shorter making people long for every single ray of sun. Nepali houses do not have central heating installed so during winter time it gets pretty chilly inside. It seems like at that time life moves outside – in the streets, in front of the houses, in the sun and warmth. Roofs of Kathmandu then become the happening places. Every morning I would look out the window and would see roofs full of people, seemingly undisturbed by gazes of others, going about their everyday chores. Kids would brush their teeth, women would wash their hair, clothes would be washed and dried, children would be bathed and fed… Older people would slowly climb up metal stairs leading to the roof, draped in many warm layers of clothing soaking every sun ray, warming up their bones before the sun, all too soon, disappears behind Himalayas.

Life led on the roofs of Kathmandu seems to be of a completely different dimension than the one led on the streets. The roof life is laid back, slow, and private yet public. It’s quiet and peaceful, tucked away from the chaos and hustle and bustle of the roads. I like this, often unnoticed, living on the roof. I even find it a little mystic, and it makes me wonder what other surprises Kathmandu is hiding behind its pandemonium.

Hidden life on top of Kathmandu inspired me to give it tribute through the name of my blog. I am excited to become a part of “the roof life” and share my fascination with all the new things I discover about Kathmandu.

Interracial and interfaith relationships

I grew up in a very racially homogenous country. I remember learning about other races in school but have not really seen a person of a different race up close until I went abroad when I was 14. Croatia is not homogenous only in terms of skin color of its population, but also in terms of religion. Despite that, I was always taught, both in school and at home, that humans are humans no matter the color of their skin, their origin, language, religion, education, social class…

When I went to US to study I never head a doubt in my mind that I should treat everyone with the same respect. I never chose people I hung out with by the way they look, but by their personality. And frankly, I don’t think I made any mistakes. One of my best friends is African (hello Alphonsine!), and I am married to an Asian. I am aware, though, of the fact that interracial and interfaith relationships, and even more so marriages, are a tabu in most societies. It’s easy to see a reason for something like that, ranging anywhere from different cultures, values, genes, and so on, but with the world becoming smaller by the day, and societies increasingly becoming racially heterogenous, it’s difficult to think of those reasons as valid ones any longer. I feel like the only reasons people have for not accepting those types of relationships are narrow-mindedness and ignorance.

Recently, I came across an article in The Economist discussing interracial and interfaith marriages stating that today, in the US 45% of all marriages are interfaith marriages. I wonder what that percentage would be for interracial marriages? And what it would be for European countries? What the article in The Economist states further is that the reason for such a high percentage of interfaith marriages lies in the fact that people get married later, after they have experienced an autonomous life, during which they fell out of family traditions. However, the bad news is that half of those kinds of marriages in US fall apart. It’s a worrying trend I believe. It seems like, when times get tough in a marriage, people turn to their religion for comfort, and the gap between the couple becomes even wider at that point.

At this particular moment in my marriage, I do not find race or religion to be an obstacle. I cannot claim it won’t become one in the future, but I always like to believe that with enough honesty and conversation, Mr.B. and I would be able to overcome it. I have not fooled myself into thinking that our marriage will be easy or simple, but at the same time I desperately hold on to what I have been taught my whole life – it’s what the inside that matters. I try to be respectful of his religion, culture, and traditions, and expect him to do the same in return, but would never consider trying to convert him, unless he specifically decides on that himself. I suppose problems in interfaith marriages could occur if one person would have too high expectations or would suddenly become too religious and would expect the other person to go along with it. Not agreeing to that could lead to a great abyss in values between the two, which in turn leads to decay of the relationship.

How do you feel about interfaith and interracial relationships? If you’re in one, what challenges are you faced with?

Huh?

Ever since Mr.B. moved back to Nepal some years ago (I think 4) I’ve been diligently  following the news from Nepal. Just to be on the safe side. Mr.B. sometimes runs out of credit on his phone, or the phone runs out of battery, or the Internet is down because there is no electricty, and at those moments I am not able to keep in touch with him. Most of the time I am fine with it, and I know he is OK, but sometimes, when he’s away for too long, I get scared that something might’ve happened, so I go online and check the news. It eventually became my habit and every morning after checking out Croatian news portals I go and take a peek at Nepali ones.

It feels good to stay on top of things and to be able to talk to Mr.B. on new developments in his country, even more so now that I’ve decided to move there. Occasionally I come across some funny news, and sometimes funnily written news, but it’s the unusual ones that mostly catch me off guard. This is what I read recently on Nepalnews.com:

SLC girl gives birth inside exam hall

A girl attending SLC exam in remote Humla district gave birth to a baby inside the exam hall today.

Sangeeta Tamata, who was attending the exam of Social Science, gave birth to a baby boy half an hour after the exam started at Madanadev Secondary School in Panda area, a report said.

The exam supervisors made arrangements for her to sit through the exam one hour later.”

Wow. Simply wow.

Random facts about Nepal

1. People in Nepal like to squat. Everyone is squatting: kids squat in mud making pies; old men squat by the road watching passing traffic and smoking; women squat doing laundry, beating rice, cooking and sometimes just chit chatting with neighbors. I’m not gonna go that far to say that even stray dogs squat in Nepal, but I am pretty sure there might be a dog squatting right now somewhere in Kathmandu.

The whole squatting deal looks pretty comfortable so I tried it myself on a couple of occasions. I can claim with certainty it’s not as easy as it looks. My knees got sore pretty soon and I had to crawl to the nearest chair to manage to get myself up and standing again. I am impressed by the flexibility of Nepali people.

2. Nepalis congregate for no apparent reasons at most odd times. All it takes is for someone to stop in the middle of the road and with great interest look in any one direction. Pretty soon another person will stop, and another, and another… and they will all look in the same direction attentively. It won’t be long before cars start stopping and the traffic jam forms. Ladies coming back from the market will drop their bags and run to the crowd to see what is going on. Suddenly a traffic officer will come to deal with the traffic jam, but will instead join the crowd looking at … well, nothing really.

Old guys squatting by the road will make comments on the thing that everyone is looking at, shaking their heads in disbelief and blaming everything on politics. At this point everyone is looking in the same direction, pointing and wooing and wowing, when there’s really nothing there. The group disperses only when couple soldiers come to deal with the traffic jam situation.

3. It’s not a secret that public transportation in Kathmandu is beyond any foreigners’ comprehension. That system (if it even exists) is impossible for me to understand. There are buses, micro buses, rickshaws… and they all have one thing in common: they drive like maniacs with no apparent routes, stops, or schedules. However, even more than the systems itself, I am fascinated by the embellishments on the vehicles. Big buses are usually very colorful with a ton of knick-knacks hanging from every mirror, and a kid’s shoe (Yes, that’s right!) from the back of the bus.

These are only a tourist attraction at Durbar Square in Kathmandu. They cannot really be seen on the roads of the city

These are only a tourist attraction at Durbar Square in Kathmandu. They cannot really be seen on the roads of the city

Micro buses are the really interesting ones though. In essence those are simple white, I’d say 12-seater, vans. All of them bear a certain message on the back. Sometimes it’s a quote from an American movie or a song, or the name of a singer or a band from the 70s. Sometimes though, they have very educational messages on them, clearly intended for population control, such as the one I saw on my last trip to Nepal: I’m a virgin. One mistake, game over.

I am moving to Nepal

I cannot see a more fitting time to officially open this blog than the day I gave in my resignation at work. In a little bit over a month I will be on a flight to Kathmandu to (semi)permanently settle there. I still remember being in 7th grade and bringing home a copy of a magazine called Croatian geography which, that month, featured a huge story on Nepal and Tibet. I knew nothing about those countries, but I was so mesmerized by the article that I must’ve read it at least 10 times. I knew it by heart and I thought that traveling in that exotic part of the world is a dream that would never come true for me. I never even considered it twice.

Boudhanath

In one of those crazy twists and turns of life I, not only ended up traveling there several times, but even married a Nepali guy, Mr.B. Whenever I retell the story of my fascination with a magazine article about Nepal I like to stress out to Mr.B. that I did not marry him just because he was from Nepal. In fact, when I met him and liked him I didn’t even know he was Nepali. I thought he was Canadian. Because why else would this American-looking, perfect accent guy attend an international student orientation at the US university. The only logical explanation for me at the moment was that he is Canadian. Well, it turned out he was not Canadian. It also turned out that he lived across the parking lot from me, and that he liked me enough to take me out for coffee more than once. Not only that, but he was also hilarious and had me laughing all the time which made me fall head over heels for him and marry him 7 years later.

We have been married for almost a year now, and for the past four years we have lived apart, dealing with all the struggles of a long distance relationship. In some ways we are grateful for the distance because we learned so much about each other, and ourselves through the separation. However, it’s now time to finally be together and start our life as a married couple. Dice have been cast and I am to pack my suitcases and head over to Nepal. It is an exciting moment of my life and I cannot wait to see how it will unfold. The Roofs of Kathmandu will follow me on my adventures through the married life in a land of yaks, yeti, rhododendrons and Himalayas.