I am back! (didn’t even realize I was gone)

Whoa… wait… four months? I’ve been MIA from my blog for four months? That’s crazy, and seems completely impossible. Time flew by. Life has definitely changed after the earthquake, and days have somehow been going by faster, for whatever odd reason.

Mr. B and I are still around, still doing our thing. Kathmandu is still our home. A bit more scary one than before, but still a home nonetheless. Slowly, slowly, bit by bit, life went back to normal for us over the past few months. We again found our way back to our favorite hangout spots. We again started going shopping, resumed cooking, and living on the top floor of the house. Sleeping up there was a bit scary the first few nights, but it seems like that was a thousand years ago, and these days we sleep like babies (when neighbors are not singing, or when dogs are not barking, or when random guys are not revving their bike engines in the middle of the night…).

So what is Nepal like right now? Lots of places, mostly outside Kathmandu, are still in a very difficult situation, with people living in tents through a very heavy monsoon. Relief efforts are still undergoing, despite the lack of news about it in the media. Life has not been easy for earthquake-destroyed villages in Nepal. If you still haven’t done so, consider donating to relief efforts in Nepal. It will be much appreciated.

The focus of everyone in Nepal has now shifted to the most historic event in Nepal recently – a constitution promulgation. Nepal has been trying to come up with a constitution since the end of the civil war back in 2006, and after lots of back and forth, hundreds of days of strikes and protests, finally the happy day has come. I am watching the signing of the constitution on TV as I type this. It’s pretty fancy. With lots of colorful balloons, flags and horses. This is a really big deal – congratulations Nepal! Oh when I only think back to recent months of fist fights and flying chairs in the parliament – it seems now all of it was worth it. Not to say, it offered for some great entertainment to common folk. Hopefully things only get better for Nepal from now onwards. Apparently, now Nepal will be “an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular, inclusive democratic, socialism-oriented federal democratic republican state.” A little bit for everyone right there.

For us, Mr.B and I, things won’t change much. All that changes for us are the seasons. We go from all night-long fan, to closed windows and thick comforter. Right now the weather is still hot during the day, but the winter is slowly creeping in. I can feel it in the crisp air in the evenings. Kind of nice, if you ask me. Pretty soon I’ll be sleeping in my socks again. I got low blood pressure; don’t ask.

Recently I had my own personal historic event in Nepal. I got food poisoning. It took me more than two years to experience one, so I suppose I can be proud of that. But this food poisoning thing, let me tell you, doesn’t play fair. It hits below the waist (no pun intended). I got it after eating one of my favorite things in Nepal – momos. Oh the irony! Hopefully, I’ll be able to forgive momos one day for letting me down, and we can be back to being best friends. However, I am pretty confident that’s not happening any time soon. Now, samosas move to number 1 spot on my Nepali snack list. Let’s see how long they stick around.

What am I?

Sometimes I find myself tangled in my own thoughts trying to decipher what group of people in Nepal I belong to. I am not Nepali, clearly. My ghost-like skin always gives me away, though I do like to think of it as aristocratic. But I’m digressing. I am not a 100% expat either. I live in a Nepali household, with a Nepali family. Does that make me half-Nepali? No clue, but in the past year and a half I did move towards Nepali customs more than I expected I ever would.

Let’s examine the evidence:

Exhibit A
My horoscope sign is a Virgo. For all of you who are not familiar with horoscope, let’s just say Virgos are obsessive-compulsive. I also hold a strong opinion that characteristics of a Virgo were tailored according to me. It’s that precise. I cannot be late, or have anything be out of place, untidy, dirty… everything needs to be perfect. But I move to Nepal and what happens!? I start adjusting to Nepali time. In other words, no matter how hard I try, I seem to be late for everything! And the worst part? I’m not even phased by it. What is happening to me? Am I turning Nepali?

Exhibit B
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m bragging, but I’ve always been very polite. I would let people with less items jump in front of me at the cash register, I would let pedestrians cross the road even if I’m in a hurry and others behind me are honking, I would exercise perfect driving culture politely letting others merge into traffic in front of me and wave thankfully to the ones who do the same for me. But I move to Nepal and what happens!? I start driving like I am the only person on the road, pushing and shoving my way through heavy traffic, honking at others angrily and closing every little bit of space between me and the car in front of me so no one can cut in. I also only sometimes let pedestrian cross in front of me. Preposterous! What is happening to me? Am I turning Nepali?

Exhibit C
I am a huge dessert person. Sweets make me enter a state of consciousness unknown to modern science. When I look at, make or eat wonderful varieties of cakes and cookies, I am in bliss. Nepal disappoints in that area. Most of the cakes here are OK, but not very different from one another. There seems to be no creativity in that department. Maybe that’s the reason the most favorable dessert amongst Nepalis is vanilla ice cream. Yes, vanilla ice cream. The same one I at every summer when I was a child and swore I will never taste it again. Ice cream is even served at weddings! Say, what??? But I move to Nepal and what happens!? After being shocked by this discovery for almost a year, I now find myself ordering vanilla ice cream in all shapes and forms – with a brownie, with an apple pie, and I even eat it at weddings. Even in winter! Gasp. What is happening to me? Am I turning Nepali?

Exhibit D
This last exhibit is most probably the most shocking one, at least for me. When I feel under the weather, as if I’m catching a cold, I usually crave chamomile tea with honey and lemon and some soup. Maybe also porridge or something warm, liquidy and easy to digest. I stuck to that even here in Nepal for the past year and a half. And it usually made me feel better. But you know what happened the other day? I was feeling a bit down, sick-ish at work and all I could think of is how I’m going to rush home, warm up a plate-full of rice and daal and devour it. And so I did. And it felt good. Scary good. What is happening to me? Am I turning Nepali?

So, you want some food?

Making your way to Nepal and being fed daal-bhaat every day, couple times a day sounds exciting! And it is, for the first couple of days. Then you start realizing that’s all you’ll ever be fed, and your excitement kind of flattens. Don’t get me wrong, daal-bhaat is really tasty. And I love it. But not every day; not all the time. I am used to a very diverse menu. My mom made sure that she always kept lunches and dinners interesting and new, and I loved it.

Now that daal-bhaat is out of the question, or at least limited to once or twice a week, it’s time to go grocery shopping. I have a confession. You’ll think I’m weird – I like grocery shopping. Actually, scratch that. I LOVE grocery shopping. When Mr.B. and I lived in US, grocery shopping would be my favorite thing to do. I had this whole shopping plan that I followed religiously every week according to the pantry/fridge needs and our budget. Several times I brought Mr.B. with me. I thought it would be a fun outing for us. He did not get excited about it, which I can understand to a certain extent – it was a grocery store after all. After he had a number of tantrums in several aisles (namely, dairy and frozen foods), I stopped inviting him to share with me this activity so close to my heart. I realized I enjoyed it best in my own company.

Now, grocery shopping in US is easy. Aisles are clearly marked, products are arranged neatly and logically, prices are displayed, and store usually smells like fresh bread and strawberries (or something). Grocery shopping in Nepal is, ahem, a bit different. I started grocery shopping on my own after gaining my independence back in March 2014. Mr.B. gladly gave up his responsibility of taking me to the store when food supplies run low. I shop in two different stores: Bhat Bhateni, and Saleways. Bhat Bhateni caters more to the typical domestic shopper, while Saleways prefers internationals. I go to Saleways for meat and dairy products, but everything else I buy in BB as it’s a lot cheaper. What both of those stores got in common is the total confusion that lingers from the moment you walk in the shop. Aisles are tiny and filled with stuff. Shelves are totally full, but then the other stuff is just kind of arranged on the floor. Steering the cart is a challenge, believe me.

There seems to be no logical order of arranging things on shelves. Chips and snacks often share their shelf with shampoos, and rice is sometimes found right next to the toilet paper. My favorite part of grocery shopping in Nepal is the surprise factor! You haven’t heard about the surprise factor? Oh, let me tell you aaaaalllll about it then. Every time you walk in the store, you have no clue what to expect. Some times the shelves are moved around. Sometimes the products on the shelves are switched around. Sometimes you find yourself wandering around for hours trying to find things, convincing yourself you have not gone mad, as just last week Oreos were on a cookie shelf, and now you are finding them in the pickled vegetable section. It’s exciting walking in and not knowing how long the whole grocery shopping ordeal will take.

On occasion you come across a product that you particularly like. What you need to do then is buy all of it. Completely clean up the shelf and stock up like a true doomsday hoarder. Chances are, you will never again see this product in Nepali grocery stores. It’s curious really. It’s as if though they have this huge catalog of groceries and they made a point to order different products every time, just to try them all or something. You never know what you’ll be able to find in the store, and whether you’ll come home empty handed, or with a pathetic small bag of canned tuna and peanut butter.

Grocery shopping in Nepal is fun. Not only you never know what awaits you in the shop, but people act just like they do in traffic – pushing and shoving their way through trying to be the first one to the cash register. It’s a competitive little game, but then again, life in Nepal is a competitive game.

 

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Goat town

You see what I did there? It’s not ghost town, it’s goat town. Witty, huh? I know, I know, pretty lame, but in all honesty Kathmandu has turned into a goat town for the past couple of days. And it is not surprising given that on coming Saturday Hindu people celebrate the 8th day of Dasain called Maha Asthami. This is the day when the most demonic of Goddess Durga’s manifestations, the blood-thirsty Kali, is appeased through the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of buffaloes, goats, pigeons and ducks in temples throughout the nation. Blood, symbolic for its fertility, is offered to the Goddesses. Really, people don’t only do the sacrifice in temples but also in their yards.

I have been seeing goats all over the place these days. They are bleating everywhere I turn. This morning while driving to work, I realized a huge part of the road has been made into a goat market. It’s kind of cute and really morbid at the same time. People can be seen everywhere picking goats up to test the weight, inspecting them for fat and meat quality, and walking them around on a leash. Also driving them around on motorbikes and in taxis. It kind of looks hilarious, but when I remember the poor destiny of these animals, it’s not funny anymore.

What to say? Outlook is not positive. Sorry goat.

What to say? Outlook is not positive. Sorry goat.

I do like goat meat, or popularly known as mutton around here, but I’m not sure how I feel about meeting the origin of it in person. I’m a city child – I never had to kill an animal myself to eat it. But I do remember times when I would be dragged to chicken and pig slaughters (for a lack of better word) in the countryside when I was a kid. I suppose it’s not much different than goat sacrifice that will happen on Saturday. Yes, it’s cruel and probably unnecessary, but on the other hand it’s tradition and eventually a circle of life. Argh, it’s a tough one – it’s hard to pick a side.

What’s your take on the whole thing? Do share.

Goat or not, happy Bijaya Dashami everyone!

Monkeys and guavas

When I was a child all I really ever wanted was a monkey. Not a puppy, not a pony. A monkey. I always imagined I would dress it in jeans overalls and a small T-shirt and walk it around the neighborhood holding its monkey hand. I was, however, smart enough to know that would never happen, so I figured the next best thing would be to travel to Gibraltar. Why, you wonder? Well, I read somewhere, I don’t remember where exactly, that Gibraltar has lots of monkeys roaming around in tourist areas. I figured it would be cool to go there and meet a real monkey, outside of zoo. Maybe play with it for a while. Maybe try to sneak one home with me and keep it as a pet. Needless to say, that never happened. Not me sneaking a monkey home, nor the trip to Gibraltar. So I gave up on my monkey dream.

Once I realized Kathmandu is full of monkeys, and I mean this in a literal sense (take this any way you like), my monkey dream was again awoken. I was so excited to go to the Monkey temple where monkeys roam around freely and are not afraid of humans. But, my husband then spoiled the whole thing telling me monkeys are actually quite aggressive and dangerous. When I asked him what could provoke them, he told me it was white skin and shiny hair. That, of course, is not entirely true, but it got me so freaked out that I no longer wanted to see monkeys outside of the cages. We did, in fact, end up going to the temple, but I kept looking over my shoulder and ducking when birds would fly over me thinking it’s a monkey attack in full swing. I was somewhat relieved to see there were people there with lighter and shinier hair, and they are not being attacked, but still I kept my eyes wide open. One thing about these monkeys is they are big. They are not cute little creatures you see in Hollywood comedy shows. No sir, these are some big pieces of monkey ass derrière. And they look mean too, walking around claiming their space.

Usually, we don’t deal with monkeys on a daily basis. You can see them if you go to certain parts of town, like Monkey temple area, or sometimes you can spot them jumping around telephone poles. However, once in a while monkeys get a little lost and they end up in our monkey-less part of the city. And then the fun starts. They jump from roof to roof scaring everyone and pretty much doing overall damage on trees and roofs. Mr.B. told me last time monkey has been in the neighborhoood: “When I leave for work, make sure you close all windows and doors so the monkeys don’t get inside”. Yeah, thanks, that made me feel very comfortable. I went from window to window peeking out trying to see if there is a horde of monkeys moving towards our house. And even though no monkeys got in the house, day after I saw damage they left behind. I looked out the window and saw that the guava tree’s branches were all broken and it looked as if though it was stricken by a lightning. Forgetting about the monkey business day before, I wondered to myself what had happened to the tree. And then I saw a piece of evidence clearly pointing to monkeys – a half eaten guava fruit sitting on the tree. Crazy animals.

It looked something like this, described by Farsighted Fly Girl

It looked something like this, described by Farsighted Fly Girl

The only two things I don’t eat for breakfast are lunch and dinner

Before traveling to Nepal for the very first time, back in 2011, I was kind of worried about the food I would eat there. My first days were spent carefully placing each bite of food in my mouth, constantly expecting to get violently sick. It never happened. I was healthy throughout the trip. I was also happy to find out my mother in law cooks very tasty food, and just for me, she avoided using too much chili. Food was amazing (and still is).

Coming to Nepal for the second time, I felt much more confident I will enjoy the food scene here. I was more willing to go out and explore restaurants and different types of food. I shamelessly devoured all my mother in law cooked. I would’ve done the same with mangos, but they were not in season then.

This time around I hardly ever think of getting sick. I do think twice before I eat out, and try to pick places that seem sanitary. I always jump with joy when I see another foreigner sitting in the same restaurant. The other day was my first day not to drink bottled water in a restaurant. Well, actually, let me take that back. It still was bottled water, it just came from a big jug, a water dispenser. I drink that water at home, but when I go out I always order bottled water (conveniently called mineral water here, no idea why) and open it myself at the table. Well, I ventured out and drank the jug water. I am so wild.

Anyways, I intended this post to be about food, so here it comes. As mentioned, my mother in law cooks very tasty food. Every morning before she leaves for work she spends time in the kitchen preparing lunch. Or actually it’s more of a breakfast. Well, breakfast for her and Mr.B. and lunch for me. They eat the whole DBT deal early in the morning, whereas I choose to stick with toast or oatmeal for my early trips to the kitchen.

Daal-bhaat-tarkari (DBT) is the staple food of Nepal. Everyone knows that. For those who don’t, daal stands for lentils, bhaat for rice, and tarkari for vegetables. So in short, every Nepali meal consists of a heaping serving of rice, lentil soup and various vegetables. Sometime there is meat on the menu, but now that the bird flu is claiming lives of innocent chicken, meat has been an even rarer commodity. I don’t miss it much. I am realizing that I could easily become vegetarian, especially here where the varieties of vegetable are bountiful.

One of the all-time favorites on my “favorite vegetable to eat in Nepal cooked by mother in law” list is pumpkin.  You can see it on the picture below. It’s the orange mash. It’s followed by okra in any form or shape, and zucchini. The other day was a holiday here in Nepal which apparently marked the end of summer and first day of winter. On that occasion a soup has been made. And not just any soup. It was a sprouty bean soup. A variety of beans have been soaked in water and then left for some days to grow small sprouts. After that it was made into a soup. A delicious soup that I had today again (for the fourth time in the past three days I believe).

I know you want this

I know you want this

Sometimes I get so tired of eating rice every single day. I wonder how Nepalis do it. On those days I cook my staple food – pasta, or potatoes. But who wants to read about that. This is, after all, a post about Nepali food. Nepalis traditionally eat their food from brass plates (like the one in picture 1) and with their hands. I have to mention though, food, and especially rice, is piping hot so really their hand eating habit is quite impressive. I always choose the fork. Or a spoon, depending on availability.

Look at that - almost all the favorites on one plate

Look at that – almost all the favorites on one plate

There is, naturally, Nepali food I don’t particularly enjoy. But I’ll save that some other post. Right now, I’ll just savor the taste of the sprouty soup. Is there a Nepali expression for Bon Appetite? If so, insert here.

Hidden gems

Kathmandu is a hectic and polluted city that, to a westerner not used to so much hustle and bustle, might seem completely disorganized and unlivable. First of all, it would be tough to define locations by using street names. Even if street names were there, there would be no way of identifying the particular street, because the name is not written anywhere. The safest bet is having the location explained to you by using well-know sights close-by. Secondly, and I cannot stress this enough, traffic in Kathmandu is horrendous. However, even tough it doesn’t seem that way, there is a certain order to it. There seem to be some rules most people are following, so I have yet to witness an accident.

Most of the places in Kathmandu look shabby on the outside, and if you didn’t know better, you’d avoid getting in the small alleys thinking the only thing that you might find in there would be shady guys and stray dogs. But what I’ve found to be true, and this goes for most places in the world, is that best restaurants/bars/shops are found in the unexpected places, with a shabby outside, in a not-so-good of a neighborhood.

The other night Mr.B. came home from work late, tired, but he was being a really good husband and agreed to take me out for an ice cream since, at that point, I’ve been stuck in the house for couple of days. As soon as we got out it started raining, and without street light (the electricity was out) we could hardly see anything. But, off we went in search of a good ice cream place. We’ve been to Baskin Robbins (which, btw, I wonder whether it’s just a knock-off of the real thing!?) many times already so we dismissed that idea and instead opted for a different kind of dessert after all. Mr.B. said he knew of a great place for desserts pressing on the gas pedal and zipping through the empty streets of Kathmandu. Suddenly we ended up in a neighborhood filled with shady-looking guys and dark alleys (or was is just the rain and house-arrest playing tricks on my mind?) and before I even managed to comment on it, Mr.B. pulls up in a driveway which opens up to a wonderful yard and an even nicer restaurant. Imago Dei – cute, cute place. All the way from the entrance I spotted the chocolate cream pie and there was no doubt in my mind – I had to have it. And, oh boy, did I gulp it down. It was one of the best cream pies I’ve ever had and there I was sitting in the shady Kathmandu neighborhood indulging on an American dessert in a cute restaurant contemplating on unexpected surprises in life. You never know what awaits behind the corner – maybe an amazing cream pie, maybe something even better. No alley should go unexplored.

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!