Stuff you’ll talk about in Nepal

One of the most common questions you get in Nepal is “Have you eaten?”It’s so common, in fact, that some people use it instead of a greeting. People are obsessed with food. Remember when you were a small child and all the grannies would always tell you you are too skinny and need to eat more (even if you were definitely not a skinny child)? Yes, it’s kind of like that in Nepal. Everyone is always concerned with the amount of food you eat and look at you disapprovingly as you only put a handful of rice on your plate, instead of three heaping giant spoonfuls. Mr. B’s family always comments on my eating habits and disappointingly concludes I eat like a butterfly, only a pinch of rice. They are also convinced I lose weight all the time. I can assure you that is not the case. In fact, since moving to Nepal my cheeks have become rounder, and so has my belly. Not something to be really proud of, but definitely a reason to cut down on rice intake. When you visit someone you can count on being forced to eat something, even if you say No repeatedly. They will still bring out snacks, or tea, or both. It’s really lovely actually –  it shows a true Nepali hospitality, but when you’ve just eaten a heavy lunch, fried egg with your tea is the last thing you want. If you’re a foreign woman, Nepalis are generally convinced you are weak. I guess, compared to Nepali women we are weak. Nepali women do everything, including carrying heavy loads, and foreigners just cannot measure up to that. But because they are convinced we are weak, women, more than men, are always forced to eat, and eat more. My suggestion, just go with the flow. It’ll save you a lot of time and convincing. Although, I am rebellious like that, and always refuse the food.

Another question that often follows the one regarding your eating habits is the one concerning your bowel movements. What Westerners find to be a very private information, something to be ashamed of, Nepalis will use as a conversation ice-breaker. Everyone’s bowel movements are discussed with remarkable seriousness and lack of shame. If you have diarrhea, you can count on your whole family and all of your friends knowing about it and wondering about the details. Same goes for constipation. Whenever the topic of my bowel movements comes up, I blush like a red autumn apple, but I also know there’s no escaping it. You just have to let it out (pun so very much intended). I am slowly learning to be comfortable with it – after all, it’s just another bodily function, like coughing or sneezing, but boy, it’s embarrassing.

Don’t be surprised when random people, strangers, start asking you private questions like “Where do you live?”. Umm, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with disclosing that kind of information to a person behind me in the grocery store check out line. But sometimes, you have no choice, you got to say it. And people here don’t ask those kinds of questions with any ill intentions. They are genuinely curious and interested in you. They will want to know where you’re staying, what you’re doing in Nepal, who your family is, what is your age, and sometimes even things like how much you earn. When you get grilled with those kinds of questions by your taxi driver, things get weird, I can tell you that. Sometimes your answers are not satisfactory enough so the grilling ends abruptly. This one one time I was in a taxi and the driver started asking me a bunch of questions; he was being really friendly until the question of my age came up. When I told him I was 30 years old the questioning, and the conversation ended. He did not say another word until my destination. I keep wondering what that was about. Was he looking at me as his potential bride, but then decided I was too old for him and didn’t want to waste words and smiles on me? I did feel a bit hurt, I have to admit.

If you come to Nepal and people start asking you very private questions, don’t be surprised. They are not trying to rob you or steal your identity. It’s just something they do. They are curious and interested in you, and you should embrace it and continue with the conversation until it becomes really weird. Then you should end it. And feel awkward for the rest of the week.

 

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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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!