The Story of Hing

I’ve been trying to do a little more Nepali cooking lately and have been venturing down the road of Nepali spices. Before I knew anything about South Asia, whenever I heard the word “spices,” I thought of back pepper and maybe paprika. But when I got to know Nepal and Nepali culture, I became aware of things like turmeric (besar), cumin, (jeera), hot pepper powder (khorsaniko dhulo), and my all-time favorite: timurwhich doesn’t have a direct equivalent in the West, although people say it’s related to Szechuan pepper.

A bottle of hing from the Indian store down the street

Although I’ve gotten to know and love many of these spices, one flavoring that still remains elusive to me is Hing. Hing is a very unique-smelling white powder that is used in South Asian cooking. I’ve actually never seen any Nepalis add it into their food, but I learned about it a few years ago when my mom brought a little bottle home from the local Indian store. I didn’t know anything about it, so I asked Tri. Apparently his mom used to put it in cooking when he was younger, and he has very distinct memories of its pungent flavor and odor. Hing has an intense smell to it, that’s both slightly sulferous and (this may sound bizarre), similar to the smell of gasoline. As I was looking it up on the internet, I read that some people think it tastes like leeks, and I do taste that in there. You can imagine this mix of flavors and smells brings out strong reactions in people.

Hing in its powdered form

Even after Tri told us about his experiences with hing, I was still mystified by this spice, especially when my maternal grandmother told us her story about hing. My grandmother grew up in a small town in Missouri, and when she was a kid, her grandmother made my grandmother wear a little pouch of hing around her neck, apparently to prevent sickness. She didn’t call it hing but instead called it by it’s Western name asafoetida (asa in Persian means “resin” and foetida in Latin means “stinking”). Since my poking around the internet told me that asafoetida originated in Afghanistan, I wandered how and why hing had become part of my grandmother’s heritage.

I found this website that describes how hing is cultivated and what it’s used for. It also includes a bit of it’s history. While reading this source and others, I kept finding information that suggested asafoetida was introduced to the Western world during the time of Alexander the Great through trade routes that ran from the East to the West. In fact, this website gives a great description of asafoetida’s ancient history. Through further reading, I found that although it was used in Europe for a period of time, it became a less popular addition to food during the middle ages. But Europeans continued to use it for medicinal purposes. Which is, I suppose, how it ended up in a pouch around my grandmother’s neck. Apparently there’s even a story called Penrod Jashber written in 1929 by an American author named Booth Tarkington that tells the tale of a little boy who is forced to wear a bag of asafoetida around his neck to ward off sickness.

Although I’m still not sold on its ability to keep the germs away, hing is apparently very healthy for you. WebMD mentions that there’s evidence that hing can help people with IBS and can also bring down high cholesterol. So despite its intense smell, I think I might try to eat it more often.

Blueberry Pie

We’ve been talking about going blueberry picking all summer but got caught up with other things and just couldn’t make it happen. Finally, after the move, we found a day to go. Although Boston is a beautiful city, and right on the water, which I love, it’s quite flat. You have to drive a ways before you can find any mountains, so we decided to go to Mount Major, a small mountain in New Hampshire.

We first heard about Mount Major when we were visiting NH last spring. What I loved most were the dogs! Both times we’ve been to this mountain, there have been a ton of people on the trail, and a lot of them bring their dogs along. Tri and I are still hoping to get a dog, maybe after a year or so, and we love being around them.

So with dogs as our companions, we started to climb the mountain. Here we stopped at one of the first clear views of Lake Winnipesaukee. We were hoping that we would start to see clusters of blueberries on bald patches of the mountain like this one, but there were none to be found.

However, there were gorgeous views of the lake. This is my favorite photo. The half ring of clouds around the outer limits of the sky looks so beautiful…

As we climbed up higher and higher, I had a chance to really enjoy the feel of fall. It was so hot last year at this time in Nepal, and Nepal doesn’t really have an autumn, at least not like the East Coast of the US does. I remember we went out of the valley for Dashain (I think in early October) and when we got back, the weather was suddenly much cooler. It’s different from the North East, where things change gradually from summer to winter. I’ve always felt the changes in the air first. It gets breezier, and starts to smell slightly different, the temperature changes slowly, and then come the beautiful colors of fall. On the day we went hiking, although the leaves were still dark green from summer, the air and temperature were different, and I could feel it on the mountain.

As we neared the top, even as the blueberry plants started to appear, there just weren’t any blueberries around. But finally, when we had nearly reached the peak, we found a few…

Alas, not the freshest looking blueberries. Apparently it was really too late in the season for blueberry picking.

We all left Mount Major a little heavy-hearted, our hopes of fresh blueberries dashed, but, in the end, we did get the blueberry pie that we had been hankering after.

My brother bought blueberries from the grocery store and made us a piping hot, gooey blueberry pie…


The Move Is Finally Over

The move is finally over! Moving is such an exhausting process, no matter how much practice you’ve had. These last three months we were living in a sublet but started our year-long lease on Saturday. It’s incredible how much we’ve collected these last few months. We came to Boston with a couple of suitcases and a bed frame, but this summer we added to that three dressers, a mattress, kitchen supplies, and a bike.

Because we had a fair amount of stuff to move, Tri and I decided to rent a small van. In Boston, most leases don’t allow tenants to stay in their old apartment on the night of August 31st, so we had to have everything out by August 30th. Luckily my brother agreed to let us store some things in his basement last week. We decided to try and move most of our stuff by last Wednesday, so that afternoon Tri went to pick up the van from the rental company. About half an hour later, he pulled up to our apartment driving a 16 foot truck! Their website claimed that they rented out vans, but apparently the rental place only has trucks.

When Tri rolled up to our apartment in that truck, my jaw dropped. How were we going to drive this monster to my brother’s apartment? Despite our apprehension, we filled the massive truck with all of our stuff, closed the back, and started on the slow journey. As we were leaving the driveway, Tri kept telling me to look out my window to make sure he wouldn’t hit anything. Everything seemed fine, so I told him to keep going. As he turned right out of the lot, we heard a screeeeech, what sounded like metal against metal. I had failed to inform him about a randomly placed poll sticking out from the curb, thinking that Tri would be able to dodge it, but as we turned, it grated against the side of the truck. When I heard the screech, I freaked out and decided that we had to return the truck immediately. We couldn’t back the truck up into the lot, so we spent the next five harrowing minutes going around the block to get back to our apartment building. Once there, we unloaded everything and went to return the vehicle. Maybe I overreacted and it would have been fine, but I’d rather not take the chance.

We ended up taking everything over in our car, which took about 4 or 5 trips. Despite the inconvenience, the peace of mind was well worth it 🙂

Every time we move we end up reminiscing about the other moves we’ve done. This time we were remembering the one last winter, which was way more complicated but in the end, a little more peaceful.

For the first 6 months in Nepal, we lived in a rental house while the new home was being built. Then, last January, we moved to the new place. The first day that we moved into the new house, there were about 20 people going in and out. There were construction guys finishing up extra work, there were movers, and then there were aunts and uncles who came over to help. That morning we had to eat our meal of daalbhaat in the new house, and a few of Tri’s aunts from his dad’s side came over to cook. After we had done a good chunk of work, we sat down for our meal. In addition to daalbhaat, they cooked khir (rice pudding), which is supposedly important to eat on the first day in your new house. The cooking added to the commotion in the house, but it was a nice way to settle in.

The huge job of moving a house full of stuff made the move in Nepal much more hectic, but after most of the work was done, we had a puja, which kind of calmed everyone down. When moving to a new place, puja is supposed to be performed in the new house to bless it. Since we weren’t allowed to be part of pujas last year, someone else had to fill in. One of Tri’s aunts did the job. The priest started by lighting some incense and setting out flowers and fruit in front of the doorway after which he chanted some prayers. Then people in the house gathered and a procession started that went around the house into every room and up to the pujagarne kotha (the small room where the puja is done). There the priest set out more flowers and fruits in banyan leaf bowls.

We didn’t have a puja for our new apartment, but we did have our first home-cooked meal in the new apartment last night. Thanks goodness the stress of the last few weeks is over and we can settle in to our new place!