Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Nepal 2011: A Mixed Bag

Before the holidays started, I was surprised to learn that there are many Nepalis who celebrate Christmas in Nepal. There is a population of Nepali Christians who celebrate Christmas similar to the way I did growing up (with a Christmas tree and presents), but there are also a number of Nepali Hindus and Buddhists who celebrate without the tree and gifts.

A hotel all decked out for the holidays

The first Christmas tree I saw was at Bhatbateni, the grocery store. They had put out a few trees and thrown some light strings over their bushes, and as Christmas approached, I saw more and more hotels, restaurants, and stores putting out decorations. During Tihar, one of the holidays here, people cover (sometimes from roof to ground) their houses with lights, so many people have lights in store.

I asked some Hindus here why they celebrate Christmas, and a lot of them told me that it’s just for fun. One person said that she has special “Christmas friends” who she calls up every year to celebrate with. Another person told me that Christmas and New Year’s are just another excuse to drink!

After our Thanksgiving celebration, I was trying to think of ways to celebrate. And some people were debating wether or not I was even allowed to celebrate at all. Before my break started, I was sitting in the lunchroom at school talking with some of the people who work there, and we had kind of a funny conversation about celebrating. They were asking me about whether I was a Hindu or a Christian. After women marry in Nepal, they traditionally take on the caste and religion of their husbands, so some people assume that I’m Hindu because Tri is. But then they were trying to figure out if I could be both Hindu and Christian and therefore be allowed to celebrate Christmas. I would definitely say yes! I’m allowed to celebrate 🙂

But my plans pretty much amounted to nothing. Even though I wanted to celebrate this year, I was feeling both lazy and sad on Christmas Eve. I was really missing the US and sort of wallowing at home in the dark (because there was no electricity), thinking about how hard it is to celebrate a holiday without having others around to celebrate it with. It makes me all the more impressed with those people abroad who work so hard to organize Dashain parties and celebrations. But anyway, I started to feel better once the lights came back on, so Tri and I decided to make some cookies.

Roasting the Peanuts

Peanut Butter

One of the things I miss most from the US is good peanut butter. I used to slather it on bread, crackers, put it in my cereal. It was seriously a staple food for me. They have a few brands of peanut butter here, but they’re all incredibly sweet and have trans fats in them, something I try to avoid. So lately we’ve been making our own. There’s a little shop on the way to our house that sells different types of daal and nuts, and it’s convenient for us to get our peanuts from them. Once we get the peanuts to our kitchen, we roast them in a frying pan. We then throw them in a small food processor with some oil and honey, which results in some pretty darn good peanut butter.

Because we had made some peanut butter that day, we wanted to incorporate it into our cookies, so I looked for a recipe for peanut butter cookies. I found one online for cookies with peanut butter filling. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it again, but trust me, those cookies looked amazing. We decided to try it out, but I can get kind of lazy about following recipes, so I just winged it. I mixed a simple batter of butter, flour, and sugar and then rolled out little patties onto which we put peanut butter balls. We then sealed up the cookies and stuck them in the oven for a while.

You can imagine that without following the recipe, the cookies didn’t come out right, and surprise, surprise, that’s exactly what happened. They were far from fluffy with a gooey center, which is what the picture on the website insinuated we were going to get. In fact, they didn’t really taste like cookies at all. They were more like little dense buns.

So it wasn’t the Christmas cookie I was hoping for, but it wasn’t all that bad either.

For New Year’s Eve, because we hadn’t done much for Christmas, I wanted to actually put some effort into celebrating. That day we were trying to figure out what to do, and I suggested we try to go to the Chhauni museum. I know, I know, going to a museum is not necessarily the typical way to ring in the New Year, but I’ve heard this is a neat place with a collection of old Buddhist and Hindu statues, something I’ve always been interested in. I’ve been wanting to go for a while, so this would have been a real treat. But it closed too early for us to make it, so we scrapped that idea.

Toasting to the New Year

Then Tri called his friend, and she said that she could meet us in the afternoon. We drove over to Jhamsikel, where she works, and ate pizza and pasta at the Vespar Cafe. Then, since none of us had any other plans, we decided to stay in the area for the evening. We made our way over to Saleways to buy snacks and refreshments and then drove over to where she’s staying. We just hung out and talked and talked until late with a few of her friends. (late meaning about 9:30, which really is late in Nepal 🙂 ). No, we didn’t go to a big bash or stay up till midnight, but for the first time in a long time, I felt really relaxed. I miss being able to talk to people other than Tri in my own language (I talk to Tri in English all the time, but I don’t have deep conversations with anyone in English aside from him). I guess it kind of felt like college again.

Anyway, Happy New Year everybody!

A Nepali Thanksgiving

Initially I didn’t think we would be having any kind of Thanksgiving celebration, but then my mom started talking to me about her Thanksgiving preparations. And then I read a few articles about Thanksgiving food including this one from DesiGrub and this one about what to do with Thanksgivings leftovers. After drooling over those pictures from the New York Times, I knew I had to make some kind of effort to have a Thanksgivng.

I didn’t have that Thursday off, so Tri and I had our Thanksgiving on that Sunday. Before Sunday arrived, we made a list of dishes we wanted to cook including some kind of meat dish, pea soup, mashed potatoes, and apple pie. We then went to Bhatbateni and stocked up on all of the ingredients we needed. Over the past few months, I’ve heard a few people mention that there are turkeys in Nepal, but nobody seems to know where to find turkey meat, so we decided to cook chicken instead.

Cooking Chicken

On Friday night, we marinated the chicken meat. I am no meat expert, and while Tri knows a bit more about cooking than I do, he isn’t an expert by any means either. So to marinate the chicken, we mixed in some ingredients that we thought might work including soy sauce, mustard oil, vinegar, garlic, ginger, hot pepper powder, and cumin. The meat soaked in those spices and flavors for about 24 hours before cooking. On the night of our feast, we decided to try baking the chicken in our miniature oven. Most Nepali houses don’t have built-in ovens, but you can get little ones that plug into the wall, which is what we have. After about half an hour of me squinting in through the window of the oven, trying figure out if things were actually cooking, the first batch was done. To my surprise, the chicken was actually good and not just tasty but tender and juicy as well. I’m not sure why it turned out the way it did because I have never cooked meat that way before, but I was very pleased with the result. Tri thinks that the vinegar may have had something to do with the tenderness.

Pea Soup with Mustard Oil

Before our guests arrived that night, we made the pea soup and mashed potatoes. There’s a dried bean found in Nepal called kerau that is similar to dried green peas, so after soaking some of those for about 12 hours, we started cooking them in the pressure cooker. We were trying to cook the soup American-style, so we didn’t add in too many spices, but predictably it turned out a little bland. I’m not saying that American pea soup is always bland. It’s just that I must have failed to add in some important ingredient. So in the end, to give it a kick, we added in a little bit of mustard oil.

The mashed potatoes were pretty straight forward. The key is butter, which I added lots of 🙂 And they turned out great.

Bhatmas are on the left. The spices to be mixed in are on the right.

To compliment the American dishes, we had a Nepali appetizer. Buwa made some sandheko bhatmas, a snack of soy beans mixed with spices. He first fried the dried bhatmas (soybeans) on the stove and then added hot pepper powder, raw garlic, raw ginger, spring onions and salt to the cooled beans. It was delicious.

Some family members also brought over a couple of pizzas. But the pièce de résistance was the Thanksgiving cake. I had initially set out to make a pie, as is traditional on Thanksgiving, but I don’t really know how, so I downgraded it to an apple crumble. However, when I baked it that night, something went wrong. It was dry and tough (maybe the apples weren’t the right kind?). Anyway, we didn’t end up serving it, but luckily we didn’t have to because we had the delicious cake that Mama and Maijiu (Tri’s uncle and aunt) brought over.

Thanksgiving Cake

We were all a bit surprised to see the icing flower that the bakers had plopped right over the word “giving,” but after we took it off, we realized why. They had misspelled the word and used that decoration to hide their blunder! 🙂 I’ve never had a Thanksgiving cake before, but it’s a tradition I’m open to keeping around.

Although our Thanksgiving wasn’t exactly traditional, I felt pretty good afterwards. I certainly missed my family in the US, but I had a good time with my family here and got to eat good food. I couldn’t ask for much more. Now I’m trying to think of ways to celebrate Christmas. We’re not supposed to be celebrating holidays this year, but since Christmas is not a Hindu holiday, I might be able to get away with doing something.