People Watching from the Juice Shop

Kathmandu Valley is home to three cities: Kathmandu, Bhaktipur, and Patan. Although I always tell people I live in Kathmandu, I actually live outside of the city on the way to Bhaktapur, and I work in Patan.

Since I came to Nepal, it’s been quite a struggle for me to learn the geography of the Valley and get to a point where I can aptly identify the winding, jumbled streets in the urban areas. It’s difficult not only because these areas are seemingly haphazardly organized but also because they have names that, being in Nepali, are hard for me to remember. I don’t go to Bhaktapur often (I actually haven’t been there since studying abroad because tickets are expensive for foreigners), but I’m in Kathmandu and Patan all the time and am finally starting to get a sense of where things are and how to get around.

One place I’m getting to know very well is Lalitpur, a district right next to Kathmandu. Places like Kupondole, Jhamsikel, and Patan are all part of this district. My brother-in-law works in Kupondole, so from the start of our time in Nepal, Tri and I have been frequenting these areas. My new job is located in Patan, so now I spend even more time in this area, particularly along the main chowk, “road,” in Kupondole.

One benefit to hanging around Lalitpur is getting to visit the fantastic restaurants clustered there. Jhamsikel is inhabited by lots of expats, drawn in by the INGO’s and NGO’s stationed there. So some great places to eat (I assume aimed at foreigners) have cropped up in that area, places like The Roadhouse Cafe and Vesper Cafe (they make some of the best pizza in the Valley).

Although there are plenty of sit down restaurants showing up in Lalitpur, there are also lots of small, right-off-the-street type of places, with maybe just a small bench or a seat or two. When I talk about right-off-the-street, I don’t mean the street vendors who sell things like roasted nuts, soda, momo (Nepali dumplings), or paani puri (deep fried roti shells filled with potato stuffing and topped with sauce). Although I would avoid the street vendors–I know many a foreigner and Nepali who ate from them and got sick–these right-off-the-street joints can be clean and have great food.

A few weeks ago, Tri’s brother introduced me to a little juice shop on the main road in Kupondole, called Dhawalagiri Juice and Fruit Shop.

The Juice Shop

Because I’ve have some bad run-ins with dhiarrea this fall, I was a bit weary of their drinks, but the owner assured me it’s just juice, no added water. Tri’s brother suggested I try the mausam juice. A mausam is like a tangerine but green and slightly more sour. I took my first sip and loved it! Once I had slurped down about half of it, I added some bire nun, a type of mountain salt that has a slightly sulfurous taste. The mix of sugar, salt, and sulfur was at first a little strange to my Western-trained tongue but was ultimately very refreshing.

People Watching

Aside from the juice, the best part about this store is getting to people watch. In the space of a minute, all sorts of things can happen on the streets. The range of emotions and states of mind is mesmerizing. As I was enjoying my juice, the policemen were talking and laughing, keeping themselves company in the cold; a man raced by hurredly on his cell phone, and an old woman and her grandson ambled by happily, presumably on their way home. All sorts of other commotion was going on as well. Buses tooted their tuneful horns and cars streamed by, a few street dogs walked briskly down the sidewalk like they had some important business to attend to, and a group of tourists with cameras hung around their necks looked about confusedly.

When I stop to think, just quiet my head for a moment and enjoy what’s going on around me, it’s then that I realize how far I am from where I grew up. Usually life whizzes by, or rather, maybe I’m whizzing by the rest of life. I think part of it is the atmosphere in Nepal, part of it is being in a city, and part of it is the age that I’m at. But when I stop for just a moment and really soak in what’s going on, not only am I amazed by all of the stories unfolding around me but I am also shocked and bewildered in a grateful kind of way when I remember where I am.

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Cravings?

Over the past few years, as I’ve become more and more acquainted with Nepali food, I’ve developed a growing love for spicy and sour things, in particular achaar.

Achaar is roughly translated as “pickle,” “relish” or “chutney,” the British English word adopted from Hindi to describe a similar type of dish eaten in India. But none of those words capture the variety of ingredients that can go into making this delectable Nepali side dish.

Achaar is usually eaten along with the Nepali staple, daalbhaat (lentils, rice, and vegetables). It often consists of tomatoes, radishes, or hot peppers, which can be eaten raw, cooked or fermented. It can even be made of meat.

All achaar that I’ve ever eaten is very strongly flavored with spices, oils, and herbs, including but not limited to khorsaniko dhulo (powdered hot pepper), timur (there’s no English equivalent but it’s similar to sechuan pepper), toriko tel (mustard oil, a highly flavored oil), sometimes toriko geda (mustard seeds), dhaniya (coriander), and the list goes on…

While I know a few people who are simply good at cooking all Nepali food, I more commonly meet those who can cook a certain type of dish really well. For instance, Tri’s brother loves to cook meat dishes and is constantly trying to perfect his style. I have met others who make delicious daal and others who cook a few vegetable dishes really well. But me, I want to perfect my achaar-making skills.

Mortar and pestle. Perfect for making tomato achaar

I’ve been working at it and can now make a pretty mean golbhedhako achaar (tomato achaar). There are a few ways to make this side-dish. One involves cooking the tomatoes and one does not. I’ve eaten cooked tomato achaar, but it’s just not as good as the raw kind, so that’s the kind I’ve been making. Buwa taught me how.

You need a bowl or container and something heavy to mash with. We have a big mortar and pestle that’s perfect for the job, featured in the picture above.

To start, cut up a bunch of tomatoes. The finer you cut them, the easier it will be to mash them. I’ve only found small tomatoes in Nepal, so I have to use quite a few, but if you get big ones, then 3 or even 2 would probably be enough to make achaar for 3-4 people. Put the chopped tomatoes into your bowl or container.

Dried Hot Pepper

Tomato achaar has two special flavors. One comes from timur, a spice I mentioned above. The other is a burnt flavor that’s produced by crisping up the outside of something going into the achaar. Many people burn the skins of the tomatoes they are putting into the mix, but Buwa taught me to take a dried hot pepper, like the one in the picture, and singe it in the flames on the stove until black. It’s easier then trying to blacken the skin on the tomatoes, and I think it tastes just as good. Once the pepper is singed, add it into your container.

Then add some salt (a little bit to start but add more later if needed), and make sure you add the timur (If you really like its flavor like I do, add about a spoonful). Also mix in a couple of chopped cloves of raw garlic and a little bit of raw ginger as well. Then mash and mash until the mixture turns into a liquidy mush.

Another type of achaar that I’ve been eating lately is the fermented kind. Tri’s mom was the one who knew how to make fermented achaar, so because she’s not around, there hasn’t been any fermented achaar made in this household in a while. But people often bring us small bottles of fermented achaar when they visit, so we have it around.

Lapsi Achaar

Recently, I’ve been enjoying some lapsiko achaar, which, as the name suggests, is made from lapsi, a small, very sour green fruit. I don’t know exactly how to make this, but it involves spice and lots of sugar, to counteract the lapsi‘s sour nature. You end up with a sweet and sour, tangy and spicy dish that goes great with any kind of daal and vegetables. You can see from the picture that it’s quite gooey.

I’ve also been snacking on spicy and sour kankroko achaar (cucumber achaar).

Cucumber Achaar

Unfortunately, all of this achaar eating is getting me into trouble…

The other night, as I was enjoying another meal with mulako achaar and lapsiko achaar, I said to Tri, “All I’ve been wanting to eat these days are spicy and sour things.”

Tri’s dad looked up suddenly from his food, scanning both our faces and asked, “Bachha paauna laageko, ho?” roughly translated as “Are you pregnant?”

Hoina! Hoina!” “No! No!” I said in surprise. I’m definitely NOT pregnant, but apparently Nepalis say that pregnant women crave spicy and sour things. The next day both Tri and his brother told me separately that right after I said that I’ve been wanting to eat spicy and sour food, they knew what Buwa was going to ask me. haha. I should have known better.

Eit: I forgot to mention two essential ingredients you need to put in the tomato achaar: garlic and ginger! I added them in above.

Another Post about Cars…

Strangely enough, this is my third post about cars. I’ve never been very interested vehicles, so it’s funny that I keep writing about them…maybe my unconscious mind is trying to tell me something. At least my little brother (a true lover of cars) will be happy 🙂

On Saturday we went to the NADA Auto Show. According to the Kathmandu Post, it’s the one and only car show in the country. See their article here.

They didn’t have any really fancy cars like you might find at an American car show, but it was nice to see some of the vehicles up close. The motorcycles were definitely the best part. Here I am next to my favorite one…

We also sat inside a Nano, an Indian-made car that costs a little over 2,100 dollars without Nepali tax. I really like small cars, but I haven’t heard great things about the Nano. Apparently they tend to catch on fire, and the car we tried out was pretty cheaply made. We all thought it felt a little like a tempo, a small Nepali taxi (sort of similar to an Indian tuktuk). I guess we won’t be getting a Nano anytime soon.

On the way home, we ate taas at TaasGhar (meaning ‘taas house’), a restaurant in New Baneshwor. Taas is a Nepali meat dish that originated in Chitwan, an area in Southern Nepal. Here is the cook frying up the mutton…

And here’s what they brought to our table…

                                                          From left to right is mulako achaar (pickled radish), taas, and some fresh kaakro (cucumber) and gajar (carot). On the bottom is murai (puffed rice) with jhura (fried spices) that include turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic, onion and others.

Each piece of meat had a crunchy outer skin and a chewy inside. To eat this dish, you grab some puffed rice, spices, and piece of meat and pop it in your mouth. It was pretty good, but I think I like momo (Nepali dumplings) better.

More on Dhampush

We set out on a Wednesday from Kathmandu and drove until we made it to Dhampush in the late afternoon. The village is above Pokhara along a trekking route that leads to the Annapurna Range.

The View from Dhampush

It was a relief to be outside of the pollution of Kathmandu for a little while.

Dhampush was absolutely beautiful especially when it wasn’t raining. One morning, after getting up at 6:30, we walked outside to this…

The people there were very welcoming, and we got to know one of the women who lives in Dhampush with her son…

Tara and Her Son

She told me that she had had an inter-cast love marriage. She’s Chhetri, and her husband is Rai. Although his parents approved of their marriage, hers didn’t, so she has little contact with them now.

All the rain and wet brought lots of leeches. While growing up, I always thought of these blood-suckers as big, but the ones in Dhampush were very small. They still left a big bite though.

A Leech Bite

In all, I got about 6 leech bites. One of the aunties on the trip told me that leech bites are actually good, that they drain out the cancerous cells, a piece of information that pacified me a bit.

Kupri the Monkey

There was another animal on the trip doing some biting as well…the lodge owners’ pet monkey. She could do a few tricks and one of the local women put the monkey on her daughter’s head to pick the lice out. Kupri was incredibly cute, but it was difficult to see her chained up all the time.

We also got to eat some local food including sukuti and makaiko chiuraa. Sukuti is dried meat that is then fried with peppers and other spices. It’s very chewy. The other treat is flattened and fried corn. The lodge owners cooked some up for us on our second to last day.

The Lodge Owner Cooking Makaiko Chiura

Because it had rained so much the day before we left, the road back to Pokhara was in bad condition, but we set out anyway on the bus. Along the rocky road, the wheel got caught, and came off its joint. We had to walk down to the nearest tea shop and wait a few hours for it to be fixed. Here is me and my friend in the pouring rain, making it down the mountain.

Walking Down the Mountain in the Rain

Eventually they got the tire back in place and we went on our way. To pass the time, we sang both Nepali and American songs in the bus…

Learning to Make Paratha

Last week, a family friend brought over some absolutely delicious aloo parathas for us. Tri and I were wondering what to eat for lunch today, and I was feeling a little sick of white rice, so we decided to try out this type of Indian roti.

Kathmandu Valley dwellers often eat daalbhat for their morning and evening meal. This consists of bhat (rice), daal (lentils), tarkari (some kind of vegetable or meat dish), and maybe some achaar (pickle). They occasionally eat roti instead of rice, and because it’s often made with whole wheat flour, doctors recommend it to people who have diabetes.

Neither of us knew how to make this type of roti with potato stuffing, so we turned to Manjula’s Kitchen, a blog that publishes some great South Asian food recipes.

I started with the pitho (flour) and gradually added water to make it into dough. Meanwhile, Tri boiled some potatoes, mashed them, and added khursani (hot pepper) and jeera (cumin).

The recipe also called for cilantro, which would have added lots of flavor, but we didn’t have any around. Tri rolled the mashed potatoes into little balls. Then I separated the dough into about 10 parts and flattened each one. We put the potato ball in the middle of the flattened dough and then folded up the sides.

I rolled out each one, and we started cooking…

This pan is called a tawa and is commonly used for making roti

Although I made some salsa to eat with the roti, we quickly reverted to maha (honey) and ghiu (clarified butter, the equivalent of Indian ghee) as our topping. Potatoes, butter, and honey are a surprisingly tasty combination. The paratha we made weren’t as good as the ones our friend brought us last week, partly because they were a little too dry, but they hit the spot.