Part 2 of our food exploits lands us in Kathmandu, Nepal. One of the beauties having friends in foreign lands is you getting to see and do things off the touristy path. With Rosie we had the great fortune to eat a traditional Nepalese meal at the home of a local family, Anu and Namaraj, with whom Rosie has been visiting regularly since she arrived in Nepal.
Nepalese food I found to be very similar to Indian food and much less like Chinese food (these being the two countries that incase Nepal). Samosas are found aplenty walking around the streets of Nepal for just a few rupees a piece (argh I could write a whole post on those. They were delicious), and many meals contain your standard rice and saag and paneer.
The standard dinner (or perhaps any meal) for Nepalis is called daal bhat, literally translated to lentils rice. An ENORMOUS quantity of white rice is usually eaten with a lentil mixture that is cooked in a broth and poured over the rice, then eaten with your hands.
An aside: Daal bhat is basically synonymous with “food” in Nepali, to the extent that a friend of Rosie’s who works in a hospital told us that often Nepali parents come in worried about their children, anxiously saying the children haven’t eaten in days. After some initial confusion the friend came to understand that generally it is not that they haven’t eaten any food, merely that they haven’t eaten any daal bhat. Similarly Rosie was amused to find a coworker of hers, who was in the middle of an 11-day fast, eating a full American lunch in the middle of the day. Apparently fasting refers only to the abstinence of daal bhat.
On to dinner: We were met at the gate of our host’s home by their three beautiful children, Nisha, Anisha, and Anish (this got mildly confusing), who are 15, 13 and 11. Unfortunately we arrived too late to partake in any of the cooking (though it is unclear if the mother Anu would have let us help at all — she was an incredibly gracious host who in typical Nepali fashion treated us as honored and revered guests). While waiting for dinner, Craig and Anish played carum, a game somewhat similar to Western pool, played on a large board with circular discs that one tries to flick into corner pockets (picture below).
I seemed to make a number of mistakes throughout the evening, including spilling my drink on their beautiful carpet, but perhaps my worst mistake was thinking that the appetizers served were dinner (they were delicious and plentiful) and filling up entirely before the main course was served. Oops.
As I mentioned above the Nepalese seem to have an extraordinary ability to consume rice. When the main course came out I was not a little stunned by the quantity of food on my plate. I wish I had put something in the photo below to give some idea of scale, but you will have to take my word for it that those are no normal-sized plates — they are at least twice the size of US dinner plates, and two and a half inches deep.
The main course was a very elaborate version of the traditional daal bhat. Instead of the traditional daal, made with lentils, our brothy concotion was made with what looked to me like white elephant beans. The daal is not visible in the picture but is in the cup to the right of the main plate. While typically the daal is served only with white rice, ours was served with saag (a creamy and delicious spinach dish), paneer (a cheese dish served with peas and a spicy red sauce) and chicken (a very rare thing to eat, particularly with poorer families in Nepal). Anu had provided us with spoons but Nepalis traditionally eat with their hands and we were eager to learn ourselves so Anish attempted (somewhat unsuccessfully) to teach us. See photo below for Anish’s demonstration. Everything is very saucy and brothy, which does not seem conducive to hand-eating, but somehow Anish was able to execute flawlessly. I, on the other hand, struggled and seemed to go through an inordinate quantity of napkins trying to strike the balance between cleanliness and actually getting the food into my mouth.
The meal was truly mouth-wateringly good. It was a little spicy, which I am still not entirely acclimated to (I know. Shame on me. I truly want to enjoy spicy food, I am just not there yet). My main regret was being painfully full from my enterprises with the appetizers, and much of the meal I spent looking down at my plate with only a single-minded drive to try to finish what was there. (I did not succeed). But everything was delicious, made even better by the amazing hospitality and generosity of our Nepali hosts, who seemed to spare no expense on their modest means to prepare us a meal fit for kings.