Jhol mo:mo (chicken) at GG Machaan’s, Jhamsikhel, Lalitpur. These were a 7/10. I love jhol mo:mo and next time I want to try their buff ones.
Last month I became a regular contributor to the english edition of a new Nepali news portal, OnlineKhabar.
It’s a really great site that features a lot of interesting articles from a local perspective, and they contacted me after seeing my work with ECS and Friday.
I’m really thrilled to be working with them — two of my pieces have already gone up – links are below – do let me know what you think!
A few weeks ago a wonderful friend — who is always trying to feed me — gave me a container to take home. It was full of a delicious and unusual “spinach” and soybean curry. And then when the neighborhood lady who regularly shows up at my gate with little bits of vegetables to sell came with a bag of greens and soybeans, I decided to try to recreate it. She is really friendly and what she brings is always so cheap, I pretty much buy whatever it is, even if I have no real plan of how to use it. Actual spinach is rarely found in Nepal — rather, all greens are called saag, and can be the leafy part of pretty much anything edible. I think what she brought me was mustard greens, but I’m not completely sure. You can use any green leafy vegetable you have to hand, but this is best with smaller and slightly more bitter greens. The most time consuming part of making this was shelling the soybeans – if you can get them preshelled where you are, more power to you. This is a lighter curry, a kind you often get here in Nepal, as opposed the heavier, saucier type some people might be used to thinking of as a curry. The original dish had no potato, but I had one lonely one on my counter that needed to be used and I like potatoes in my curry so I added one – but you don’t have to.
A Simple Curry of Leafy Greens and Soybeans
500 grams/ 1 lb greens of your choice
250 grams/ 8 oz soybeans
1 medium red onion
3 – 4 cloves of garlic
2-3 plum tomatoes
1 medium potato
1 heaping teaspoon of cumin (jeera in Nepali)
pinch of cinnamon
several whole dried chilies, to taste (or chili flakes)
half a vegetable or chicken stock cube
salt to taste
oil for frying
Parboil the soybeans and shell them. This is best done while listening to an audiobook or watching TV so that you won’t notice how slowly the beans are accumulating. If you get too bored, boil twice the amount and eat half of them Japanese style (edamame) as you shell. 🙂
Wash the greens well to remove any grit and lose the roots, if there are any. Roughly chop if the leaves are large.
Chop the onions and garlic and fry for a minute or so. Add the cumin, salt, pinch of cinnamon and the dried chilies. If you don’t have whole ones, you can use a pinch of chili flakes.
Cut the potato into small cubes so it will cook quicker and let it fry with everything for a few minutes while you chop the tomatoes, then add them to the pan, and let everything cook together for a minute or two more. Then add the greens and soybeans and stir well, and crumble in the half a stock cube. Cover and let cook over medium-low heat until the potatoes (if using) and greens are done — it depends what kind you are using, some greens can be rather tough. You might need to add a splash of water to loosen things up and help everything cook, but see how much liquid your tomatoes and greens give off first.
I served this over brown rice and topped it with a fried egg, but it would also be good with rotis or other flatbread. This is enough for two people if you eat it as a main meal like I did, or four people as a side dish. It reheats well and I happily enjoyed it for several days.
This piece was a joint effort with Sanjit Pradhananga and Shuvechchhya Pradhan; I wrote the food section – the full article can be read here
… that’s what’s on the cover of the first issue of Friday! to come out since the earthquake on April 25th. It’s normally a weekly, but it’ll take a while to get back into a regular publishing groove, so this one is still on newsstands. It’s got some great photos of historical sites as well as memories and post-earthquake thoughts from a wide variety of sources, so if you’re in Kathmandu it’s well worth picking up a copy. In the interests of full disclosure 🙂 I should tell you there’s an article of mine in there as well, found online here, about restaurants reopening after the quake. I was asked to write it about ten days after the first one, but the second quake pushed the printing later, so it didn’t come out until after that. It touches on a subject close to my heart–the power of food to nurture, comfort and heal, even in the aftermath of terrible tragedy.
A week ago, the earth moved under my feet. Not in love, not metaphorically. I live in Kathmandu, and I was minutes away from stepping into the shower, having just completed a few household chores before a plan to meet a friend at the International Tattoo Convention downtown. I never got there.
Standing in my doorway after having just pulled my laundry off the flat roof, I tripped and caught myself with my hand on the step, scraping it. It took long seconds for my mind to register that I wasn’t being clumsy, that everything was moving. I ran for the field outside my house, followed by my dog. In some dim recess of my consciousness I saw one of my cats, who’d been on the lam for several days, running for the house at a dead heat. So much for the wisdom of animals, I thought. But maybe she was looking, as we all were, for safety.
I was fortunate. My rented house—a tiny, one storey affair—still stands. When I made it across town to check on the girls I help take care of, I found them all safe, too. The friends I have been able to contact are alive, safe.
So many others are not.
When the power returned days later and I could finally bear to watch a few minutes of the news, I saw an interview with a woman from an aid organization, doing a show and tell on the type of shelters being flown in by them to Nepal. The news anchor asked her—she’d been here in the past, so presumably she’d know—if she thought the country would, could, recover. At first she skillfully evaded, then said, in so many words: “Things were so bad before, this will be pretty much impossible to recover from.”
Respectfully—and not ignoring the plight of those suffering and the long road still ahead—I’d like to disagree.
Nepalis are among the most resilient people I know. I’ve been here through the quasi civil war and the massacre of the Royal Family, both episodes that shook Nepal to its very core and altered the fabric of people’s psyche forever. And yet they bounced back.
Over the last week, these are some of the things I’ve seen in the streets of Kathmandu, Patan, and my own neighbourhood that give me hope, that have made me smile.
The day after the big one, I drove across town, looking for a friend who lives with her husband and son in his ancestral home, an ancient wood-and-brick affair in the old part of town. Every time I visit her I think the thing will fall around my ears, and I was very afraid for her. When I entered the courtyard her home fronts, I saw it still standing. A small crowd was in the center of the square and my friend detached herself from it and ran up to me, smiling. Her husband also smiled and waved from his place by a large pot, where he and some others were preparing a communal meal for the neighbourhood. They were organized, working together, full of a cheerfulness I hadn’t expected. I left them unexpectedly touched, unaccountably hopeful.
Another friend pitched a tent in an open area near his house, along with many of his neighbours in a more newly built up part of town. “We didn’t even know each other’s names—in fact, I still don’t know them—but we all take turns cooking the meals; if anyone is missing when it’s served, food is saved for them.”
A few days later, the family who owns the plot of land in front of my house showed up to till and plant. Schools are closed, so the whole family was there, and the daughter shyly wandered my way.
“What are you planting?” I asked her.
She struggled for the right word in English and finally found it: “Corn! Do you like corn?”
Then, the question that was really on her mind. “The earthquake, how did you feel?”
“I was scared,” I admitted.
“Me, too!” She smiled broadly and returned to her family.
A few minutes later she returned to ask if I had any drinking water, and her and her family took a break from their planting to drink.
Everywhere I went I saw generosity, giving, sharing. Most often through food.
By the time I made it across town to check on the girls, I had already lived through what felt like a week. After I’d sat for some time, I was asked if I wanted anything to eat.
“No, no, don’t bother. I’m fine.”
“I’ll make some wai wai, we’ve all just had some.”
I tried to refuse again, and eventually relented.
Soon, I was handed a bowl of steaming soup, made from the ubiquitous and much loved Nepali instant noodle and studded with fresh vegetables, so neatly julienned a chef couldn’t have done it better.
I had not eaten all day. I’ve never been so thankful for a meal.
There is a long road ahead. Many are still suffering, villages are still cut off, and years of rebuilding face the country. But the Nepali people will not only survive, they’ll thrive. Nepal’s got good people. No, great ones. That’s what it looks like from where I’m standing.
The photo above is an example of everything I love about Nepali food: it was served to me as a snack while visiting someone’s home. Everything was simple, but supremely good: a brown flour roti, some black dahl – plain but creamy, and a bowl of mixed beans and vegetables, lightly seasoned. It was all made from scratch, of course, and tasted fresh and bright, despite it all being cooked. I love the way Nepali home cooks can take the humblest of ingredients and a few spices and turn seemingly anything into a feast.
These might not be the kind of mountains most people think of when they think of Nepal, but at this time of year, heaps of the white daikon radish, known locally as mula, appear on the side of the road in certain parts of the city. I’m always in awe of the quantities there are. Nepalis love to pickle or ferment mula and serve it as a flavourful accompaniment to their dahl-bhat dinners. There are so many variations of mula achar; the word achar is often translated as pickle, but it is not a pickle in the way we know it–rather it almost serves as a seasoning to the plainer tasting dahl, and can be made with a wide variety of vegetables. A common version of mula achar involves julienning it before drying it in the sun, and then tossing with spices and oil before packing it into jars to mature.
Makes me hungry just thinking about it. I don’t think, however, that this farmer would sell me some in less than gargantuan proportions, so I’ll have to get some from my local vegetable seller. Ah, the local vegetable sellers I buy from–they’re a colorful cast of characters and that’s a whole story in itself!
I stood off to the side, watching the fun, laughing with them, taking photos. They were working, but it felt like a party.
The thought crossed my mind, “I should try it sometime.” And I told myself that, yes, I would next time I got the opportunity. I’m not sure why I thought that the next time would be better than today, but I did.
She must’ve read my mind, because not a minute later my friend called out, “Have you ever tried this? Why don’t you do it?”
But the mud, my clothes, I wasn’t dressed for this…
The next thing I knew I was kicking off my shoes, rolling up my leggings, and stepping into the deep, squelching mud.
Someone passed me a bundle of seedlings. “Two at a time, two at a time,” they kept calling.
And that’s how I found myself this morning, planting rice.
The mud was not just between my toes but over my ankles and crawling up my calves. The paddy had been dug up before being flooded, and bending over, I stuffed the rice seedlings–which look exactly like long blades of grass–two at a time into the oozy earth, trying to space them evenly.
“This isn’t as hard as I thought it would be,” I thought, “and it’s certainly a lot more fun.” Then I finished my bundle and looked up and realized that the field looked much the same as when I’d begun, and the small paddy was barely a fraction planted.
The rest was taken up by more experienced hands than mine, but I came away with a newfound appreciation for the time-consuming, backbreaking effort that goes into producing a plate of rice. –A job that here in Nepal, is still done mostly by hand, at least in hilly areas, where the paddies are small and often terraced.
Yesterday was National Paddy Day; by this time most of the rice should already be planted. But the monsoon has been patchy so far, inconsistent, so not all farmers have been able to plant out yet. On the cover of today’s edition of The Kathmandu Post there’s a photo of a woman preparing her fields for sowing, but they’re too dry to plant in yet. The Himalayan Times has a happier photo on its front page of schoolchildren playing in the mud while planting rice at a festival to celebrate the National Paddy Day.
The field behind my house has played host to two neighbourhood weddings over the past few weeks, and when I got home this afternoon three men were tilling it — two by hand and one with a small mechanized tiller, removing all traces of the partying and leaving smooth furrows behind. As I watched them the rain rolled in, first lightly and then so heavily that they abandoned their work and ran for cover. It’s been raining ever since and, cozy in my house with a mug of coffee, a makeshift prayer came to mind as I watched the rain fall: A good monsoon, and a good harvest, for all those hardworking farmers that most need it.
The rain is still coming down.