29.03.2016 - 29.03.2016 24 °C
I have been eating well – too well – in the village. Rural Nepalis generally only have two proper meals each day; lunch between 9-10am and dinner around 7-8pm. Both of these meals will invariably be dal bhat. During the day they might also eat some snacks to keep the energy levels up.
By contrast, my hosts make sure I get the three meals each day that I would have at home.
Breakfast anywhere between 7-8am is either a plain omelette with a mountain of pale, white, sweet toast, or a pancake the size of a football field. Whether it’s the toast or pancake, this is served with a packet of cow-milk butter from India and a jar of mixed fruit jam – possible because of the fridge I mentioned in another post.
My lunch is taken at school, some time between 1-2pm. This is prepared by JP, one of the Assistant Headmasters, who studied cooking in his younger days. He does an amazing job in his makeshift kitchen, which is an otherwise empty classroom.
There is usually piping-hot soup; vegetable, chicken, mushroom or lentil. Then the main part of the meal might be noodles with vegetables, or fried rice with vegetables, or plain rice with vegetables and a meat curry. And chips or crisps… or both. The cooked vegetables are what you would expect to be coming out of a late winter / early spring garden – cauliflower, carrot, cabbage, green beans. One time there was even a little vegetable sculpture to decorate the meal; a carrot butterfly. There is also a plate of cucumber and carrot slices, and some fruit (apple or mandarin). All served with a mug of black tea.
The lunch served immediately before my first weekend visit to Pokhara was a full dal bhat meal. I wondered if JP was concerned that I wouldn’t get my dal bhat for the 2 nights I would be away!
My evening meal is prepared at home by Prakash, with help from the ladies. We have dal bhat every night. That might sound monotonous, but let me assure you that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Served on a big brass tray, the basis of the dal bhat is a mountain of plain rice (bhat). Surrounding the tray are three brass goblet-shaped bowls containing the lentil soup (dal), a vegetable curry and a chicken curry. If there is no chicken, there will be two vegetable curries instead. Then on a shallow dish there is some kind of pickle. If we are having spinach, this will be in addition to everything I’ve already mentioned. Finally, there is usually a dish of sliced raw carrot. All the side dishes contain about 3-4 generous spoonfuls.
For those who don’t know, the idea with dal bhat is that although these dishes are all served separately, you pile everything onto the rice and mix it all together. The curries are dry, because you don’t need any extra sauce with the lentil soup.
It sounds like a lot of food, and it is, so don’t be too shocked to find out that the hospitality custom in Nepal is to offer (and take) additional servings of everything. I have struggled with this from the start, and knowing that the dog eats well from all the leftovers (he adores chicken bones and picks them out of his bowl to crunch on first!) I have refused. But I’ve come to realise that my hosts have outsmarted me by making my initial serve gradually bigger each day that I am here.
The other thing I’ve noticed changing each day is the heat – the chilli heat. Very slowly they are testing my tolerance to the local chillies. So far, so good. The chilli usually goes into the chicken curry or the pickle, or both.
One of my evening pleasures is to see what kind of pickle will be served with the dal bhat, as this is different every night. I’ve had coriander, mint, mint and tomato; and one time there was this amazing pickle of soybeans with tiny little dried fish. The fish was courtesy of a relative living in Brunei.
Now I have a confession to make – there’s more! Thus my opening remark at the top of the post. What I expected to be a one-off ‘tasting’ of the family’s millet wine has turned into an almost-every-night tradition. I’m often met at the dining table with a glass of the wine, accompanied by a preview of the night’s chicken curry and a little dish of hot chips to snack on while I drink it. So much hospitality! I won’t comment on the wine here because I want to write about that separately, but suffice to say it goes down very smoothly.