Tag Archives: Daal Bhaat

“Hot, Fresh, Sweet”

This post is dedicated to our DEAR FRIEND D who said last night, “I know what C’s blog post will be about tomorrow…  I even know the title” and who was sad that a few posts ago I referred to him as “our neighbor D” and thus felt demoted in relationship status.

As many of you probably know, Hurricane Irene blew through New England on Sunday. It also happened to be my birthday. We spent much of the weekend sitting around the apartment with Mamu and Daddy talking about what a hurricane is, and how they are different/similar from/to other weather events. I think they were both a little nervous and a little excited—they were curious to see what a “hurricane” was like, but worried that something would maybe happen to them. Mamu would stand near the window watching the trees bend and say, “Hurricane is coming…”

We had some gusty winds, but never lost power (although it seems a lot of other people around us did), and didn’t have the same flooding problems as other places an hour or two drive north or west of us. By evening the weather calmed enough for us to even go out for a little birthday dinner and cake.

After Irene blew through the weather cooled off, so I thought I would experiment with some “American autumn” inspired food. Always on the lookout for foods that I love, that I could try and introduce to Mamu and Daddy, during our pre-Irene grocery shopping I snuck a bag of brussels sprouts and a butternut squash into our cart.

Attempt #1: On Saturday I decided to pair the sautéed (in olive oil, garlic, salt and fresh ground pepper) Brussels sprouts—or “baby banda” (cabbage) as I called them—with the vegetable curry that Mamu made. P and I were practically fighting over the sprouts… but I saw Daddy push a few around his plate, and eventually toss the two or three half pieces that he couldn’t manage to eat into the garbage before washing his plate. I guess the “baby bandas” were a “fail”–my guess is that they were still too “raw” (crunchy) for their taste, but overcooked brussel sprouts are really bad and bitter, so “what to do?

Attempt #2: Again Mamu had some taarkari left over from lunch, and made a pot of rice, but I decided to whip up a quick butternut squash bisque. I sliced up the butternut—

“Is it a pharsi? [pumpkin]” Daddy asked.

“It’s in the pharsi family, it’s a butternut squash” I explained.

When I sliced open the round bottom part of the butternut and scooped out the seeds with a spoon Daddy said, “It is a pharsi! Look at the seeds!”

“Yes,” I responded, “pharsi family different type.”

—then sautéed some sliced onions, garlic, salt and pepper, added the butternut, and then a few cups of water and some veggie bullion. I let it boil, covered, for about ten minutes until the butternut was soft, and then poured the whole soup into the blender and pureed. Lastly I heated the pureed soup with a bit of whole milk mixed in for creaminess, and then brought it to the dinner table in a serving bowl.

I turned back to the kitchen to grab bowls for everyone but before I returned to the table Mamu and Daddy had already ladled my “pharsi soup” on to their heaping piles of rice—“like daal!” Mamu exclaimed.

“Whatever gets you excited about it” I thought.

I returned the bowls to the kitchen, keeping one for D and myself, since we both elected to eat my soup like soup.

While we ate I asked Mamu if she liked the dish. She smacked her lips and declared, “I like… hot, fresh, sweet!”

D started giggling… “I know what C’s blog post will be about tomorrow” he said, “I even know what the title will be!”

Mamu, Daddy and P had a few more spoons of “pharsi soup—like daal” on their rice while I finished up my large bowl.

Finally an American culinary win!

I’ll take it, “like daal” or not!

Please… No More Rice!

First off, let me assure you, I love Nepali food. As noted before, I’m lucky that P’s national cuisine is so vegetarian friendly, and having grown up in a house with relatively bland food, my introduction to South Asian spices has really positively educated my taste buds. Veg momos, pani puri, mattar paneer, and masyoura (dried vegetable nugget curry) are some of my favorite foods.

We eat a lot of South Asian food, but we also eat a lot of non-South Asian food and dinner often turns into a negotiation. If usually starts with P asking, “what’s for dinner tonight?”

Me: “hmmmm… what about pasta casserole?”

P makes a scrunched up face: “nooo pasta… how about daal bhaat?”

Me: “Daal bhaat again? We just had that, what about pizza?”

P: “I’m really in the mood for rice…”

Me: “What about burritos?”

P: “Okay, burritos works for me.” (Oh burritos, always a good compromise. It has rice, and its spicy, with lots of vegetables and guacamole. Everyone is happy).

However recently I’ve been a bit faint of heart in the daal bhaat department, and I have to get over it. Rice and daal is a *major* part of a Nepali’s daily diet, in fact not liking rice and daal is probably a Nepali-American relationship deal breaker, the equivalent of “I think we should see other people.” I’ve eaten my fair share of daal bhaat, with my hand no less (as P’s dad says, it doesn’t taste as good if you eat it with a spoon), but over the summer I had a daal bhaat overload, and I haven’t been the same since.

daal-bhaat

Typical Nepali meal... with large bhaat mound and a bowl of daal

The first time I went to Kathmandu was almost five years ago (I traveled to Nepal to meet P’s parents by myself… I was so nervous I was literally shaking on the airplane, but that is a story for another day). I was only there for a few days and was able to eat whatever was given to me with relative ease (minus perhaps the first meal, when everyone was staring at me). It was winter time, the weather was cool, and I had just spent 5 months living in India and eating South Asian every day. P’s family gave me an enormous amount of food to eat, but I took it in stride, bistarai bistarai (slowly slowly) eating my way through the mountain of rice. I remember them commenting on how slow I ate, but not my ability to actually eat the food. Plus it was only a few days. People can do anything for a few days, right?

Then in the summer of 2008 P’s family stayed with us for 5 weeks. We had massive rice-filled dinners every night. Yet I had a trick up my sleeve… I had to wake up early to catch the 5:30am commuter train to work, and so I could have a doughnut or muffin in route, skip lunch (or have something small), and be prepared for the massive dinner. They never knew about my appetite-prepping.

Now we come to June 2009. P and I arrived in Kathmandu pre-monsoon. It was sticky and hot (not as bad as Delhi, but still). Maybe it’s just me, but the heat makes me lose my appetite. When I was a kid, when the weather was really hot, my family tended not to cook. We would eat something cold… like salad, or sandwiches, but mostly salad. The sliced vegetables, which often came straight out of the backyard garden, tasted so clean and refreshing.

One summer during college I lived with several Nepali friends in a second story apartment built over the garage of someone’s house. It was like an oven in there on most days, and when the temperature spiked, it was downright unbearable. I tried to reason my logic on the really hot days… “don’t turn the stove on, don’t cook, it will make it so much more hot in here. Let’s just eat salad or something.” AD, D and P—my chicken loving friends—would hear nothing of it… and we would spend the next few hours dripping with sweat in the apartment after cooking the meal.

So back to Katmandu in June… I’m sure the heat had something to do with it, and the fact that I just don’t eat that much in general, plus I eat really slow, contributed to making meals quite stressful. I am definitely familiar with the concept of showing love through food… and I experienced this in Africa, but as a vegetarian my eating habits were strange, and so food wasn’t forced on me as much as other foreigners I knew. P’s mom is a vegetarian so at his house I didn’t get off that easy.

MamuSortsDaal

Mamu sorts and cleans daal for lunch

Each meal was massive. A huge pile of rice (and I mean Himalayan mountain sized), a bowl of daal, and several types of vegetable curries. P’s mom would usually serve the first round, so it was hard to control my portion size, and once I was almost done, she was pretty quick at putting more on my plate. I got really good, really quickly, at learning the phrase, “Malai pugyo!!” I’m full!! I’m done!! But just saying it didn’t necessarily mean that I wouldn’t get more on my plate. I had to practically hurl myself over my plate to protect it from getting more food placed on it while begging “malai pugyo, malai pugyo!

That first week I tried to eat everything that I was given, but I started feeling so full at each meal that I literally felt ill. Some days I worried if I put just one more spoonful of rice in my mouth I might just vomit, and I started to wonder how long it could take for someone to develop bulimia.

I started dreading meals. Sitting at the kitchen table felt like I was going into battle. I couldn’t eat any street food while out in town during the day because I just knew that there were massive meals waiting for me back at P’s house. Visiting extended relatives became painful because each visit required that I drink at least a cup of milk tea and at least a portion of a large plate of snacks. Every bite brought dread that I wouldn’t be able to finish my plate of food at dinner.

Whats worse, after a while I noticed that the family members were saying to each other in Nepali at the kitchen table, “she doesn’t like our food… she doesn’t like rice.” I would protest (in Nepali), “but I do, I do like rice, I just can’t eat this much!”

RHeats

P's dad, RH and P eating a candle-lit dinner during one of Kathmandu's many electrical blackouts

I tried to convince P’s family that if you don’t grow up eating rice every day of your life you can eat less rice and feel full. In P’s family they think that if you don’t eat rice it isn’t a “real meal” and P has told me stories of his grandfather going to wedding receptions only to come home and eat more rice because he didn’t feel full enough at the ceremony. I think P’s mom and I almost started reaching an understanding about rice portions when our friend RH (our Irish neighbor) came to join us on our Everest trek. Even back in America RH’s appetite is legendary, and here he was, sitting at P’s kitchen table, chowing down on the mountain of rice and then…unbelievable… asking for seconds! There went my whities-can-eat-less-rice theory out the freaking window!

BhaatOnTrek

P and RH eat daal bhaat along our trekking route. If you order daal bhaat you get unlimited refills, much to RH's and P's delight

One day I kind of freaked out a little at the table. I thought if I had rice, I would just be sick, so I begged to eat cucumber and mango. That’s all I wanted. Sliced cucumber and mango. It was probably the strangest lunch request ever made in their kitchen. “You just want cucumber and mango? No rice? Do you have a fever?” Nooo… I just need fresh uncooked vegetables. I need something that isn’t a starch today.

Shortly thereafter P and I left for our trek. I was so happy not to be force fed that I practically ate nothing for the next two days. I felt like I was being cleansed. I lost my appetite for most of the trek probably due to altitude anyway. By the time I came off the mountain I felt refreshed and empty. It was a nice feeling.

EatsTooMuchRice

Me, feigning death, after eating another massive rice-filled lunch

Back in Kathmandu I started requesting smaller and smaller portions of rice. P’s mom would complain that I eat the “rice of a 5 year old” but at least it helped me to get dinner down.

When we returned to America the last thing I wanted was to see a plate of rice and daal. I’ve eaten the combo since, but it has quickly dropped from being a tasty food to being a somewhat dreaded food in my mind. Every time I think of it I think about that over-stuffed-I-think-I’m-gonna-vomit feeling I had at P’s kitchen table. I’m hoping if I take a little break from it, then I’ll feel better about daal bhaat again, and hopefully I’ll forget that sinking awful puke-y feeling.

I’m happy to eat rice, as long as it is the “rice of a 5 year old.”