Jan 26, 2011

Eating out in the suburbs

“Red and White wine, Rs. 450 per piece” declares one piece of paper, which also prices “Leamon tea” at Rs. 40. Welcome to the world of Nepali “Resturaan”s, where drinks are sold piece by piece, and solid dishes are presumably to be sipped with spoons. No, these are not the posh restaurants at New Road, Thamel or Durbarmarg, but the slightly dingy ones that you see on roadsides, or in suburbs like Kirtipur. Such hilarious spelling mistakes as the ones mentioned are pretty common, but these are the least of our worries at these restaurants.

For example, the wide variety of dishes in these restaurants sometimes boggles your mind. At the remotest corners of the valley, you will find notices saying “yaha pijja painchha” and the menu of course, includes everything from Chinese (chopusy) to continental (finger frees and sandwish) to local Newari (which are all spelled correctly). Sometimes, you find novelty items so novel that the next person at the table can never tell what you are eating. Once, when my friend tried a piece of my egg paratha, she couldn’t understand why I was praising it so highly! “It is a bad example of alu paratha, there is nothing but onions here,” she said delicately after some thoughtful chewing. Similarly, one day my dish of egg tama flummoxed the considerable food knowledge of every person at the table. (It might look like I have a weakness for egg dishes, but actually, that is all the choice for a vegetarian at these restaurants, since every other dish is of buffalo meat. Popularly known as buff. Sob sob.) But anyways, one person, after seeing the puddle of yellowish gray material in my bowl, asked me why I wanted to have kalo dal, and if I was recovering from typhoid.

But then of course, you only get to know which of the listed dishes are for real when you order the most out of the way items. Most of the times, your order of “pijja” is met with a sheepish smile and a “pijja oven isn’t working today” (After you get the same answer everyday, you realize that the “pijja” signboard is just a successful advertisement ploy!). My recent order of “ice-cream milkshake” was the subject of hot discussion at a restaurant. In plain hearing of all customers, the various cooks, waiters and all billing personnel discussed how to make it. The most popular suggestion being passed around was that since “ice” is mentioned, it must be made with lots of ice. I never knew the exact percentage of ice, cream, milk or shake in the ice-cream milkshake, but when it finally arrived, it was quite delicious, of unidentified flavor and topped with a dollop of strawberry ice-cream (now, since nobody ever asked me about the flavor of the shake, I can’t really blame anyone for taking liberties with it...)

And then of course, there are the variety of restaurant personnel, ranging from cook to waiter to receptionist, who might all be the same person! I remember a homely restaurant where a lady in a grimy maxi was lounging around looking particularly useless. A few moments later, we were mildly surprised to find that she was the waitress when she ambled up to take our orders. She disappeared into the kitchen with our order. When she came back with it in a few moments, we realized she was also the cook who had made our dishes. While we ate, the lady cleaned nearby tables, which seemed to grow grimier with cleaning. We chomped our dishes slowly, partly because it is good for health, and partly because we were unable to close our mouths. They insisted on opening to a permanent ‘O’ of surprise at her multitasking. Later, our after-dinner sugar cubes and cloves actually fell out of our mouths from the ‘O’ of surprise, when we saw that the same lady in maxi was doing our billings too. Though she had her minions milling around, she did not seem happy with them. She held us up at the billing counter specifically to complain about how her boys tried hard but could never flip an egg paratha as well as her.

So, ladies and gentlemen, if you support multi talented people who can handle every aspect of the business (I am sure the lady in the maxi also takes care of the inventory, the dishwashing, and accounts at the restaurant!), and for a little bit of adventure (you never know what you are going to get from your order), then you know what to do!! Let go of the safe roadside restaurants for once, and venture into the kaleidoscopic world of vegetarian “snakes”, “chikan bargar”s and “cheej pakoda”s!

Statutory Warning: Adventuring may be hazardous to health. Please do not sue me if you contract diarrhea.

Musings of a non resident alien: Is a Dhaka topi more interesting than a thaili?

Scene: Conference room at an Office


S: The boss

E: Guy with big head

C: The nice guy, also with big head

J: Apparently quiet guy, secretly gang member

Sewa: Assistant from Nepal

Sewa has just got back from Nepal, and brought back Nepali thaili for the ladies and Dhaka topi for the men at her office.

Sewa: Hello guys, I have something for you.

Gives C and J a Dhaka topi each.

C: Oh, this is amazing, how do you wear it?

Proceeds to wear the cap with the middle pointing straight up, so that the cap is like a mountain. It is too small for him.

Sewa: Oh no, you need to push down the middle.

Just then, E comes in, wearing the biggest grin on his face, and his topi at the back of his head, which makes the hair on his forehead spike up. The topi is too small for him too.

C: Does it have to be as silly as his?

Sewa: Of course not.

Pushes the middle of cap down for both C and J. It fits J perfectly.

C: Can I have one with elastic so it fits me?

Sewa: No you can’t, you just have to get a bigger size.

C: Well, I can’t run down the square and get one!

Sewa: (Silly grin!)

C: So how do you wear this, actually?

Sewa: points at J, but immediately regrets it, as he has his topi at a rakish angle now, so that it is nearly falling off the side of his head.

C: Like that, like a gang member?

Sewa: J is so quiet; you would never know he was a gang member!

E: Yay, I have things from different parts of the world, a drum from Trinidad, a miniature surfing board from Costa Rica, and now a cap from Nepal.

C: But you still don’t know how to wear it!

C again: If I wore this hat with my pants and shirt and walked down the streets of Kathmandu, will I be thought a handsome man?

Sewa: (Silly grin!)

S comes out to check out the guys dressed in Dhaka topi.

S (pouting): And I thought my purse was cool!

Next day: Sewa sends the guys a picture of Nepalese people wearing daura suruwal topi, to demonstrate how it is worn. Does not realize it is a very informal picture with the topi pushed to the back of the head.

E: You see, I was right after all!

Sewa: No, that’s informal.

E: insists on wearing the topi at the back of his head so his hair forms a kind of halo over his forehead!

C (pointing at the suruwal): What is that? Skinny pants? Looks like the skinny jeans that we have here…

Sewa: You bet!

Next day: E has the topi in his car.

E: I wear it while I drive so I can avoid being pulled over….

Sewa: Huh?

E: If a police officer mistakes me for a porcupine, with my hair spiking out over the topi, then he won’t flag me!

Weeks later: C has put his topi atop his desktop lamp. Sewa wonders what that’s about, because no one is going to flag him at work. He says it is so that everyone can see it.

Another Week later: The topi is nowhere to be seen in C’s office. Sewa is sad that he doesn’t think it should be seen by anyone anymore.

Months later: Strangely, I thought the thailis would be more interesting that the topis, what with their complicated pairs of strings and all, but apparently not. I write the topi article and give it to E and C to read.

C: I was so touched that while home visiting your family that you took the time to think of us back here. (might as well thank her; she mentions that I said I am handsome!)

E: Official notice: I am documenting this e-mail as official misrepresentation of my completely genuine demonstration of excitement for my Nepali hat. You should have told me that my hair was sticking out like a porcupine. Also, I want to document that I experience extreme duress due to the fact that I momentarily believed that I had an abnormally large head only to find out that it was only a extra small Dhaka topi!!!!!

C: Could this be filmed in Bali-wood? Who would play me from Napal? He would have to be handsome…. By the way, my topi is in a box with my most treasured other things, so your spying was incorrect that I am not still proud of it. :-)

Sewa: You mean Kollywood… :P

E: I might also mention that I have a set of wooden presidential figurines from the Soviet Union.

Sewa: Thank you E and C, your responses were invaluable to the article.

Jan 10, 2011

I remember when we were painting
i put all the colors on my sheet

i was thinking of a rainbow, really
you know that

but it was not a rainbow
just a sludge
the color of mud
from when i forgot to draw lines
and let the colors
run into each other

u took just one,
blue as your eye
sprinkled glitter
and made a night sky

when we were done
i looked at yours
and wept
coz it was so beautiful

i know you offered
to pour your stars
over my sheet too
but that hadn't made me happy
only made it worse

coz i wanted them so much,
but somehow i didn't think
your bright stars
would look very good
over my muddy terrain
i wish i had drawn the lines better
on my rainbow
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