Mar 30, 2013

Food novelties in America

Having heard all about pizzas, burgers, and finger fries, I thought there was nothing I had left to learn about American food. How wrong I was! Coffee cups with lid on them, bread dipped in eggs supposed to be eaten with sugar instead of the salt that I was used to, everything surprised me (Of course, coming back to Nepal after four years, I realized that all those novelties like coffee cups with lids and French toast had become quite normal in Kathmandu, so I was the one who ended up being weirded out, once again!)
There was the time when, wandering into pastoral backyards of a village, me and my friends ended up in an old fashioned diner, where all food was home cooked. We were served water in glass jars, which, we found out upon asking, were used jam jars. These jars, going by the name of “mason jars” were the traditional rural way of drinking water, which was preserved in some old-fashioned restaurants as a part of the décor.

Another time, a friend baked many varieties of pumpkins and butternut squash in brown sugar and butter. Only used to having a tarkari of pumpkins, the fragrant brown sugar version appealed to me no end. And then there was the time when I was asked by a friend “I love hot milk, do you ever drink hot milk?” I had to explain to her that in Nepal everyone drinks their milk hot, or at least lukewarm, and it had taken me a long time to get used to the western phenomenon of cold-milk-straight-out-of-the-fridge.

Similarly, it had taken me a long time to figure out that in America, when you order just “coffee”, you don’t get the regular instant coffee with milk. Instead, you get a bitter black liquid twice as strong as the instant coffee you are used to. In the land where most people have not heard of instant coffee, and those who have, hate it, I too soon became a coffee butterfly. I tried everything from regular cappuccino to exotic white rabbit flavored mocha. And once I realized that all of these tasted better with whipped cream, I tried to order an espresso with whipped cream, only to have the lady at the counter fix me with a strict stare, and ask “do you know what an espresso is?” I mumbled that I did not, and she went on to explain that it is a very bitter coffee served in a very small cup. Well, that was no reason not to have it with whipped cream, but intimidated by her stare, I backed out and ordered a regular cappuccino with whipped cream.


And then there was the time when I was invited to a barbecue, and saw a whole can of beer being shoved inside a chicken before it was barbecued. Apparently, the beer would give the chicken “moisture” and “flavor”. Being a vegetarian, I did not eat this exotic dish, but everyone who did, labeled it “the best chicken they had ever had.”

The prettiest of American food novelties was certainly Dippin’ Dots, the “ice-cream of the future”. I loved the tiny solid pebbles of ice cream that dissolved in the mouth. 

The weirdest food novelty was certainly American “biscuits”, that came with gravy! At a relaxed luncheon, maybe someone’s birthday, me and my colleagues were sitting around eating cookies. “In Nepal, these would go by the name of biscuits” I had told my colleagues, biting into a walnut cookie. That had thrown everyone in a tizzy. “Biscuits? The thing that you order in restaurants and which comes with a gravy?” I had been confused, and when I tried to explain biscuits to my colleagues, I had suddenly remembered that I had never seen anything labeled biscuits in America. Anything that I would call a biscuit went by a different name, like salted biscuits that were called crackers, sweet ones that were called shortbread, and soft, big ones called cookies. Many biscuits, like Oreos, were branded and known only by the brand name.

biscuits and gravy

My colleagues decided that they would call Nepali biscuits “biscotti.” Finally, I decided to actually order and find out what the elusive American biscuit was. It turned out to be a small, round bread about the size of a small bun. With a firm exterior and a soft interior, this baked dish was salty instead of sweet. The gravy is typically made of meat droppings, flour, and milk. Being a vegetarian, again I had to do with boring vegetarian gravy made of milk and corn flour, but nonetheless, I finally knew that the American biscuit is very different from the British one. Though I never developed a taste for biscuits and gravy (maybe because of the boring vegetarian substitute that was obviously inferior to the regular one), I was glad to find many food novelties that I enjoyed.

Mar 2, 2013

The non love story

Jowaki: Nepali Girl
Siegfried: Foreign boy (Fill in the blanks for country)

Siegfried and Jowaki are chatting casually on the way home from school.
Siegfried: So, how do you date in Nepal ?
Jowaki: Haha, nobody "dates" in Nepal, either you are single, or you are not!

Siegfried: But how is that possible? There must be a process for people to get together.
Jowaki: You tell me how it works here.
Siegfried: If you like someone, you ask them to go out with you.
Jowaki: Hmm, we don’t do that very often, we have the "propose", I suppose.
Siegfried: What propose? You mean a marriage proposal? 
Jowaki: Nobody proposes marriage in Nepal. After you are together, marriage is kind of understood. 
Siegfried: Then what is the proposal for?
Jowaki (vaguely): To be in a relationship? Frankly, I don’t know, I have never thought about it….
Siegfried: Then why is it called a proposal?
Jowaki: Ummm, that’s how it is…

Siegfried: Alright, so how does the “proposal” go?
Jowaki:  In school people just send send cards or letters saying “I love you!”
Siegfried: What? But how can you love a person before you know them?
Jowaki (Getting confused): I don’t know, that’s just how it is…

Siegfried:  And what happens when you really start loving that person?
Jowaki: Haha, it’s assumed that you already love the person from the first time.
Siegfried: How is that possible?
Jowaki (screwing up her face): Umm…..
Siegfried: How come that’s your answer to everything?
Jowaki: :P

Siegfried: Ok, what happens next?
Jowaki: And then you “date”, I suppose, go out and things like that.
Siegfrid: So only get to date after you confess your love to each other?
Jowaki: Mostly, yes.
Siegfried: But don’t people go out for movies and things without the love confession?
Jowaki: Sure they do, but that doesn’t count as dating.
Siegfried: What’s it called then?
Jowaki: Umm, nothing?

One fine day
Siegfried: If I went to school with you, I would have given you one of those greeting cards.
Jowaki: If I had grown up with you, I would have asked you to watch a movie with me.
Siegfried: So do you want me to “propose” now?
Jowaki: No, let’s just go for a walk for now.

In one late-night chat
Jowaki: Hey, I am going on a one week trip tomorrow.
Siegfried: I'll drop you to the airport
Jowaki: I booked a taxi already.
Siegfried: Cancel it.
Jowaki: It's late
Siegfried: Fine, just avoid it then.

The next morning
Aunt: let me make some tea you.
Jowaki (happily): Aww, thanks aunty, you didn't have to do that, it's 5 am.
Aunt: It's alryt. I have also packed some pakodas for the trip.
Jowaki; Wow (grin grin)
Aunty: Let me walk you to the bus stop. 
Jowaki (grin suddenly fading): umm, no thanks aunty, umm...
Aunty: Why not? I am up already anyways...
Jowaki: It's too cold. It's supposed to rain today. (wildly groping for ideas)And you don't have gum-boots.
Aunty: What nonsense, I have done ropain in knee-deep mud, a little bit of water is not going to bother me. 
(Picks up Jowaki’s baggage and starts walking, with Jowaki following unhappily)
Aunty (looking suspiciously at the taxi): Is that your ride? The driver looks too young! Are you sure that pretty boy can take you safely to the train station? 
Jowaki (carrying the luggage to the car): I am sure he is over 18.
Aunty (trying to hold on to the bag): AND he is smoking, I am sure drivers are not supposed to smoke on the job. He might also be drunk! 
Jowaki (pulling the bag with perhaps more force than necessary): Umm He's registered with the taxi station, remember, now bye aunty....
Siegfried (coming out of the taxi to open the dikki): Helllo Jowaki, who is this? 
Aunty (muttering in Jowaki's ear): Huh, since when were you on first name terms with your taxi driver?
Jowaki (pushing Siegfried into the car):  Umm, he is a regular, umm, (yelling at Siegfried) hey you, come on, let's go.
The car starts.
Aunty (focusing her glasses): I didn't know taxi drivers rode Audis these days. And where is the taxi company's logo?
Jowaki(inside the car): step on it.
Siegfried (Braking): Sure, but why do you look like you just ate half a lemon? I thought you were happy about the trip. Are you all right? Shall I fetch you a glass of water from the house?
Jowaki (thumping her head on the dashboard): Let's just go....

Jowaki and Siegfried are about ready to go watch a movie together. Jowaki just said bye to her aunt.
Jowaki: Hey listen, I have told everyone that we are going to a birthday party, ok.
Siegfried: Why?
Jowaki: Because I don’t want to tell them that I am going on a date.
Siegfried: But why not?
Jowaki: In Nepal nobody has a “boyfriend”. You don’t tell your family until you are ready to get married.
Siegfried: Really? Then you don’t introduce them to your parents at all?
Jowaki: You can introduce them, but as a friend. 
Siegfrid: But they would find out anyways, wouldn't they, by the way you act around each other?
Jowaki: Yes, so you have to be really careful, and pretend to be just friends.
Siegfried: But WHY?
Jowaki: Umm, that's how it is...

Several days later on sms:
To: Siegfried
Heya, i invited some friends to watch movie at my place. u come too.
To Jowaki:
Be there in 10

Upon Siegfried’s arrival to Jowaki’s house
To: Siegfried
U look nice.
To Jowaki:
I am in front of you, why are you texting me.
To: Siegfried
Shut up! My aunt is already wondering why I invited the taxi driver home.
To Jowaki:
oh okee. u dont wanna introduce me to your family?
To Siegfried:
It's not that, I jst need some time.
To Jowaki:
Aiite. Can I put my head on your lap?
To Siegfried:
To Jowaki:
Calm down, this might be easier way to tell her that something is cooking.
To Siegfried:
To Jowaki:
Aww :( you are upset, can I at least hold your hand? Besides, I am only halfway through the movie.
To Siegfried:
stop making things awkward for me, my aunt is beginning to notice, Pleaaaaaaaase, leaaveeeeeeee,.

Siegfried puts on his shoes, leaves, and never comes back.
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