Monday, May 30, 2011

The Kathmandu Burger Project

As I mentioned in this post it is tough to make a really good burger in Kathmandu, but this hasn't deterred me from trying. So yesterday I gave it my first real attempt since I've been living here, and despite some of the components being substandard the result wasn't bad at all. 

Real Hamburger- Step One

Getting real, decent hamburger in this country is a little tougher than most due to its Hindu heritage. Why people of various religions think God(s) is(are) interested in micromanaging our diets is beyond me, but I digress. Nina & Hagar's supplies ground beef tenderloin and it can be purchased for a reasonable price, but it does come frozen. Despite this, the quality seemed decent, although defrosted hamburg is harder to shape properly. I made use of wax paper and a rolling pin with a little shoring up of the edges with my hands afterwards to create burgers that would cook evenly.

Condiments, toppings & Bread

What prompted me to finally put this all together is that a shipment of cheese from the US arrived via Harilo a few days ago. While you can get some Australian cheddars that aren't terrible, they aren't really quite right. For this time around I cut up some New York sharp cheddar and grilled up some bacon for New York cheddar & bacon burgers. In addition I grilled up some onions, mushrooms, peppers, chopped some fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and broke out the Heinz ketchup (though I may start making ketchup from scratch) and Grey Poupon. 

One difficulty was still the bread. Kim made some really nice bread the other day, but I have no head for baking. So I went off to European Bakery, which produces some of the better bread products in town, only to find that they were closed. Stuck between a rock and a hard place I lowered myself to buy the rolls at Bhat Betini- and these are rather terrible. It looks like a roll but the texture is just all wrong, it's far too light, and they disintegrate rather easily, not unlike Wonderbread. To combat this I toasted the rolls over  a girdle which firmed them up, and lets face it, toasted rolls are better anyway.

Result- New York Cheddar Bacon Burger

I'm happy to report that the first test run was relatively successful. The weakest link was the bread, but I'm confidant we can overcome that problem. The burger itself was quite tasty, the cheese we shipped worked out well, the bacon was good, and the toppings were all there. Although I'd normally have a burger with fries, recent events have had me cooking more fried food than I like to eat, so instead I took the opportunity to make some other items I had wanted to test out including some walnut & Gorgonzola stuffed mushrooms and a salad with apple, cranberries, walnuts, cucumber, Gorgonzola, tomato and tossed in olive oil. This is just one burger of a list of about a dozen I have to experiment with so I'll be sure to update my pursuit of burger perfection in the hardest place on earth to make a good burger. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bandhs, Political Theater, and the CA's Extention

Over the last few weeks life in Nepal has been about one word really- Bandh. While it's easy to understand why people would want to call a general strike to bring attention to their cause, such strikes only make sense to me if they are done in solidarity with the population at large, and not forced on them via thugs with sticks. Despite this, half of last week was marred by strikes that half shut down the city and getting anything done has been a bit of a hassle. The strikes have been called for everything from the want of ethnic federal states (what a terrible idea) , to people wanting to bring attention to the fact that the constitution is still not done, despite yesterdays deadline for the constituent assembly (CA).

So Saturday at midnight the constituent assembly was set to expire, and there was really little doubt that there would be an extension, though some other options had been floated. Some said that the Maoist hardliners would take up arms and go back to the hills, more reasonable voices called for the disbandment of the body and adhering to actual democratic principles calling for fresh elections. In true political theatre the politicians announced at 4AM Sunday that  they had reached a deal to extend the CA for another three months. The 5 point deal signed by all three major parties is as follows;

Monday, May 23, 2011

Nepal's Facebook Revolution?

In Greek mythology there is a recurring theme of the young rising up and overthrowing the old order. The mythology is based on what was in the past the natural order of things, where one generation rose up and challenged the generation before them. There comes a point when the younger generation see the entrenched powers before them not as something paving their way to prosperity but instead as a barrier to it. It is often said in half jest that my country is in fact a geritocracy, where the old rule over the young. A look at the eyebrows of most of our senators bears this out. While there is certainly wisdom that comes with age, their is also vitality and fresh insight that comes with youth. When one side of this feels completely shut out of the system, then discontent begins brewing and left long enough it is only a matter of time before the young rise up against the old.

Recently the uprisings across the Middle East serve as an example to this. Not that it is strictly seen in this light, in many places it is people of all ages supporting the Arab Spring revolts, but look at who is organizing it, and how it is being implemented, it's almost always the youth. Tools such as Facebook and Twitter, along with the support of hacker groups like Anonymous are working to bring people together, get information out and transform the structure of society...maybe. In Nepal recently this same phenomenon is starting to take root, as the country inches closer and closer toward the status of a failed state.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Appetizers for 20 People- Serving 5

So the other day I cooked up a huge pile of food, roughly nine different appetizers that may or may not appear on a menu of a restaurant that may or may not be opening this year. Some things I had made here before, but most of them were things I was familiar with but had never tried to cook here. As I am still waiting on a shipment of cheese from the US I had to forgo making quesadillas, or anything that has cheese as a major component. I did get some very poor cheddar to top off the potato skins, and I picked up some very over priced danish blue cheese to make some home made Blue Cheese dip.

As much as I would like to keep some things exactly like they are made and served back home, there are a few small  places that it makes sense to make compromises. For instance when making a Ranch Dip or the Blue Cheese dip I would normally use buttermilk in the recipe, but it just isn't all that affordable over here. On the flip side you can make some really high quality yogurt at a decent rate, and if mixed correctly with slight adjustments to the other ingredients you end up with a healthier product that is just as tasty and maybe a bit creamier in texture, which I actually enjoyed. Another thing is that you can't get celery stalks, so wings get cucumber and carrot sticks instead.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

And the Bandh Played On

One of the only concessions that Nepal was able to seemingly get for Nepal tourism year 2011 that was worth a damn was the fact that the political parties agreed to no bandhs (something like a general strike) to disrupt daily life and more importantly the tourist industry. After the Maoists disastrous open ended bandh last May the country had mostly shaken the habit and one could almost forget how often Nepal is bothered by this somewhat absurd practice. Then a few weeks ago the groups that want ethnic federalism to be a cornerstone of the constitution took it upon themselves to enforce the first bandh of the year that actually affected Kathmandu (the Terrai has been on fire, and bandhs and bombings have been more common down that way).

This last Friday was the second effective bandh in just a few weeks, and this time it stirred up some opposition, and people marched, rode bikes and motorcycles in defiance. Part of the problem is that to most workers it's just an extra holiday, as their employers still have to pay them despite everything being forced to shut down. This is also the reason that such bandhs very often fall on one side or the other of a Saturday, making long weekends for people, and they are often enforced by people shipped in from villages that have nothing better to do. One gets the sense though that people in Kathmandu at least are getting quite tired of this foolishness, and there is a general sigh any time a bandh is mentioned.

Word I got through some UN staffers is that next weekend there is a three day bandh planned, which would be by far the biggest yet, and I'm thinking that this will not go over that well with the population here. Any group that thinks they are going to gain sympathy for their cause by implementing this is severely misreading am already disgruntled public that is only putting up with a failed political process because they don't really know what else to do. Making life more difficult by enforcing a general strike is like kicking a hornets nest, and they've already prodded it a few times- the bees are getting angry.

That said, if the city is going to be shut down next weekend and I can't sell stuff at the markets, it might not be a bad excuse to make my way over to Pokahara with Kim and chill out at Lakeside. I've only been out that way once since I've been here (almost exactly a year ago) and Kim hasn't been back there since we arrived. We all know that if you're going to have to spend a few days with things shut down, it's better to spend it where you can enjoy some views of the Annapurnas and relax than to spend it stuffed up in Kathmandu.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mangoes & Weddings

Each season has a distinct feel to it in Nepal, and this time of year is marked by the rain storms that break the dry season, the arrival of abundant and tasty mangoes, and the bands and colorful saris that mark the arrival of Nepali wedding season. Of these, I look forward to the mangoes the most, as at heart I am a person who loves food. In April you get teased with absurdly priced 400 Rs per kilo (roughly $3/lb), but the upside is that you know that not far down the road mangoes will be everywhere and quite cheap. Last week I was thrilled to see them show up for 125 Rs/Kilo, and this week they are down to 90 Rs/Kilo and they are everywhere.

Now if you've never been to a place that grows mangoes you might wonder what the big deal is. I know I use to get mangoes back in Maine and they were like $3 each and they were horrible quality. If that's all you've ever tasted than you probably don't get too excited about mangoes. But fresh picked just off the tree sweet and juicy mangoes are something to be cherished and devoured in quantity. Aside from being quite tasty on their own they are great in tons of different meals from my mango salsa I've started making for the market, to being used in salads, cooked with chicken or turned into chutney. Jams, deserts, juices, shakes, or just with yogurt- the mango is something to really enjoy when it comes into season.

Unknown to much of the world is that mangoes come in many different varieties, much like apples. Right now it's the big yellow juicy ones, but as mango season goes on we get access to a number of other ones, each with their own texture and flavor. My personal favorite are the slightly smaller ones that usually have a more greenish tint to them as they are perfectly sweet and have a slightly firmer texture, which makes them perfect in salsas and for things like Caribbean tacos. Those won't start showing themselves until roughly the end of July though, but in between I get at least three or four other mangoes that are all worth eating.

While making mango salsa last week I was treated to the music selection of a wedding party across the street which was playing a horrendous mix of terrible Western pop and dance music (that one would normally hear at a strip club) and some Hindi pop/dance. Much of the western music that gets played here often seems to be music that follows the same formula as Hindi music, meaning it has to often be light pop style music, preferably with woman singing at a high pitch and better if it's a duet with a male vocal component, which is lower than the female voice. Songs like Barbie Girl are thus often favorites, as are singers like Shakira, the Spice Girls and the Pussy Cat Dolls. Apparently in the Hindi music it's cool to have a single English line that includes some common phrase, usually about love or maybe some one liner you might hear in a film. It's strange to hear something that being sung in a foreign tongue and then all of a sudden hear a familiar English phrase in a strange accent.

Terrible music aside, weddings here are quite the events and often there are several in any given neighborhood at any one time. Increasingly the sounds of bands playing at houses and in the streets can be heard as well, with some not so in-tune instraments making their way through our neighborhood and settling in to various walled compounds for extended parties. These I actually enjoy listening to, and despite the fat that they often start at 7AM I still find them charming. Woman's party sari's can be seen hung from the third floor of a building to dry, their colorful sequined fabric draping the entire length of the building. Occasionally you'll pass a small family on their way to a wedding, dressed all up, henna drawn on their hands, and  full dress outfits including colorful or ornate bindis and little boys with very cute kapi hats.

Mixing with the music, color and aroma of this season as been the near constant sound of thunder. Every day it seems at least one storm moves through the valley which is stark contrast to the dry May we had last year. Even when there are no rains thunder seems to echo through the valley of Kathmandu. The valleys bowl shape and high mountains in the north cause the noise to echo, so even when there is no storm over the city, you can still hear it if there is one anywhere in the valley. All of these sights, sounds, tastes and smells, combine to make spring a unique time of year, and one I look forward to in Nepal.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The China Bubble

So in the past I've oft voiced my opinion on the faults and positive aspects of the economies here in Nepal and back Home in America. Today I'm going to discuss what I think might be one of the worlds biggest economic bubbles, and that is Nepal's neighbor to the north- China's growing economy. Now there is no doubt that there has been some real progress in China, and real wealth has also actually increased, but there is another side of this growth that people aren't paying attention to, and that is the side that central economic planning plays and how it distorts the Chinese market.

Now there is a lot to admire about the Chinese, they are shrewed and in many ways better capitalists than Americans are these days. They have acquired access to near monopolies on rare earth metals, and they have manipulated their currency in a way to send trillions of dollars to their country via exports. They have hired out Western firms to learn how to do high end engineering projects and instead of becoming dependent on them they have trained their own staff in their techniques and then pursued those same projects with only domestic talent going forward. People in the West, and elsewhere, are rightly impressed, but this admiration often goes too far and with little understanding of what is driving the Chinese economy.

Friday, May 6, 2011

If you were a hamburger in Kathmandu, where would you hide?

Maybe it plays into stereotypes but if there is one food item I have really come to miss in this city it's a really good hamburger. Yes I'm American, yes I like hamburgers, and no you can't get one really worth eating here. Maybe that's how Nepali's in the U.S. feel about hunting down momos or dahl baht. When I've mentioned the lack of good burgers I'm often met with a curious response, as plenty of places claim to make them, and if that's the only type of burger you've ever had I suppose you think the claim a bit odd. But to use the former analogy it would be like me showing a Nepali a pile of plain over-cooked rice and some dryish lentils and saying, "What do you mean this isn't dahl baht?" Yes it would be rice and lentils, but no that isn't how you enjoy it.

One of the things that conspires against the creation of a good burger in this country is that it has several parts, none of which are popular or even in South Asian cuisine. Beef for example is not to be eaten as the cow in Hinduism is sacred. This leaves you with a few options, which is import the beef from India (also a Hindu country but apparently with less qualms about killing cows) or places like Australia. This inevitably means less fresh meat, and requires freezing which often reduces the quality in my opinion. That said, I've had some really good steaks here, so getting good cuts of beef is not impossible. Another option is to use an alternative  but similar animal such as water buffalo or yak. Now buff (as water buffalo is referred to) is OK, but it has a slightly different taste, different enough that I'm not a fan. Yak on the other hand is quite tough, but when ground up as burger it actually is quite good. Thing is that most places in Nepal that advertise yak are actually selling buff, and most of the actual yak meat I've eaten was in Tibet and not Nepal. So really just trying to find decent whole steaks and then grinding them locally would most likely be the best option. Most places though seem to settle for frozen buff which is the worst of both worlds.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Seinfeld: "A Good-Hearted Tween Comedy" Or Why Engrish is Funny

One of the joys of living in Kathmandu is the abundant supply of pirated DVDs and CDs. I don't even think it's possible to buy legitimate versions as everything is either a burned copy or produced in China almost certainly without permission. Aside from being able to get the complete seasons of most shows for less than $10, which is nice, the packaging alone is worth the money. The amount of spelling errors, made up lines and English to Chinese to English Google translations can make for some very funny reading. This Seinfeld box set I picked up for Kim yesterday is one of my favorites yet.

"A Good Hearted Tween Comedy" -San Francisco Chronich

At first it's easy to miss the absurdity that lurks on these covers as the graphics and fonts look correct, it's not until a close inspection of the actual words that you start really laughing. Seinfeld was a lot of things, but a tween comedy it was not, and I wonder if there really is a paper called the San Francisco Chronich. 

Emmy? Award Winning Season!

The top paragraph in black is only slightly awkward. While the second paragraph in red can only be the unfortunate result of a bad Google translate. it reads as follows;

"The story of four of Manhattan's old youth: a Seinfeld his own speech, is a less successful comic dialogue actor; one of his former girlfriend, now common friends, and the third was his high school classmates, Start a bald head, but Yan Fu is not shallow, and the forth was his door neighbor, God Tao Tao, there are a lot of quirks. There is a quarter of the program is to sell to television stations say that they did after the play been called the most funny scene in the play, at least proved one truth: the story behind the film and television industry more exciting than the foreground, more winding paths the plot ... ..."

Special Features- Higher Definition:OneLestThing... Episode

And always worth a chuckle are the warnings in fine print, often warning about copyright infringement if you copy these discs. This one also warns against allowing minors to watch this show and its use of punctuation is kind of funny. Also this DVD set can't be hired.

"WARNING: This article contains material. which may offend and may not be distributed, circulated. sold, hired, lent, shown, played or projected to a perso under the age of 18 years The copyright propeter has licensed the film (including its soundtrack)comprised in this video disc (including laser disc and video cassette tape)for home use only All other rights are reserved. The definition of home use excludes the use of this video disc at locations such as clubs coaches, hospitals, hotels, motels, oil rigs, prisons and schools. Any unauthorized copying duplication, editing, renting, exchanging, hiring, selling, lending or any other kind of trading, public performance or transmission by air, cable diffusion, and/r broadcasting of this video or anrt part thereof is strictly prohibited and any such action eslablishes, is an infringement and may result in legal liability."

"The Show About Nothing Turns Out What May Be The Best Dvd Release Yet."

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Storms & Unstable Politics

The rains seem to have come a little early this year, as the last few weeks have seen rather consistent thunder storms moving into the valley and quite a few torrential down pours. This time last year the weather was exceedingly dry and hot, and the city was shut down due to a Maoist enforced  bandha (or strike) which shut down the city for nearly a week. The indefinite strike was supposed to put pressure on the political parties to bend toward the Maoists in the coming deadline for the constitution to be written by the end of the month. The strike failed miserably, and the popular uprising that came up against the enforced strike was a major setback to the Maoists.

By the end of that month there was no constitution and the constituent assembly (CA), extended their term for another year to finish the constitution. Another year has now passed, and the constitution is no closer to being completed. What happens when the CAs term comes up again on the 28th of the month?  Most likely they will extend their term again, despite some calls for the dissolution of the body in favor of fresh elections to put people in place who might actually do their job. Although the chances of even that happening in a system where power is so tightly held by political parties and not so much by people who feel they are there to actually represent their constituents interests are slim. This is a problem it seems in parliamentary and democratic systems around the world at the moment, including my country.

Still aside from some saber rattling by a portion of the more revolutionary elements of the Maoist party declaring that they would return to war if the CA expired with no progress, recent statements from the Maoists top man Dahal about working toward a conclusion of the peace process seems to indicate that the Maoists are also ready to settle in for the status quo where nothing gets done and nothing happens in Nepal. While paper's today celebrated the Maoist adoption of peace and the political process as the official line of the party, the average Nepali really has little reason to rejoice. As long as there is no political progress the countries problems continue to deepen as basic things are just not getting any attention. Petrol continues to be scarce and Nepal Oil Company (NOC) still has not paid its bills, a complete lack of sufficient electricity is devastating to any development of the country’s industrial and economic base, and basic infrastructure continues to crumble while nothing gets done in the high halls of political office.

Even though I have doubts as to India ever becoming a true super power, there is no doubt that the country has seen an infusion of vitality and economic growth in the last decade, despite its proximity and ties to the Indian Economy, Nepal remains in the doldrums with progress  not really being measurable and no discernible momentum. To compound problems many of its brightest sons and even large portions of its labor base have left, with the former group finding employment through the first world and the latter finding exploitation and occasionally good money in the Gulf states, Malaysia, India, and North Africa. In fact this migration of brain power and labor has spawned what seem to be some of the only fast growing industries in Nepal which is man power firms that negotiate overseas employment and numerous education and scholastic placement companies that assist in getting students into universities outside the country. While this is bound to happen anywhere to some extent, one only has to look at the passport lines by the west palace wall to see how much of a problem the mentality of wanting to escape Nepal has become.

Witnessing the counter protest that took place last year in response to the Maoists authoritarian strikes, one has to wonder where that energy has gone, and why there isn’t more outrage to change the system. That same energy that declared in one loud voice that the people of Nepal wanted to be left alone to live their lives in peace needs to be brought to bear against a political situation that is increasingly becoming untenable. Nepal is suffering like a house that has been long neglected by its owners who can’t bother do basic upkeep, with things failing to work due to a continuation of no simple maintenance. How long can a political class rob its own country before the people demand that the status quo isn’t good enough? Or like an abused animal, has Nepal been beaten so often by its rulers that it is content so long as it just doesn’t evoke the ire of its masters? Have promises been broken so often and so many times that people have lost any expectations of something better? At what point is enough, enough?

The rains came a little early this year. The clouds build and grow dark in the south rising up on the slopes of the Himalaya. Sometimes they build and in spectacular fashion they break open with lightning slitting the sky and rain falling in torrents upon everything in the valley. Other times they dissipate under a bright sun which holds them back, and we get only a light rain shower, just enough to cool the air, and reduce the dust. One wonders what Nepal’s growing sense of political futility will develop into, will the people’s discontent eventually break open like a Spring storm , or will it just dissipate under a hot sun giving way to further unbearable conditions?
Related Posts with Thumbnails