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.

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