(Ya know, ’cause they’re corny…)
I’ve just come back from a three week hiking trip in Nepal. My boyfriend and I hiked the Annapurna Circuit, reaching the highest point–the Thorong La Pass at 5,416m or 17,769ft, on February 15th. It was a proper adventure and so much fun, and terrifying, but oh-so awesome.
We saw monkeys and jungle, mountains and rushing streams; we battled some of the worst weather (snow, wind, cold, ice) on the Pass that our guide has seen in his 20+ years of doing this job; we overcame illness; ate some delicious food, learned to cook the Nepali staple Dal Bhaat, and came out definitely changed. What can we not overcome now that we’ve ascended over 17,000 feet, in snow, ice, and wind?
There were so many parts of the trip that were phenomenal that it’s almost a shame that I’ll really only be talking about the food aspects…since this is my food blog, after all.
I figured that I would do a series of posts, instead of one crazy long one. That way I have the opportunity to pass along more stories, to share more recipes, to give you, my dear readers, more of a glimpse into the amazing place that is Nepal. I don’t know how many of you have been there, or will get there, but if I can share even a small part of it with you, then that is what I will endeavor to do.
Where do I start with Nepali food? Nepal is nestled between India and China. Nepali food draws upon many Asian themes: primarily Thai, Tibetan, and Indian. It is simple and it is delicious. The staple, one that is near and dear to the Nepali heart (and now ours), is Dal bhaat. They have a saying, “Dal Bhaat power, 24-hour.”
Before I go off on a tangent about the wonderful powers of Dal Bhaat, let me stop. I am not ready for Dal Bhaat. I need a bhaat break. What I really wanted to start with was the first food I had that made me sit up and go, “oh wow.” Something that I fell in love with and kept ordering at every lodge we went to, trying to experience the awesome power of that First Bite.
You’re going to laugh at me when I tell you this, but, that first food was corn bread.
You are probably having the same reaction reading that statement as I had when I asked our hostess for the recipe; that of disbelief and amusement.
Let me tell you about his bread. It was delicious, first of all. Second, it was unlike any corn bread I have ever had in the US. It is cooked on the stove top, usually over a flame, since many Nepali people use gas or propane stoves to do their cooking.
This bread is light, airy, and full of this wonderful roasted corn flavor. It is cooked in ghee (or clarified butter) at least enough to coat the pan, and really takes on the flavor of warm butter. In short, it is everything you think a corn bread should be.
When I asked for the recipe, I was nervous. I wasn’t sure if she would give it to me. I should preface this by saying that this bread was advertized on the sign of the lodge we were staying at. It was her Special. It was what she was known for. You could tell. It was that good.
I knew this would be a delicate operation, this obtaining The Corn Bread recipe. I felt a bit like a spy as I went about it. I got my guide, Padam, and had him act as translator for me, since my Nepali is almost nonexistent.
We walked up to our host after breakfast and I thanked her for a wonderful few meals.
She smiled and said she was glad I enjoyed them. She asked if I slept well. I said I did. She said good.
I knew it was now or never and said, “I don’t know how to go about asking this, but the corn bread you made for dinner was delicious. I was hoping that you would share the recipe with me, if it’s not too much trouble.” Padam translated for me.
There was silence. Three other people in the kitchen stopped talking and poked their head into the room we were all standing in and stared at me, smiles starting on their faces. What happened next I can only assume was their laughing at how woefully inadequate my culinary education is, since I am asking for a corn bread recipe. Poor little white girl.
There was a lot of fast talking, much of which I didn’t understand; but there were 2 words I did catch (over and over again). Those words were “corn bread.” This is because it is the same in English as Nepali.
After a good ten minute discussion, the note pad was brought out, and the ‘recipe’ was written down:
Nepali Corn Bread
75% corn flour
25% wheat, buckwheat, or white flour
Sugar, to taste
3 grams baking powder
Water until a dough is formed
Mix all ingredients together. Form into a ball. Cook over slow heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
That was it. That’s all they gave me.
I thanked her profusely. I was so excited. Just the fact that she shared it with me was something. Boyfriend had to go being realistic and said, “You know it won’t taste as good as here. Our water’s different, the flours are different….conditions are different.” Grrr, I know, but I am always optimistic when it comes to food! Conditions, water, and flour be damned!
Of course, he was right. After trying the recipe a few times since I’ve been home, I am fairly certain that something was left out. I’ve been experimenting and am getting close to it being as I remember it, but it isn’t quite there yet. When it reaches the PNCBS (perfect Nepali corn bread state) I will update the recipe and let you know.
But, this is my first Nepali food love. Something simple, something clean, something plain.
Never underestimate the power of bread.