Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hong Kong in pictures

(Backdated entry)... if you can afford Hong Kong, it's definitely lives up to its reputation as the (better) New York of the East and hypermodern technological capital of the world (though Seoul and Tokyo may be in the running as well).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A discourse on Tibetan / Nepali carpets

I've been having trouble finding information on purchasing "Nepali" carpets other than a YouTube link for Carpet House in Thamel. Hopefully this post, then, comes in useful.

Brief history: The "Nepali" carpet industry started when there was a plan to provide refugees from Tibet fleeing Chinese rule with a vocation in the 1960's. The Tibetans who came brought with them the expertise of carpetmaking to the Jawalakhel Tibetan Refugee Camp, and from there carpet-making was born into an industry for Tibetans and Nepalis alike. A handmade carpet, 4 x 6 ft, can take up to 8 weeks to make. Child labor is a problem in the industry, like many in the economic south.

There are 60-, 80-, and 100-knot carpets available. The numbers refer to the knots per square inch. As I learned in Tibet, check the bottom very carefully for imprecisions in the weaving, to weed out "machine-made" carpets. This is especially tough for the 100-knot carpets. There are three places I found to buy the carpets - Thamel, Boudhanath, and around the Jawalakhel Tibetan Refugee Camp (500m from the Zoo). The actual Carpet Factory at the camp is expensive, but check the stores around there for cheaper carpets. The best prices I found were around this area, at 5300 RMB for a 4 x 6 m 60-knot (Khamsum Carpets, Jawalakhel and Boudhanath, tel: 012334984). However, you may be able to find cheaper at a supplier (12000 RMB for a 2 x 3 m was bought by my Nepali friend two years ago), but finding the supplier will be tough. Thamel stores were on average 50% more expensive, except for "sale" carpets at Thamel House. Be aware that your "Tibetan" carpet is probably made from Nepali labor, unless you're looking at a very fancy one.

Interesting note: Did you know that many "Tibetan Carpets" made in Tibet are actually from Nepal? According to the Khamsum Carpets shopowner (and he could be lying), the main three purchasers of carpets are from Tibetan businessmen within Tibet, Americans, and Koreans. He stated that although the wool is from Tibet (this could be a lie), the infastructure for washing and dying the wool is in Nepal, as well as cheap(er) labor. Wool is shipped across the border, and carpets are bought by the truck-load back. Based on the costs I saw, this makes sense:

4.5 x 6.5 (ft) 60-knot carpet bought in Lhasa, August 2007: 1250 RMB (USD $166)
4 x 6 (ft) 60-knot carpet bought in Nepal, October 2008: 5300 NPR (USD $72)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Recipe: Nepali-Indian mushroom matar

Note: the following was taken from an adaptation of Friend's Restauarant, however the portions were not measured and should be taken as approximate.

Mushrooms and peas, the classic generic South Asian vegetable dish....

1 small bag peas, ½ lb (approx), frozen or fresh
½ lb mushroom (approx), fresh 
1 onion, finely diced
½ of full head garlic, finely diced
Equivalent of garlic in fresh ginger, finely diced
½ handful of cilantro, finely diced
1 roma tomato, finely diced
2 chilies, finely diced
2 tsp ketchup (approx, can add more)


2 heaping tsp cumin powder
2 heaping tsp chili powder (eqv. to cumin)
½ tsp salt
1 heaping tsp white pepper powder
¾ in butter (or ghee)

Post-boiled peas, showing other raw ingredients

Boil the peas for 5-10 minutes, until soft. Drain.

In a stir-fry pan under medium heat with oil, stir-fry the garlic, ginger, and chilies for a minute. Then, add the onion. When the onion turns brown, add the tomato, cilantro, and 1 cup water. Then, add the spices (and butter) in the order listed. Cook for a few minutes, adding water if necessary, and add the peas. Cook three minutes, and take off flame.

In a separate deep-frying pan, fry the mushrooms for five minutes. Drain; add to the pea mixture. Put the pea mixture back on flame, adding water if it is too dry. Add the ketchup, and salt (to taste).

Adding the peas to the sauce

Completed dish

Serves 1

Recipe: Nepali-Indian Chicken Masala

Note: the following was taken from an adaptation of Friend's Restauarant, however the portions were not measured and should be taken as approximate.

I am not sure what region of Indian chicken masala originates from, but as it is a Nepali adaptation it probably doesn't affect the end dish. The masala indicates that this dish will be more spicy then the "chicken curry" equivalent (and oily too...), and this recipe can be taken as a generic Nepali masala base for other main ingredients (tofu, paneer, mixed vegetables etc...)

1 chicken breast, cut to 1in cubes
½ roma tomato, sliced
½ roma tomato, finely diced
2 onions, finely diced
cilantro, 1 handful, finely diced
¾ in butter (or ghee)
juice of ½ small fresh lime

3 tbsp curd (yoghurt may substitute)
1 tbsp chat masala (approx)*
1 tbsp chili powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp white pepper
juice of ½ small fresh lime
red coloring (optional)

1 cup water
2 tbsp curry powder (approx, may be less)
2 heaping tbsp cumin powder (approx)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp MSG (optional)

Picture showing the first set of ingredients, with pre-diced tomato.

On the chicken breast, sprinkle the curd, chat masala, chili powder, and lime juice. Mix, and add salt, white pepper, and red coloring (optional). 

In a stir-fry pan with oil under medium heat, braise the chicken by leaving the pieces (not the entire marinade) on the pan until each side is golden-brown (flip). This may take up to 10 minutes. Remove from flame when finished.

While the chicken is braised, add 1 cup water, the curry powder and the cumin powder to the leftover marinade. Add more coloring (optional), and the salt and MSG (optional).

In a separate stir-fry pan under medium heat with oil, add the onion. Stir fry until brown, and then add finely diced tomato, along with butter and the leftover marinade. After a minute, add the cilantro and leftover tomato. Add the cooked chicken. Cook two minutes, adding water if necessary, and add the juice of the other lime half. Remove all of the contents of the pan but the oil; serve.

The chicken before red coloring is added

Braising the chicken

The marinade post-chicken and post-later additions, ready to be stir-fried

Post-diced tomato, pre-marinade addition

Completed dish

*According to the box (pictured above), chat masala contains white salt, black salt, dry mango, mint leaves, cumin seeds, bishop’s weed, yellow chilies, dried ginger.

Note: when stir-frying, water should be used if the mixture becomes too dry or burns; let it boil off to keep a broth consistency. The base sauce in this looks like tomato, onion, curd, and the spices, as opposed to the typical tomato and/or onion and/or garlic and/or garam-masala base, and the curd is probably the emulsifier.

Serves 1


Recipe: Nepali Chili Chicken

Note: the following was taken from an adaptation of Friend's Restauarant, however the portions were not measured and should be taken as approximate.

Chili chicken is an appetizer found in many of the Nepali restaurants. Its origin is unclear - although it apparently has Chinese roots, I could not find it in Tibet and it features more South Asian spices than East Asian spices. Adjust the spiciness to your taste!

1 roma tomato (or equivalent size), triangularly cut
1 bell pepper, triangularly cut
8 pcs cut chicken (boneless or bone-in), about 1in in size
4 chilies, cut in half
1 spring onion, sliced into 3in pieces (green parts only)
1 onion, triangularly cut
1 garlic head, minced
1 heaping tbsp hot sauce
corn starch, in water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper powder

Chicken Batter (enough for 4x recipe!):
2 cups flour
1 cup corn starch
¼ tsp MSG (optional)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper powder
½ tsp garlic paste
1 egg
red coloring (optional)
2 cups water, or enough to make smooth but firm consistency

All but the bell peppers, and actual use was half of the hot sauce pictured. Also, the batter.

Make the batter by mixing all ingredients above (the egg needs not be prepared), and make sure it is a smooth but firm consistency. Then, dip the chicken into the marinade and spread evenly (there will be ample leftover sauce). Deep fry the chicken, sauce excluded, for ten or so minutes or until cooked. Then, add the onion slices, bell pepper slices, and fry 30 more seconds. Drain and set aside.

In a stir-fry pan on medium heat, stir-fry with oil and garlic for 30 seconds; add tomato and the chilies. At this point the garlic should start to brown. Add water to keep from drying, 1 tbsp ketchup, and the hot sauce. Then, add the non-batter1/2 tsp salt, MSG (optional), and 1/2 tsp black pepper.  The mixture should look like a broth. Add in the deep fried chicken and vegetables. At this point, add water as necessary so the mixture does not get dry. Finally, emulsify the broth by adding corn starch in water. Serve with raw onions on top or lightly cooked.

Right after adding the chicken

Note: when stir-frying, water should be used if the mixture becomes too dry or burns; let it boil off to keep a broth consistency. Also, I'd imagine soy sauce or vinegar can be added to taste to make it more East Asian.

Serves 1

Completed dish


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Annapurna and Dhaulagiri, in pictures

Photos taken with max 3x optical zoom on a Canon SD870IS point-and-shoot, long exposure. Email for enlargements!

360 view of Annapurna Range at Annapurna Base Camp

Annapurna I (8091m), at Annapurna Base Camp

Dhaulagiri I (8167m), from Poon Hill during sunrise

Dhaulagiri Range, from Poon Hill during sunrise

Dhaulagiri Range and Annapurna Range, from trek to Poon Hill before sunrise

Macchapucchre (Fish Tail) (6993m), from Annapurna Base Camp during sunset

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Recipe: Nepali Dal Bhat

Note: the following recipe is adapted from a cooking course at Via Via Cafe, Kathmandu, based on a chef's interpretation and my loose notes. The measurements may not be fully accurate! For spices, it is best to rely on "parts" relative to each other.

Disclaimer: If there is one thing I learned in the mountains, everyone's dal bhat is different! The pickle, dal, and curries are all up for experimentation.

Dal Bhat, as served on the Annapurna Trek

Dal Bhat is the quissential Nepali dish and a staple in the rice-cultivating regions. It generally consists of dal (lentils), baht (rice), a vegetable curry / saag, and a chutney. It is eaten (traditionally) by mixing the dal with the rice to form a soupy mixture, making a ball of the mixture with your hands, and adding curry and chutney. For the trekker, a spoon is acceptable too...

Starting with the easy:

Bhat (fluffy rice)

x cups rice
2x-4x water
(x ~ 3/4 cup p.p)

Equipment: Pot, Steamer

To make fluffy (read: not sticky) rice, first wash and then boil x cups rice in water for 10-20 minutes, until a rice grain is still slightly hard when squeezed with the fingers. At this point, it is almost cooked; pour the contents of the pot into a drainer, and then steam the rice above a steamer until ready to serve.

Dal (lentils)

1.5 cups lentil (any kind) (for up to 4 people)
3-8 cups water*
1/2 - 1 head garlic, finely chopped
1 cup sliced onions, finely chopped
2 chillies (optional), whole if dried or chopped if fresh

Spices (displayed as parts, 1 heaping tsp will probably do of each):
2 parts salt
1 part tumeric
1 part cumin seed

1 part jeera, to be added to boiled dal (recommended)
ginger, to be added to boiled dal (recommended)
jimbu, to be used as a replacement to ginger (recommended)
2 tomatoes, small (for color)

*The amount of water used literally can vary magnitudes; it determines the consistancy of liquid. If using a steamer, however, I recommend using more rather than less water to avoid burning the dal...

Equipment: Pressure cooker or pot, frying pan

Wash lentils and let soak; drain. Add fresh water, the salt and tumeric and 1-2 tbsp ghee/oil (and other optional spices except cumin), and either cook under pressure cooker for 10-20 minutes or in a pot, simmered and covered, for 20-30 min until the lentils look like porridge.

In a frying pan on medium heat, fry the oil/ghee with the garlic, onion, ginger, cumin seed, chilis until golden brown. If using jimbu instead of garlic, fry until dark. Add tomato (optional) and make a gravy-like consistency. Add the pre-cooked dal, salt to taste, and cilantro, water if necessary, and boil. Alternatively, add fried mix + ingredients to pot.

Frying the dal

Vegetable Curry (tarkari)

(Any) vegetables, boiled or steamed*

2-3 onions, finely chopped
equivalent amount of garlic, finely chopped
4-5 tomatoes, small, finely chopped
chilies, chopped (to taste)

Spices (displayed as parts, 1 heaping tsp will probably do of each):
1 part garammasala
1 part cumin powder
1 part tumeric powder
1 part curry powder
1 part salt
1/2-1 part chili powder

lemon juice
coriander/cinnamon/cardamon/cloves (pinch)

*Common Nepali choices are potato (boiled), green beans, califlower, cabbage, peas, carrots, but any will do. Steaming or boiling helps to slightly pre-cook the vegetables to lessen frying time. Blanch the vegetables if boiling to ensure they are not fully cooked.

Equipment: frying pan

In a frying pan under medium heat, fry in oil/ghee the garlic, onion, ginger, and chilies until golden brown. Add the cumin, tumeric, curry, and chili powder, followed by garammasala, a cup of water, and salt. Add finely diced tomatoes and vegetables. Cook under low heat until the curry has a gravy-like consistency. Add cilantro at end, and lemon juice. Alternatively, one may try to use a blender with the tomatoes/onions/garlic/ginger/chilies to achieve the curry-like consistency before adding vegetables (though I haven't tried it myself).

Prepared raw ingredients

Curried Spinach (saag)

300g spinach leaves (adult/leafy preferred), cut to bite-size pieces
1/2-1 head garlic

Spices (displayed as parts, 1heaping tsp will probably do of each):
1 part cumin seed
1 part currry powder
1 part salt
1 part white pepper

Equipment: frying pan

In a frying pan, fry oil/ghee, garlic, cumin seed. On browning, add spinach, salt, curry powder and white pepper. Cook until spinach is tender.

Tomato Pickle (golbheda ko achar)

Note: This is copied verbatim from recipe list; I have not tried to make this. It also works as the sauce for momos. Personally, I think this recipe is overkill and a lot can probably be left out. Mint-based chutneys as an alternative, which is much easier, also work very well in dal bhat.

2 cups roasted tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
3 fresh red chilis, minced
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp mustard oil
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
salt, to taste

1 tbsp mustard oil
1 tsp fenugreek
10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tbsp green onion, finely chopped

Blend the first set of ingredients to a smooth paste. Transfer to large bowl. Then, in a frying pan heat the mustard oil. Add fenugreek. When it turns dark, add garlic slices until they turn golden brown. Pour the garlic-oil mixture and chopped green onion mixture over the blended paste, mix, and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Note: An alternate recipe suggested by a coworker is to blend boiled tomatoes, chili powder, fresh garlic and salt, and refrigerate.

Completed, based on the recipe