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A vegan in a small Nepali village.

Last year, I finished an eight month Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Grant in Nepal. The first month was spent training in Kathmandu, and for seven months I lived with a Nepali family and taught English daily at a local public school. My house was about two hours outside of Kathmandu in a small village called Badikhel, near the bigger town Godavari.

My host family was extremely generous and hospitable. My host dad was a government employee in the agricultural department, and my host mom stayed at home to manage the house and look after my two host sisters and grandmother. By chance, I was extremely fortunate to have chosen a family that eats very little meat! In Nepal, though cows are sacred, cow's milk is thought to be a necessity for children and adults alike. In Hinduism, to summarize, the cow symbolizes God's creation, and to kill a cow is an extremely serious offense. Most Nepali families will have at least one ox (male) and one cow (female) kept at their house. Cows are given tikas (red rice mixture placed as a dot on the forehead), the same as people are given, on holy and auspicious days. My host family, however, did not own any livestock and instead bought their dahi (yogurt) and dud (milk) from a supplier.

My host family was very understanding when I explained the meaning of the word 'vegan,' although other relatives, neighbors, and my host grandmother considered my diet to be extremely unhealthy. Vegetarians are accepted and some castes of Hindu society don't eat certain meats or eat meat at all. However, to not drink milk is a huge surprise for many. My host aunt told me that cow's milk is necessary for growth and calcium, which is similar to the beliefs of many people in the United States.

I ate the traditional dahl bhaht (soupy lentils, a spicy pickled side dish, a vegetable curry, and white rice) in the morning and evening, and I brought lunch with me to school. My host mom is traditional and did not like me to cook or touch anything in the kitchen, so whatever she cooked, I ate. The vegetable curries for dahl bhaht include sahg (lettuce fried in a wok or pressure cooker), aloo (fried potatoes), hariyo simi (curried green beans), gedahgadi (a medley of soupy beans), kauli (fried cauliflower), cyan (fried mushrooms), and many other vegetables. Pretty much everything grows in Nepal, so there is always a great variety of vegetables to cook! The one time I was allowed to cook for my family was when my host dad harvested avocados but didn't know how to cook or eat them. I made guacamole for my family and they loved it. Some of my fellow grantees were placed in areas further from Kathmandu and struggled living with families who ate chicken, buffalo, or goat at every meal. These families insisted my friends eat this meat too, so I was very lucky to be with my family!

Having access to Kathmandu was very important for me, especially when I had food poisoning three times and gastroenteritis! Kathmandu has some great options for vegans. Although I didn't like the food at 1905 Restaurant, they host a farmer's market every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Walk out of Thamel past Himalayan Java and turn right; just up the street there is a big banner.) There are organic fruits and vegetables available, falafel, roasted soybeans, hummus from a sweet French monk, and German breads (some are vegan). Brown, red, and purple rice are also available.

In Thamel, which is where most of the nightlife happens in Kathmandu, there are several vegan-friendly restaurants. If you ask any person where Thamel is, they can easily direct you; taxi drivers are very familiar with this area, too. It's near the old palace, Narayanhiti, and one block away from Durbar Square, the main commercial area. Walk into the Main Street of Thamel around the corner from The Garden of Dreams (old, royal gardens that are now open to the public and have wifi services for a small fee). Passing Himalayan Java, continue straight past Purple Haze Nightclub. At the next intersection, turn left and on your right-hand side you'll find Green Organic Cafe. It's a bit pricey, but everything is fresh and organic, and even the pizza can be made vegan (request it without cheese). Try their soups and brown rice, buckwheat momos (like dumplings, see photo on page 18), and vegetable and tofu patties. OR2K is across from Purple Haze on the right-hand side after you walk straight into Thamel. It is an Israeli restaurant that serves amazing hummus, falafel, baba ghanoush, and other Israeli classics. For nightlife and good food, try Reggae Bar, 10 shops before Green Organic Cafe. They have live rock music every night, and the vegetable pakodas (deep fried vegetable patties), vegetable momos, and a drink off their long bar menu won't disappoint. Phat Kath is across the street from Reggae and offers French cuisine and great local food. The atmosphere is mellow; it's too small for live music, but it's cozy and they have drink specials every day.

Although alternatives to cow's milk are uncommon in Nepal, there are two locations that offer soymilk in Thamel. The largest Himalayan Java at the entrance of Thamel on your right side, just past The Garden of Dreams, offers soymilk in place of cow's milk in your coffee for a small fee. This is the only location of the Himalayan Java chain that offers soymilk. The soy latte is delicious and there is free wifi to use as well. You can purchase soymilk at Shop Right Supermarket, the largest supermarket in Thamel, which is located just a few shops before Reggae. They sell a soymilk imported from Thailand that has no animal ingredients and comes in different flavors, called Lactasoy. It's fortified with calcium and vitamins and is very tasty. Big Mart, a chain supermarket, also sells Lactasoy around Kathmandu (see photo above). There's one near Hotel Shangri La in Lazimpat and another in Dhobigat.

Here are a few recipes I've picked up from my host family and friends and adapted for vegans. The first is a super easy way to make vegetables tasty. Grind salt, chili peppers (chili powder works, too), and garlic by hand or with a small blender, to taste. Sprinkle this simple achar over corn on the cob instead of margarine. Or, if you are tired of eating carrots and cucumbers with hummus, sprinkle achar over some veggies and have them raw.

Another easy and fun snack for the family is bhuteko makai, known as fried corn, or popcorn. Nepalis eat this especially after harvesting maize in September and October, but it's a nice snack anytime. Nepalis eat corn in many different forms; the most common is half-popping the corn so it's very crunchy, but it's usually mixed with a dried bean as well, such as soybeans. To make it this way, rub oil on the sides of a deep pot. Cover the bottom with oil as well. Pour corn kernels inside and salt to taste. Try to pop the kernels only halfway; mix the kernels around with a long spoon and keep the lid firmly closed. If they pop into popcorn, that's alright, too! When you pop it as you would like, add some dry soybeans or nuts to the corn and eat it as a snack.

Normally Americans don't cook lettuce; we eat it raw in a salad or a sandwich. Nepalis frequently eat sahg (cooked lettuce) as their tarkahri (vegetable curry) in their dahl bhaht. It's easy to make and can be served hot or cold and poured over bread or rice. You need a deep pot, pressure cooker or wok, oil, salt, ginger, chili, cumin, garlic, green onion, fresh fennel or coriander (optional), one lemon or lime, vegetable broth or bouillon (optional), and fresh lettuce or spinach. First, heat the pot or wok. Pour two Tablespoons of oil into the pot. It should bubble immediately. Add ginger (you can grate fresh ginger using a grater or cut small pieces, or use ginger powder), chili, garlic, salt, and cumin to taste. After a couple of minutes, add the lettuce. Chop up the green onion and add that next. Cover and let it simmer into a soft mixture. In a separate pan or pot, you can repeat frying ginger, cumin, salt, garlic, and chili, and then pour in some vegetable broth or use 2 cups of water for one bouillon cube. Then pour the broth or bouillon into the pot of lettuce. If you don't want to add either of those, simply add water. The last step is to add either fresh fennel or fresh coriander leaves (to taste) into the mixture. Usually I use six to eight pieces of fennel or coriander to make the curry very flavorful. Let it simmer with the lid on for another 10 minutes. If it dries out, add some water. You can judge how soupy or dry you prefer it. Then you can pour the lettuce over some rice and squeeze a fresh lemon over the dish. It's now ready to eat!

Flere are some language tips if you are traveling in Nepal: C is pronounced as "ch."

Ah makes an "ah" sound.

A makes an "uh" sound.

E makes an "eh" sound.

U makes an "oo" sound.

People won't understand what vegan means, but people who know the English word 'vegetarian' will most likely understand you if you say you are a "pure vegetarian" because you eat nothing from animals.

Ma sahkahahri hu means, "I am vegetarian," but most people know the English word.

Ma mahsu, dud, phul, mahchah, maha, sabat janahwar ko khannah na khane means, "I do not eat meat, milk, egg, fish, honey--all animal-made foods I don't eat."

Mahsu khana hundaina malai means, "For me, eating meat is bad/unacceptable."

Yo khandina AND nakhani both mean, "I don't eat this."

Yo khannaj mah dud cha? means, "Is there milk in this food?" Say mahsu instead of dud to mean meat.

Yo mahsu nahaleko pauncha? means, "Can you make this without meat?"

Mero ciyah dud nahaleko. When you are ordering tea, this means "Don't put milk in my tea." All Nepalis will assume you like milk and lots of sugar (cini) in your tea, so be clear!

Mahsu ra dud mero biswahs hoina. "Meat and milk are against my beliefs."

If you want to apologize, you can just say, "Sorry." Most Nepalis say that nowadays to apologize.

Kir, gyu, and dahi are all milk products, so don't accept if someone offers them!

Thamelmah jahne? "Can you go to Thamel?" You can say this to a taxi driver. They will overcharge you, but stick to 200 rupees as your limit.

Dui saiye rupee ah dinchu. "I will give you 200 rupees."

Yasmin Radbod wrote this article while completing a Fulbright English Teaching Assistanship Grant in Nepal. She is a former VRG intern and is a VRG volunteer.
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Author:Radbod, Yasmin
Publication:Vegetarian Journal
Article Type:Travel narrative
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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