Our last day on the Mardi Himal trek Nepal, we stayed over at the Mardi Himal Eco Village Kalimati.
Quintessentially Nepalese, everything about this magical place is organic and natural. They like their fruit and spices fresh and home-grown. Around the homestead where we are to spend the night were various spices and foods set out to dry.
Out in the front garden, there are red chillies.
Black cardamon, from the ginger family, is indigenous to the sub Hymalian region. It is a taste enhancer when cooked with food. It is used in meat pickles, meat stews, and curries. It is one of the secret ingredients in the local bacon industry. One of the finds of the trip, I bought a sachet produced by Himalica for Roy Oliver to do his magic with. Roy is our resident master butcher at Woodys Consumer Brand.
At the entrance to the house is rice. Rice is dried and stored and before it is used, it is spread for another day in the sun to dry properly.
Upstairs there are small potatoes being dried.
Onions are being dried in one corner.
Corn is dried before it is stripped off the carb and ground.
While I am taking photos, Minette and Tristan are trying their hands at carrying the rice crop. 😀
Upstairs I find these two instruments, commonly used for working the rice fields – hasiya and kutto.
Back in Kathmandu, we walk through the ancient market area of Ason and I buy spices for Roy Oliver. Prashant helps me to identify it and gives guidance on how best to use it.
Prashant, our guide to the market knows the local history well. He holds a degree in science and his eye for detail serves him well as a tour guide. We walk the old dusty streets of the ancient city and he steers us through the hustle and bustle to the spice traders and the salt merchants. Every corner of the city solicits more historical information and background than one can possibly retain in a week and becomes the bedrock of a lifetime of study.
For Roy Oliver, I get round black spice: Timmur, as it is called in Nepal and also called sichuan pepper.
Prashant suggests we grind it up and use it as a spice in pickles and soups. Mix it with black salt for better taste. I try some of it and it is an exciting spice with at least three dominant aftertastes.
Next, I choose a green leafy spice: Jimmu
Prashant recommends that one heat some oil in a spoon and put a little jimmu in it and puts it into soup when it is almost black. Best with lentil soup.
I have a special interest in salts and spend a lot of time with the many salt merchants of the market, mostly old ladies. I choose a bad tasting brown salt. Kalak namak or Nepalese Black Salt (bire noon), the pungent smell is due to the presence of sulfur. Prashant recommends, “simply grind it and use it in pickles and soups. Garnishing curry with powdered black salt will enhance the taste.” I am intrigued to see the results in Roys’ hands.
Sites and culinary traditions of Nepal are ancient. In all my travels have I never had the quality of food that we had in Nepal where every housewife and farmer are master chefs! Here, one finds a depth in the fusion of spices and aromas, probably unlike anywhere else on the planet. I will return here often in person, in my mind and dreams and by email for advice – this is the spice jewel in the crown of the taste capitals of the world!
(c) eben van tonder, October 2017
Note: This article was written with the help of both Prashant Neupane and Sabin Dhakal. All mistakes and omissions are due to my own misunderstanding and limited knowledge. Prashant is employed by Travelines and he arranged out itinerary in Nepal. Sabin guided us on our trek to the Mardi Himal base camp.
Ayush Rajbhandari with Tristan. Ayush and his brother created a fast food business, Urban Food, fusing Western Fast Food with Nepalese cuisine, amongst other, through the use of local spices, including in his bacon.
Prashant Neupane with Minette in Kathmandu.
Sabin Dhakal close to base camp on the Mardi Himal Trek.
I am taking down a recipe from our host.
Our host at the Mardi Himal Eco Village.