Home » Posts tagged 'cooking'

Tag Archives: cooking

Places To Visit In Chitwan, Nepal

Cooking Tharu Chitwan Nepal

The Chitwan area of Nepal is a national park that is located around 100km from Kathmandu. It takes around two to four hours to travel there from the capital (sometimes much longer if the roads are busy – our return journey took 10 hours!) depending on the route. But it’s a pleasantly scenic drive across the Nepalese countryside (we travelled there after spending a night at the Neydo monastery) once you have escaped the busy roads of the capital city. It is possible to fly from Kathmandu but this is a more expensive mode of transport. There are lots of places to visit in Chitwan. The area is best known for its wildlife but it is also possible to meet the local Tharu people and learn to cook with them.

Wildlife Walking Safari in Chitwan National Park

Chitwan is best known as a wildlife reserve where you can undertake a boat or walking safari and – if you are amazingly lucky – you may be able to see wild elephants, rhino, bears or even a tiger. If you’re merely lucky you will catch a glimpse of monkeys, deer and birds. And maybe chance upon some rhino poo to prove that they really were somewhere in the forest, honest.

We caught a jeep from our hotel to the river early in the morning and climbed aboard a long boat, so we could float serenely downriver.

places to visit in Chitwan

There were lots of birds to see, including brightly coloured kingfishers, and we passed by a crocodile, who was almost as long as our boat, also enjoying a leisurely time in the river.

After around an hour we disembarked and met our guide for a walking safari.

places to visit in Chitwan

We were given a pep talk whereby we learned what to do if we were to encounter any of the amazing, but potentially dangerous, creatures. Basically, they can all outrun you, so:

Rhinos – Stand still if you are downwind from them, they have appalling eyesight and probably won’t see you. Back away. If they charge, run away in a zig zag pattern, climb a tree if you can.

Bears – Do not run, avoid eye contact, back away slowly.

Tigers – Stand your ground. Don’t run, all cats love a chase.

Elephants – If they’re in a strop, you’re doomed!

Sadly, we weren’t amazingly lucky and didn’t get to try any of these techniques as the wildlife had decided not to come out to play, but that’s okay, that’s why it’s called wildlife.We did see a strutting peacock, a monkey and some deer.

But whether you see spectacular creatures or not, walking through the forest or floating along the river makes for a very pleasant morning.

And did meet one tiger!

places to visit in Chitwan

Places to Visit in Chitwan – A Tharu Village

A less well-known excursion is one which takes you to a nearby Tharu village. Local people welcome you and are happy to introduce you to their traditional way of life. This trip can be arranged via your hotel who will organise transport to the village, which is located just a few kilometres from the national park. All the villagers are very welcoming and are happy for you to wander round. Some of the local women have recently set up a home stay so that you can experience the local way of life first hand. If we were to return to Chitwan we would absolutely love to stay with them.

places to visit in Chitwan

Cooking With the Tharu People

Even if you’re not staying overnight, you can spend a very pleasant afternoon learning to cook traditional dishes with them. We met our lovely hosts who made sure we had a hands-on approach to cooking, right from the start.

The first element of the meal to start cooking is the rice. First of all, get water. There is no running water in the houses so you have to go to the local pump. Wash the rice then add water to the urn. Next, start the fire. The Tharu use an outdoor clay oven fuelled with wood. The oven is located between the houses.

Some kindling starts the fire and then the wood burns slowly to create an intense but steady heat. Pop the rice into the water vessel, put it on the fire and let it start cooking.

Chitwan National Park Tharu Village rice cooking

We then went for a walk in the local area to find ingredients. The Tharu grow a lot of their own vegetables on land adjacent to the village. These include onions, rice, beans, wheat and corn. It was particularly interesting to see lentils growing – we’d only ever seen them dried and they only ever came in packets from the supermarket.

Then we started preparing the vegetarian dish that accompanied the rice which was boiling away merrily on the fire. Beans were sliced using a knife by steadying the handle with a foot and – carefully – slicing the beans using the inside of the blade. Other vegetables were added.

We then went onto flavouring and this was something of a revelation. At home we’re very accustomed to using gadgets to process our food. There’s nothing wrong with that – with busy lives, a food processor can save a few seconds with all sorts of routine kitchen preparation jobs. But, actually, crushing garlic with a stone on a rock took no time at all and produced a smoother paste than any garlic crusher we’ve come across.

We removed the rice, which remained piping hot inside its pot and cooked the main dish over the fire. We started by quickly frying off the garlic and then added the vegetables and a bit of water to simmer.

Chitwan National Park Tharu Village cooking pot

The other thing is that we are also very used to buying powdered spice mixes. Pick up a packet of garam masala, sprinkle into your cooking and… instant flavouring. But so many of us buy spice mixes that are often never fully used before their ‘best before’ dates and languish in a cupboard slowing turning into tasteless dust. And it really isn’t that much more effort grind whole spices. Again, we used a stone. In this instance some dalchini (cinnamon bark), a few peppercorns, a dried cinnamon leaf and a cardamon pod were quickly ground into a masala. And doing it this way also gave us the freedom to change the spice combination. We added this to the dish at the last moment to provide a very aromatic flavour. Which, of course, was delicious.

We shared it with our host family in their home.

The trip also included an opportunity for Mitch to dress up and dance with the local ladies. Photos of her wearing traditional dress and – shock, horror – make-up do exist, but we’ll spare you those. What was great about the trip was not only getting the opportunity to cook and taste delicious local food but also to meet so many lovely people. Our hosts were absolutely charming and the whole village was delighted to see us.  

The afternoon with the Tharu was delightful but it also changed the way we think about using spices. After our visit we decided that we would buy whole spices and then we could develop our own flavourings. Much as we’d like to have a grinding stone and a rock it’s not very practical in a suburban English house, but we do use a good quality granite pestle and mortar. It gives us the opportunity to experiment with spice combinations as well as textures – sometime we want a fine grind, other times we prefer a coarser texture. The whole spices can be stored more easily and keep for a longer period of time – especially if using an airtight container.

Holi in Nepal
Celebrating Holi in Nepal
Nepal momo
Nepal Momos
Bhutan chilli cheese
Bhutan chilli cheese
South India Thali
Thali in South India
A link to all posts about India
If you liked this post, please share it:

A Mongolian Yurt – Anatomy of a Ger

One of the lovely things about travelling to Mongolia is staying in gers, either with families who were kind enough to share their homes with us or at specially designed tourist camps. A ger (also known in Western countries as a Mongolian yurt, although ger is the correct Mongolian term) are traditional round tents used as dwellings throughout Mongolia. The amazing thing about them is that they can be taken down and put up within a couple of hours. The construction uses no nails or fixings – the wooden poles interlock and remain sturdy and solid.

The national museum of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar helpfully has a model to show a ger’s construction.

The door of the ger always faces south. You have to remember to duck when entering – it’s probably a rare visitor who doesn’t bash their head at least once when staying in gers!

Mongolian yurt

Most locals don’t knock before entering the ger and shoes remain on. Whenever we visited a family we were invited to join them and were introduced to all the family members over a cup of milk tea or sometimes a shot of vodka. We were always welcomed warmly with big smiles at every place we visited.

In winter, temperatures outside can drop to -30 degC. We visited in spring so night-time temperatures were a relatively balmy -15 degC – which was still very, very cold! The fuel used by the family varies depending on what is available – coal burns more slowly than wood which burns more slowly than dung.

The Heart Of The Home

The centre of the ger is the stove. It really is the heart of the home, used for both cooking and heating. You need to be aware of the chimney as it’s located in the centre of the ger and will get very hot.

To the left of the door is the kitchen area. Shelves contain pots and pans as well as cooking utensils. Many of the pots are specifically designed to be used directly on the stove and can be used interchangeably. It’s a very efficient system.

Mongolian yurt interior

The blue barrel contains water, drawn from the nearest well.

To the right of the door is the washing area. There is no running water available but the little plastic vessel can be filled from the main water barrel and the tap opened.

Mongolia yurt interior

Be careful not to waste water though. If you want water in the Gobi desert you have to go to the nearest well, which can be several kilometres away.

Water well Gobi desert

The water is pure and can be drunk directly with no filtration needed. It tastes good.

This well was used not only to provide water for the family, the local cows were also waiting for a drink.

Sleeping In A Mongolian Yurt – A Ger

Beds and storage areas line the circumference of the ger. There will be a low table with stools next to the stove. Beds double as a seating area – it’s perfectly fine to sit on someone’s bed. Blankets and clothes can be stored underneath. You can hang your coat or dry any laundry by hanging clothes in the rafters. Family homes also had furniture such as chests of drawers and dressing tables.

Mongolia yurt

Of course there is a need for a toilet. The facilities are usually a basic long drop loo, that is, a hole in the ground with a couple of planks across it to stand on, located some 50m from the ger. When answering the call of nature you are surrounded by, well, nature.

Mongolia yurt toilet

If you want a shower you will have to go to the local town. There are shower houses available for locals to use. We had just three showers in eleven days and were surprised to discover that it’s quite liberating having greasy hair and simply not feeling the need to shower every day. We’d have a quick wash down with wet-wipes on non-shower days (making sure to dispose of them properly). The climate in Mongolia, especially in the Gobi, is very dry – so the heat of the summer and cold of the winter are mitigated by the lack of humidity.

In springtime, while daytime temperatures can be quite mild, it drops significantly at night. The ger will be toasty warm while the stove is lit, but it will go out and then it’s time to bundle up – thermals, blankets, sleeping bags – just pile them on.

The host family will come in in the morning and start up the fire. We were pretty incompetent at getting the stove going at first but during the course our stay we eventually developed a technique that could both start and maintain the fire and we could officially deem ourselves the ‘fire-starters.’ Nomadic families make use of the dung produced by their many animals. It is dried out and used for fuel. It burns quite quickly so you need to keep an eye on the stove and top up whenever necessary.

Cats are working animals in Mongolia and all our hosts found it hilarious that our little cat goes into a cattery – we described it as a ‘cat hotel’ – when we are travelling. If a local cat gets into the ger be warned, it will instantly take advantage of both the warmth and softy tourists within and will almost certainly leap onto your sleeping gear to snuggle up and look smug. You’ll be lucky to get your bed back.

Nomad Gobi Desert
Staying with the nomads in Mongolia’s Gobi desert
How to get a shower in Mongolia
Chitwan National Park Tharu Village cooking pot
Cooking with the Tharu in Chitwan, Nepal
Jispa stupa
The Leh-Manali highway in India
If you liked this post, please share it:

The Flavour Thesaurus Review

by Niki Segnit

Most cookery books have a picture of beautifully presented delicious food on the cover to tantalise the tastebuds. The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit is just as enticing but from an entirely different perspective.

The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit book review

It’s a large colour wheel or, more precisely, half a colour wheel that adorns the front cover. Fear not, if you open to the very first page, the full colour wheel is revealed in all its glory and immediately the purpose of The Flavour Thesaurus becomes clear.

The book’s aim is to demonstrate how different flavours can complement each other. So the colour wheel represents a number of flavours which are divided into particular categories. Meaty, cheesy, marine are straightforward definitions, more descriptive definitions include earthy, mustardy, spicy, woodland. Fruity is further split so that you can fresh, floral or creamy fruity. Then each category has sub-categories which represent the ingredients’ flavours. So meaty comprises: chicken, pork, black pudding, liver, beef, lamb whereas creamy fruity has: banana, melon, apricot, peach, coconut, mango.

And that’s just the first page. After a brief introduction to the purpose of the project, Segnit then launches straight into the thesaurus element. Each flavour category has a chapter and each ingredient within that category its own section. Where the ingredient complements another flavour in the thesaurus Segnit then writes up a paragraph explaining how the particular flavours complement each other with maybe an interesting anecdote thrown in and a high-level but perfectly functional recipe to get your creative cookery juices flowing. These also reference chefs, cooks and food critics’ recipes and opinions (sometimes conflicting) on the success – or not – of the combinations. And these recipes aren’t restricted to western palettes the flavours are derived from all over the world.

Some of the combinations are, of course, tried and tested classics, others more surprising. Who knew, for example, that the Russian Tsar’s children tucked into caviar and mashed banana for breakfast? Or that chocolate might complement cauliflower? Or that blueberries work well with mushrooms?

As well as being a cookery book that is fun simply to read, it also encourages you to experiment. Open the store cupboard, have a poke inside and see what ingredients are there to put together. Who knows what flavour combination you might discover?

You can buy The Flavour Thesaurus by clicking the picture below.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links. If you click the link and decide to make a purchase we will earn a small commission, at no cost to you, which helps towards running this site.

If you liked this post, please share it:

Sign Up To Our Very Tasty Newsletter