|Eating Nepalese - or How to Age 57 Years in 30 Minutes|
by Sally Hammond
Well of course I knew I could fly to Nepal from Sydney Airport, but I didn’t realise I could find myself immersed in Nepalese culture on the edge of the airport without even using my passport.
Nor did I imagine I could age 57 years while doing it. This is how it happened.
Last night we attended an event in which the Nepalese community celebrated Navavarsha (Nepalese New Year). Held at the Stamford Plaza Sydney Airport hotel, it was also the launch of a twelve-day Nepalese Food Festival in the hotel restaurant, The Grove.
I must say I stopped listening after ‘Nepalese food’ when I was issued the invitation. I had to try this! Was it like Tibetan food which I had tried on the other side of the Himalayas? Was it more Indian? Or was it completely different?
On arrival at the hotel, though, we realised that this was not just a dining experience. It seemed that every Nepalese in Sydney including the Ambassador of Nepal, Mr Yogendra Dhakal, and many other important people from that community were in attendance.
Sometime during the wealth of speeches someone mentioned ‘Happy 2066’ a phrase which took my attention from the food and festivities. Wow! That went fast!! How had I missed a few decades? Was I now well over 100 without noticing it?
No, the Nepalese use another calendar, well ahead of ours, and the time warp was soon forgotten when the simple lamp-lighting ceremony was performed, a moving and ancient rite of passage from one year into the next.
But, the food……..
In the restaurant we met the Stamford’s Nepalese chef, Sher, who has been in Australia for three years. He explained the menu to us and passed around packets of Nepalese herbs from his kitchen for us to sniff and sample. I tasted one dark aromatic one and it made my tongue numb. Uh-oh!
‘That’s OK,’ he told me quickly, ‘when we had stings as children, our mother would rub this spice on the spot and it would numb it.’ In his cooking it appears in slow-simmered dishes which allow its tongue-numbing properties to be turned to other uses.
The awesome line-up of dishes on the hot buffet included male goat meat curry (why male, we asked? Because the females are more important, he told us simply), steamed momos (which I remembered from Tibet) with a spicy curry sauce, a stir-fry of pork belly, which, for authenticity, he would have used wild boar if he could have found any, and a half dozen other dishes with unpronounceable names and truly delicious flavours.
Dessert was an especial winner with comfort foods of lightly spiced rice pudding and a creamy vermicelli dish with sultanas. But the real hit at our table was Gajar Halwa – carrot halva, rich, thick, cardamom scented and addictive.
Nepal is planning a special tourism year in 2011. Maybe then I’ll go even further than the Stamford Plaza, and check-in at the airport to see for myself what this fascinating high-altitude country is all about. I just need to remember that by then it will really be 2068.