Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Indian Food

I'm pretty sure that Indian food is the best food in the world. I can't think of any cuisine which has quite as many flavors or diversity as Indian food. While I was in India, I spent most of my time in the Tibetan community, which meant getting Indian food was a bit of a production, however, I tried my best to get Indian food at least once a week while working at the monastery. 


This was one of my first meals in India. This was a roadside Dhaba (small restaurant) on the way to Agra. We were tempted to get this 'veg curry' because of the dirt cheap price of 20 rupees or something, however the bread was filled with something delicious which made one piece of bread about 100 rupees. So, not a dirt cheap meal, but still delicious and amazing. And made me more conscious of bread prices in future meals.

One of the most ubiquitous street foods in India are samosas. Who can resist deep fried amazingness?

Hindi sweets are quite famous. After watching this guy making these deep fried snacks I couldn't help but buy one to try. Actually, the taste reminds me a lot of the Korean pastry 약과 (yakgwa), but these are a lot prettier in their swirly shapes.

This one was from another roadside dhaba on the way back from Agra. Amazingly simple palak paneer, yet so delicious. 

Another curry (can't remember which) from a small restaurant in Delhi. With a lassi on the side. mmmm... 

This was like Indian fast food/ take out. All the food was pre-prepared. Just order, and they'll serve it over to you. 

Here is a very typical Indian street food/ snack. This deep fried bread is called puri and is served up with some simple curry or yogurt sauce to dip in. 

When visiting Indian restaurants before going to India, I always avoided butter chicken. Not sure why, maybe I thought it would be too rich or too fatty. But, butter chicken was one of the first dishes my co-workers ordered for us on our first Indian food outing. And, well, I realized what I had been missing all those years. Butter chicken is absolutely mouth-watering. Just melts in your mouth as you eat it. Definitely need to get this again soon. 

Here is a man selling a variety of street food. The one in front is fried channa (chick peas), others are other random fried things. Well, there's a lot of deep fried and fried food in India... 

This is the kind of street food that tourists should definitely not eat if they don't want to get sick.  Basically fresh vegetables with chili sauce over some kind of crispy chip-like things. Tasty, but not recommended for tourists.

Here was our meal at the 'public dhaba' in Joginder Nagar. Channa masala, aloo palak, and mutton (goat) curry. Delicious and super cheap. 

Here's another puri with various dipping sauces, plus a samosa at a popular hole in the wall restaurant in Baijnath.

Lots of samosas, puri and maybe those are parathas in a stack in the back. I'm still a bit confused about the difference between paratha, chapati, and roti... they all look like flat and round bread to me..

Making samosas

Here's another absolute tourist no-no which I should never have eaten. No idea what it was made of, but there was definitely cilantro and green onions mixed with some kind of spicy snack. It was being sold by a man roving bus to bus and he carried this around in a bucket and distributed it on recycled paper as you can see.  I don't think this made me sick though

While in Palampur we decided to try out some more Hindi snacks. The yellow one was actually paneer (I think) in a cold creamy sauce. The orange one was actually made of carrots, but it was very tasty. After searching online, I found one dish called Gajar Halva.

This one is a pretty typical snack to eat while drinking in India. It's basically peanuts mixed with all sorts of fresh veggies. It's really nice, but again, I don't know the name of this dish.

Here's a pappadum with fresh vegetables on top. This is quite tasty. The pappadum is almost cracker-like in consistency so it's a little difficult to eat as it is very brittle, however with this veggie mix on top it's quite tasty.

I tried a few different biriyanis while in India. They were all really nice. Basically this is slightly creamy rice with many different spices.

Don't remember what this one was, something with paneer.

Here's an egg biriyani... really delicious...

Lots of amazing food...

Don't remember what this was... but I'm sure it tasted great...

Finally, my last breakfast in India. I was told I must try Paratha with curds as it is a very typical Himachal Pradesh breakfast food. Unfortunately, after several attempts (usually after breakfast time) I failed to find it in my town. So, on my last morning in Majnu ka Tilla in Delhi (the Tibetan colony in Delhi) I found paratha with curds on the menu at the Tibetan restaurant where we got breakfast and I figured it was my last chance to get it. Anyway, it was quite nice, the curds reminded me of my homemade yogurt actually and the bread was simple and nice to dip in the curds.

Before leaving India, I made sure to pick up a bunch of Indian spices. I hope I can use them soon to try making some Indian dishes!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Part Time Cooks: Hip-Hop Performance in Seoul 3/28/2014

I'd just like to put up a little add for a friend of mine here in Seoul. My friend Blessing, who goes by the name Black Moss has formed a new group called Part Time Cooks. Their style is somewhere between hip hop and jazz. I've heard a few of their songs and I think they should definitely be worth checking out.

Here's the info for their upcoming show:

Here are some samples of some of the group members' music. They've all got pretty nice sound to them.

If I've piqued your interest, see the map below for directions to the show:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tibetan Food

Even though I was in India, I spent the majority of my time in the Tibetan community, as I was working at a Tibetan Buddhist temple. That means I got a lot of exposure to Tibetan food. What I discovered after 5 weeks in the Tibetan community is that there really aren't that many foods on a Tibetan menu (especially when comparing it to the never-ending menus at the Indian restaurants around the corner). I tried my best to document all the food I ate here, but there are a few important dishes missing. I'll introduce them later.

This dish is called Shapale. Sha is meat and Pale is bread, so basically 'meat bread'. Actually, it's like a giant fried meat filled dumpling. This was served with fried potatoes and chili powder. I heard that in Tibet, chili pepper powder is not popular, but here in India no Tibetan restaurant would be complete without several kinds of chili paste/powder.

Here is the monastery's version of thukpa. This was was lacking a lot of broth, though, it was mostly just noodles.

This is more like a normal thukpa. Long noodles with vegetables and this particular one has meat, too. The meat is 'mutton'. Now, I've always learned that mutton was sheep meat, particularly older sheep as opposed to lamb, which would be a young sheep. However, I realized (almost at the end of my stay) that generally when you order 'sha' (meat) in Tibetan restaurants, it is what they called 'mutton' however, 'mutton' in India is not sheep meat as I originally believed, but in fact is goat meat. So, I ate a lot of goat during my stay in India... and not necessarily on purpose...

Here are some momos, sha momos I believe. There were three kinds of momos I saw a lot in Tibetan restaurants. Meat (mutton goat) momos, spinach and cheese momos, and potato momos. Though, the potato momos were my favorite, though they were spiced with some kind of Indian style spices, so I don't know how authentic Tibetan they were.

This dish is called Then Thuk. Then (pronounced ten) means 'pull' and Thuk (pronounced tuk) is noodle, so this dish can be called pulled noodles. They're called this because to make them, you can make a long string of dough and pull off small flat rectangles to make these noodles. As you can see, the noodles are flat, short and wide, like little squares/rectangles. I just found this recipe online while researching this dish... it seems pretty simple to make... perhaps I'll try it some day...

This one was kind of special. This is called lapping (sounds like laughing), and is a typical street food. The noodles are served cold with a spicy sauce. I'm not sure why this particular one was so yellow, as when I search online, it seems the noodles are usually clear. It was quite fun to watch this being made as the woman had a sheet of this gelatinous substance. She then rolled it up and cut it to make many noodles. Then she just threw a little bit of all the spices on her table together to make the spicy sauce.

But, somehow I forgot to photograph one of my favorite Tibetan dishes, Chow Mein, dispite eating it on many occasions. Now, I know what you're thinking... chow mein, that's Chinese food. Well, yes, that may be true, but clearly, thanks to geography if for no other reason, it's not hard to see why Tibetan food might be similar to Chinese food. I find Tibetan Chow Mein to be much less salty and oily than its Chinese counterpart. I'm not sure how the cooking methods are different, but Tibetan chow mein is definitely worth a try.

Another food missing here is tingmo, which is steamed bread, a little bit like Chinese style steamed bread. I never took a photo of it because I guess it was just too normal to me. At the monastery, breakfast everyday was tingmo. I found it to be a little dry and bland until I discovered that when they are fried and eaten with ketchup on the side they become absolutely scrumptious.

Butter tea is another famous part of Tibetan cuisine. However, thanks to bad memories of the butter tea in Meili Xueshan several months before going to India, I couldn't bring myself to drink it on this trip...

Finally, I'll leave you with a photo of one of the restaurants in the Chauntra Tibetan colony which we often frequented. They were always open (there was a bed in the restaurant, I'm pretty sure the owners live in the restaurant) and the woman there spoke quite passable English and was very friendly. Later we found that the shop two doors down, though, had the most fantastic potato momos we'd ever tried. In any case, it's good to have options.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Baijnath, Palampor, and a toy train

 Indian buses look just like how you would expect them to look... 

 With only one day per week off from working in the monastery, we looked forward to our Fridays off a lot. Unfortunately, our day in Tso Pema was the last bright sunny day we had on our days off. The next Friday it poured and we did nothing but lay around the monastery and sleep. And the following Friday, after a week of beautiful weather, we woke up to thunderstorms again. But, as my days in India were quickly flying by, I couldn't let my last Friday off from work be ruined by another rain storm. So this time, my Tibetan co-worker, my new American co-worker put on our raincoats and our umbrellas and trudged out into the rain to catch a bus to the nearby town of Baijnath.

The good thing about traveling by bus is that you can go between towns for almost nothing. I think we paid about 20 rupees or so for this bus ride, which is about $0.33. Though, the downside is that the buses are crowded and take more than double the time of driving.

 In Baijnath, there's really only one thing to see, and that is the town's namesake, the Baijnath temple. This is a temple dedicated to Shiva and it is ancient. The temple was constructed in 1204AD and apparently there was even a temple on these grounds before this one was constructed. So, basically folks have been praying here for a really long time.

As uncomfortable as I sometimes feel in temples which are not my own religion, I must say, being in Hindu temples was one of the most uncomfortable experiences for me. I know in a church I should cross myself or kneel in a pew, and I know in a Buddhist temple I should bow a few times, but in a Hindu temple I really have no idea what I should/ should not be doing. There's often a lot of different things going on in different places... people ringing bells, people making offerings, people chanting, etc. etc. Sometimes a lot of people are just sitting around on the floor doing... stuff... that I don't have any clue to even make a guess at what they could be doing. 

Holy Cow

 One thing that I noticed in Hindu temples is that you have to take off your shoes and socks. And not just when entering a building, like in Buddhism, but when entering the temple grounds. Which leads to very cold feet when it's raining, or very painful feet when walking over gravel to get from one part of the temple to another.  

Another thing that India seems to be very strict about is photography in religious places, like temples. There are signs everywhere about no photography, and in Delhi and Dharamsala I had to leave my camera at the front gate of temples. However, here in the country they were a bit less strict, and despite the warnings everywhere about not taking photos, since many Indians were also taking photos I decided I might as well go for it...

 Palampur Bus Station

While the temple was beautiful, it was not so big, so 20 minutes of exploration of the temple was more than plenty. We then had a quick snack and the boarded the next bus headed for the city of Palampur, the nearest 'big city' to our monastery.

We didn't really need to buy anything in particular here, so we just kind of wandered here and there. Since I was kind of in the market for some Punjab style clothes, I kept my eyes open. I missed a few good deals here because I thought I could find something better later... But, the problem (or good thing, however you choose to look at it) with buying clothes in India is that it seems most people prefer tailor made clothes. So, it's very easy to find textile shops and tailors, however, finding shops selling pre-made clothes can be quite challenging. The particular store shown above had a mix of both pre-made clothes and fabrics for tailor made things. 

Cows in India are not just for the country. It's not unusual to find cows even in the middle of the city, sadly eating trash (Though, I'm sure even the country cows are eating a lot of trash, too).  Our region had put a ban on plastic bags because, not only the obvious problem of too much waste, but also because animals like cows often eat them and they are eventually killed by the plastic in their stomachs. However, despite the ban on plastic bags, it was still possible to find them here and there, and there is still plenty of plastic used in packaging. Ah, the joys of consumerism.

 Palampur Toy Train Station

We spent about two hours wondering around Palampur and then it was time to head back. We had heard about the famous "toy train" of Himachal Pradesh and wanted to give it a try.  The train is called a "toy train" because it is a smaller gauge (2ft 6in) than a normal train. The train is also incredibly cheap. From Palampur back to the monastery in Chauntra was just 10 rupees ($ 0.16), though you get what you pay for. The train ride takes nearly triple the time it would take by car.

We checked the schedule online which told us that the train left at 4:30pm from Palampur. Upon arrival, they told us that it would be 4:45, though I shouldn't have been surprised when we took off no later than 5:00pm. The train inside was basic, but it had a toilet in each car. We were lucky to get seats, as one person offered us his seat because he was getting off soon. Otherwise, at least one of us would have been standing for the ride. 

Upon reaching Baijnath, the train stopped and all the people cleared out. It seems as though most people only go as far as Baijnath. We waited in the train car for a little while, but finally we got impatient and went outside. We were quite surprised to find that besides our car and the one after our car, the rest of the train was gone! We bought some chai and street food and waited patiently for our engine to reappear. It finally did, and they coupled the train back up again, this time which much fewer cars and filled with much fewer people.

 Tracks near the "swimming pool" during the day...

We continued the rest of our ride back to Chauntra and arrived at the "swimming pool", which is what the locals refer to as the reference point for the station. The "station" is not on any road and there are no signs. Basically, to find it, you've got to walk down a hill behind a house, then keep walking down until you find the tracks. Then follow the tracks until you find a tiny hut on the side of the tracks. That tiny hut is the station and it happens to be across from a swimming pool. So, if you ask locals where to catch the train, they may tell you to go down to the swimming pool.

We arrived around 7:30pm, in the rain and pitch black night. Had to use my cell phone flash light to find the way back up to the road and back to the monastery. While it wasn't the most exciting day in India, it was good to get out of the monastery, despite the rain.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Monks are people, too...

Before teaching at the monastery, I guess I never thought about the normal lives of monks. I thought all they did was pray and meditate and... I suppose... eat meals. However being at the monastery and interacting with monks all day I learned one important fact. Monks are people, too (this may or may not be a quote from one of my students). Monks do all sorts of things you wouldn't imagine them doing initially.

One thing we did twice a week was have a movie night for the monks so they could practice their English doing something fun. The most popular movies were action movies. They love Jackie Chan and martial arts. Mission Impossible was a big hit with them, as was Rush Hour. I mean, really, they are mostly a bunch of men in their 20's. Why wouldn't they enjoy that stuff, right?

And speaking of them being men, what else to men like better than sports? Sports are huge in the monastery. Apparently, during the main program, the monks' free time is very limited and they only have one or two days a week that they are allowed to play, but during the winter holiday when I was visiting, there were essentially no rules about when they had to do anything (except show up to English class if they had enrolled, of course) and so whenever it was light outside, you could find monks out playing sports. The three most popular sports I saw there were basketball, cricket, and football (soccer). Due to the immense popularity of cricket, not just in the monastery, but throughout India, I was forced to learn the rules of the peculiar game in order to understand what I was watching...

 Monks playing basketball

 Monks playing cricket

 Pitching form is quite important in cricket... apparently...

Another growing passion among the monks is technology. Despite the price of iPads, iPhones, Smartphones and tablets,  it was not so hard to find these devices around the monastery, particularly among the graduate monks who work there. But, even among student monks, there were quite a few smartphones to be had. The Khenpo (instructor) who looks after the English program had an iPhone... which ran on 2G internet. It was literally impossible to do anything with it when it was running on 2G, but it didn't matter. He had it!

Me, one of my students, and one of the administrators