There is something about breaking bread with locals and dining in their favourite places that often form your fondest memories of a country. When Christine Ireland visited Nepal, it was lunch with a group of grubby-nosed kids that made her journey that much more remarkable…
“In a narrow rundown restaurant in Pokhara, away from the main tourist thoroughfare, I not only found tempting food but more importantly laughter and friendship. The very essence of Nepal.
We passed through the family bedroom as we entered the narrow eating space, with its peeling painted concrete walls, swept earthen floor, crooked posters of mountain views and faded plastic flowers in jam tins. The rickety wooden tables were hurriedly pushed together to form a long communal table and the mismatched chairs were soon pulled up to the table as 20 orphan children scrambled to find a spot.
We became a part of a large family enjoying a special outing together. The children were eager and excited to sing songs, show tricks and practise their English. Smiles and laughter erupted everywhere as they tried to outdo each other. It was certainly a treat for them to eat out, but the treat was really ours, as we were about to experience true Nepalese food and unrivaled company.
The smells of cooking wafted from the back of the room, where a small Nepalese woman bent over a saucepan while her own children played about her trailing skirt. Vegetables were quickly and expertly chopped, momos rolled and filled, noodles cooked and rice bubbled away in a large pot. Soon bottles of soft drink were rapidly consumed and the children were devouring large platefuls of hot spicy food. Cutlery was nonexistent as the experts taught us how to artfully slurp down hot noodles, gather together rice grains in our fingers and dip everything in chilli sauce without making a mess all over ourselves or the table.
Lunch was only over after plates had been refilled numerous times and smiles of fullness filled the room. We all cheered the smiling cook as she wiped her sweaty brow and gathered up the dishes, her older children sent to wash them under the tap outside. Her food far outshone any tourist restaurant with their sterile matching tables, apple pie menus and western clientele.
We slowly ambled our way back to the orphanage, hand in hand with new friends, songs accompanying our slow footsteps as the afternoon sun dipped into the lake and the mountain shadows lengthened along the dirt road. We were all full to the brim with delicious food but also with happiness.”
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* photo by Sue Stevens – Intrepid Photography Competition