Sandy continues our series about our Asian food experiences.
Now that we have completed our three months of travel in Asia, here is a country by country summary of our food experiences during the second part of our time on this continent. Covering Nepal to Uzbekistan, we highlight the national foods and some of the unique things that we have tried. If you missed part one (from Singapore to Laos), you can find the story here.
We found the food in Nepal to be similar to Indian cuisine. So we ate a variety of curry dishes, including tarkari, which are curried vegetables. We had dal several times, which consists of a soup made of lentils that is served over rice. Bread called roti or naan were also staples. One of our favorite dishes was anything with paneer in it. Paneer is a type of cheese that is made by heating milk with lemon juice. The result has a very mellow taste, offsetting the spicier curries that came with it.
During our Mustang trek we had a cook and were served meals ranging from traditional curries to pizza. Unfortunately, Sandy suffered a serve case of food poisoning from, ironically, a can of baked beans!
Tibet / China
As would be expected we ate rice and noodles while in China. Our favorite noodles were in soup and our preferred rice was vegetable fried rice. To add some variety we also ordered yak cheese pizza and yak burgers when they were on the menu. Darren especially liked yak meat and even ordered yak pepper steak one night! Breakfast included plenty of rice, noodles and vegetables, but eating this combination for a third meal every day got a little tiring. Fortunately there was usually some type of egg (hard boiled, scrambled, fried) available, which sufficed.
When we visited Everest Base Camp we ate lunch at one of the tents that surrounded the tourist portion of the site. We each ordered a bowl of noodle soup, which helped us warm up, as it was cold and windy outside. It is cold at 17,000 feet! While waiting for our food, Sandy struck up a ‘conversation’ (given the limited language on both sides) with the woman proprietor of the restaurant. While meeting her children, Sandy shared a picture of our two daughters. Pointing to the picture, the woman smiled and said “Babies” in her broken English.
When we reached Lhasa, we needed to buy snacks for our 25-hour train trip to Lanzhou. Our guide took us to the largest supermarket in Lhasa so that we could buy a few things. It had the widest variety of items we had seen since Singapore. We were able to buy milk, yogurt, bread, crackers, cookies and bananas. When we checked out, our guide offered to let us use his discount card to save some money. On the train we did eat one meal in the dining car but the food was not very good and was expensive. Needless to say, we ate all of our snacks before arriving in Lanzhou.
As soon as we arrived in Kyrgyzstan after being in Southeast Asia and China we noticed that the food seemed more European than Asian. There were more salads and meat dishes and dill weed was a popular garnish. Mutton was the preferred meat. Almost every meal consisted of some kind of meat soup, either as a first or main course. These included shorpo, which is boiled mutton on the bone with potatoes, carrots and turnips, and manpar, comprised of noodle bits, meat, vegetables and mild seasoning in broth. We also ate Russian borscht (beetroot soup)… for breakfast! Tomato and cucumber salads were also served often. The bread consisted of a flat round that was divided up and shared among the table.
While trekking we tried fresh fish (cooked in whole) from Song Kul Lake. We had the opportunity to taste fermented horse mare’s milk, or kumis, in a nomad’s yurt near the lake. Locals claim it cures everything from the common cold to TB to radiation poisoning, but we found the flavor to be quite sour and smoky. We liked straight mare’s milk better, as it tasted much sweeter.
One popular dish is called laghman. It consists of noodles with fried mutton, peppers, tomatoes and onions. It can be served as a stand-alone dish or as a soup. One day, as we were driving from one trekking location to another, Darren ate laghman for lunch at a restaurant and had an upset stomach several hours later. Our trekking guide insisted that the ‘cure’ was a shot of vodka mixed with 70 grams of salt and encouraged Darren to take it. We politely declined. He felt better the next day.
We found some food, like the tomato and cucumber salad and flat bread, to be similar to dishes in Kyrgyzstan. However, we did enjoy a variety of food while in Uzbekistan. In Tashkent, we saw the first take away places since Bangkok. There we enjoyed tasty kebab sandwiches, for about $1 each. We ate at decent Italian restaurants a couple of times. Restaurants also featured skewed kebabs, the lamb ones being the best.
At several places we sat on a tapchan, which is a bedlike platform, covered with carpets, with a table in the middle and pillows on the sides. To sit you take your shoes off and climb up on to the platform. The national dish is called plov. It consists of rice with fired or boiled mutton, onions, carrots and sometimes raisins. This was a common menu item at dinner and it was served to us at both the yurt and home stay. Tea is big in both Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is usually green tea and sipped at every meal. The cup is more like a small bowl.
As in Kyrgyzstan, at breakfast we would almost always be served crepes. They were plain but there was always butter, sugar, honey or some type of jam (mainly apricot) to add to them. Desserts consisted of fruit (watermelon and raisins were popular at the time of year we were there), nuts or plates of sweets.
Now that our time in Asia is over, we are looking forward to continuing our gastronomic adventures on our next continent of Europe. We are traveling to countries in the north and east so we expect to experience a variety of foods. We will provide another food update from Europe soon!