Thursday, September 30, 2010

Butter the devil you know

I should say, in all fairness, that by and large I love the food in Nepal. Sure, for most people it's daal, vege curry and rice twice a day - but as a vegetarian I'm certainly not complaining about that. Being culinarily compatible with your field site is a rather important part of feeling comfortable on field work. I could never work where my friend Mos works; where fried pig fat is a local delicacy. Nor do I have the fortitude to live where another fiend of mine works, where she describes one menu item as, and I hope she won't mind me quoting her, "a rat with an extra long nose and a plate full of slimy spinach."

So by and large, Nepali food is tasty and they're very much on board with the whole vegetarian thing. But there is one foodstuff that I can't cope with very well - butter tea.

Butter tea is a traditional Tibetan style drink popular among many of the hill dwelling culturally Tibetan people of Nepal. It involves blending milk and butter and salt and then serving it hot from a giant thermos. Originally the blending occurred in a giant wooden churn and a woman's domestic skills were judged on how well she made tea (a rather physical job) while now the hard work in most urban families is left to an electric blender.

The tea is rich, almost like a savory broth. I could cope with one cup perhaps, but the customary practice is to keep the small cup permanently brim-full.

Fortunately butter tea is something of a special delicacy, so it's not served too often. Although it means that when it is I'm rather obliged to partake. At least while I'm drinking I can console myself with the knowledge it's made from neither pork fat or rat.

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