Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hot Chilies

This morning, Mary asked if I had measured the ingredients that went into the bread we were making.  I looked at her quizzically.  “Measured?” 

I do it the old fashioned way – in the palm of my hand. I am riding on the information given to me by Mati Poon.  In rural Nepal, your hand is your fork, your cup, your bowl, your teeth is your knife – that is the way many people in the world still live.

In the evening when he cooks, I can smell hot chili flakes – frying upstairs. One-eighth of a cup of hot chili flakes in some oil -- that is the start of many of his meals.  When the smell of the flakes frying wafts downstairs, I know that the kitchen is truly international. I cough and think, it is just food, I will soon get used to it. And then I cough again. Kelvin holds a towel over his nose.

Mati came downstairs about twenty minutes after he was finished cleaning up and said, “Wow, the smell of the hot chilies is still down here, but it is gone from the kitchen upstairs.  I heard you coughing, Arta and wondered if it was the smell of the chilies, but now I see it affects Kelvin even more,” looking over at Kelvin, the towel still over his nose.

“I am coming upstairs the next time you cook, for I want to know how to make a meal with that much heat.”

“No.  I didn’t realize it was so bad down here.  I am never going to cook with them again.  I was out, and since I am leaving soon, I thought I would leave it at that, but then you went and bought two large containers for the kitchen again.” 

I won.  I did go up and see how he cooked with them the next time.  Get the oil hot, but not too hot.  Toss in the chilies.  Stir them until they are black.  While you are stirring, that is when you get to talk.  “Do you know that eating too many of these can be bad for you unless they are fried until they are black.  Chili pepper seeds and tomato seeds.  They go right through the human track, and later can sprout.”  Now that is a piece of information I don’t often get.

We chatted for a while about other things.  At work he had just learned the phrase, "like trying to sell fridges to the Eskimos".  He was laughing about that and said that they have phrases like that in Nepal as well.  One of them is about being mad at someone and wanting to torture them.  The phase goes something like "wanting to string them upside down and burn chilis under their nose". I have an idea what that would be like.

“Do you want to drink the tuna juice?”, he said offering me the tin.

“No thanks.  Let it hit the drain,” and I nodded in the direction of the sink.

“No, we won’t waste anything.  Stand back.”  He dropped the juice and tuna into the hot chili oil.  Of course I wanted to taste it and was looking for a bowl.  But he had already given me the lesson about using your teeth or your hands as a knife.  I had gone to get the cutting board to chop up the cilantro he was adding.  “No.  I will break it with my hands.  We don’t want to wash 2 extra dishes.”  These bachelors are great to live with.

In the mode of wanting to do less work and still taste the product he had created, I grabbed the empty tuna can, its lid attached at a 45 degree angle still.  I topped the can up with some of his meal, grabbed my fork and we ate, standing in the kitchen discussing the History of Medicine Lecture we had both attended that night.

I am big on presentation.  In this case it all worked.  Eat red-peppered tuna a la cilantro out of a tin.  Less time doing dishes and more time talking about high altitude mountain medicine.



  1. I can't envision you eating out of a tin unless I have you two by a railroad track. What attire does one wear for such informal dining?

  2. I was struck by the oddness of the situation and felt myself looking around because I didn't want anyone taking a picture of me at that minute. I can't tell you what I was wearing, but I am sure I was not dressed for formal dining in black lace and pearls. When the first tinful taste good, I asked Mati to top up the container for a second helping, and thought to myself, I could get used to this if the vessel was just a little larger.