Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Food! Glorious Food!

As a vegetarian, finding food to eat in Serbia was A LOT harder than Nepal has turned out to be. Partly that's because Nepalis don't eat a lot of meat traditionally; also, tourism fuels restaurants and 54% of tourists are from India, who are often vegetarians.

Plus there's the added benefit that hardly anyone smokes here so eating out is a pleasure instead of torture. In fact the guys at the Cybercafe I'm in just asked a smoking German tourist to step outside. Yeah baby!!! Never would happen in a hundred million years in Serbia.

Pokhara has at least two dozen restaurants. Even the fancy ones are fairly cheap; the most I've paid for a three-course meal plus drinks was about $10. It's cheaper to eat out than to buy stuff and cook, so I eat out every day. What I've learned:

#1. All menus are alike -
You can always spot newbie tourists because they stand outside restaurants carefully studying the menu, as though that will help them to evaluate whether this is a good place to eat. No matter what the signage says (ie. "Indian" "Chinese", etc. ) most menus pretty much have the exact same list of food. And if they don't list it, trust me, they'll make it for you.

#2. Menus list every kind of food possible
A typical menu is 10 pages long. It lists everything by country - ie. Indian Food, Chinese Food, Continental Food, Pizza, Nepali Food, Tibetan Food, and my personal favorite, Mexican Food. That's right, every single chef at every single restaurant has to cook on command menus from at least five-seven countries. Perhaps unremarkably, everything has roughly the same ingedients, just arranged in different ways.

#3. Don't expect authenticity
No matter what they say it is, every dish has a slightly freaky Nepalese take. Example: "Mexican" food features "Goulash Roti" which is meat stew ladeled over mashed potatoes. All "Chinese" food is either deep fried with egg-and-flour batter or has a fried egg on top, or better yet, both. And "garlic bread" is a wedge of cold bread with raw garlic and butter shoved in the middle of it. (Photo of piece above.)

#4. Order long before you're really hungry
Food is cooked from scratch when you order it. Nothing is prepped beforehand. So you're sitting there for 30 minutes to an hour or longer before your food will appear. Maybe halfway through the waiter will take pity on you and bring you the drinks you ordered. I've taken to placing orders, racing back to my hotel to 'freshen up' (restaurant bathrooms are indescribable and should be avoided at all costs), and then coming back with the day's paper to read while I wait for my supper.

#5. "Spicy" isn't spicy hot
Ok if you're from the American white-bread heartland, you may think this food is spicy. I, however, have yet to taste anything close to hot sauce or hot peppers. Next time I'm bringing a bottle of Frank's with me.

#6. Must-order dishes:
o Lemon-Sauce Broiled Fish-- fresh from the lake, with a side order of the best fries on the planet. (see top of photo above) Eat carefully, fish is NOT deboned and those bones are tiny and plentiful.

o Hot-sour veg soup - tangy, fresh, rich, delightful.

o Chilli Taco -- Kidney beans cooked in a sort-of-hot tomato sauce folded into a home-made corn shell. Tastes really good, just not remotely Mexican. But who cares?

o Nepali set dinner -- A lot like Indian food only blander. You get little bowls of standard stuff (yellow-lentil dall, a veg curry, a meat or curd curry, yugurt) arranged on a circular platter around a heap of rice.

o Mo-mos -- steamed dumplings filled with anything you want (see photo above.)

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