Culinary adventures in Jiri, part 2 of an adventure in 3 parts
Culinary adventures, that is, loosely defined. Warning: long post ahead.
Our tourist brochure called Jiri ‘Gateway of Mt. Everest’, which is true in the sense that one can stop in Jiri on the way to Everest, provided that this is the route to Everest he or she chooses to take. Most visitors to Everest never step foot in Jiri. That said, the city’s proximity to the Mountain has two ramifications. One, every bus that arrives in Jiri is swarmed by proprietors hoping to recruit tourists. Two, the name of pretty much every guest house in the city includes ‘Everest’ or ‘Sherpa’ in some form or another. Sherpa lodge. New Sherpa lodge. Everest Guest House. Everest Lodge. New Everest Guest House and Restaurant. Sherpa Restaurant. And so on. The lodge we chose was no different: the majority of the adventures I will recount are set at the Sagarmatha Lodge and Restaurant. Sagarmatha is the local name for Mt. Everest.
Let’s do this with bullet holes:
♦ Nepali lodges operate by charging a nominal fee for the room, and make their money by requiring guests to eat at least once in the in-house restaurant. Because these are typically expensive, it’s almost as important to check the house menu as it is to check the rooms for clean sheets. We tried almost every lodge in Jiri before finally settling on Sagarmatha. One place tried to raise its room prices on us (3-fold) as we prepared to close the deal, which boded ill for future dealings. Another tried to convince us to pay about ten times the going rate for a room, and not just as a negotiating tactic. Many of the others – though not as remarkable – were little better. Krishna dai, the proprietor of Sagarmatha, was honest and straightforward, and we love him to death. If you ever find yourself in Jiri, look around for this guy (on the right):
♦ Our first ‘culinary’ adventure occurred just before Shabbat, when Dafna ran out to buy rolls. When she returned, she mentioned that every time she asked if a passal had any round (‘gulo’) rolls, the storeowner would laugh before answering. She asked Krishna dai if he knew just what was so funny about asking for rolls. We watched him struggle to keep a straight face while deciding on an answer. He finally blurted out that the Nepali word for round is actually ‘golo’; ‘gulo’ (and this part was accompanied by hand gestures I will leave to your imagination) refers to “a man’s balls.” Mystery solved, and we learned a new word to boot.
♦ Drawn by the tourist brochure’s description of ‘Place of Yak farming and cheese industry’, we hiked for about two and a half hours up Chordung – ‘hill of Jiri’ – to visit the closest cheese udyog (factory). When we arrived, the tour guide told us the tour would take an hour and a half. He led us into a small building with two rooms, pointed at some things, said a few words in Nepali that we didn’t understand, and said a few words in English that we did understand (e.g. ‘culture’, ‘centrifuge’, ‘cheese’). All told, the tour took about a minute and a half.
♦ We had a bit of difficulty finding the cheese factory. More accurately, we had a bit of difficulty identifying the cheese factory. Chordung contains a grand total of about six buildings, and we were a bit confused as to which we were heading for. Indeed, the first time we arrived at the udyog, we walked right past it. We arrived at a house not much beyond, and asked the boy who lived there for directions. After he pointed us back the way we came, we asked a few more questions, which he answered promptly, and we concluding by asking if he knew how high we had reached. Thanks to a sign in Jiri, we knew we had started out at about 1935m. The boy looked at us with a blank expression for about a full minute, as though he did not understand the question, or had absolutely nothing to say. We thanked him, and began to turn back in the direction of the cheese factory when he finally blurted out something like, but not necessarily “2326 meters.” I’d say that answer works.
♦ The rest of our culinary adventures take place inside Sagarmatha Lodge and Restaurant. I’ll begin with the prices. That they were inflated (compared to what we usually eat) is nothing remarkable. After all, it was a tourist guest house. Instead, I’ll give you a taste for yourself:
Chapati, 40 Rs.
Toast, 45 Rs.
Tibetan bread, 55 Rs.
Pancake, 65 Rs.
So far, so good. But wait:
Chapati with peanut butter, 70 Rs.
Toast with peanut butter, 70 Rs.
Tibetan bread with peanut butter, 70 Rs.
Pancake with peanut butter, 70 Rs.
In other words, with Chapati, peanut butter costs 30 Rs, with toast, 25 with Tibetan bread, 15, and with a pancake, 5. This points toward the possibility of an inverse relationship between the price of a carbohydrate and the amount of peanut butter that comes with it. But no. To order peanut butter with any of the above is not to receive a serving dish of a certain size containing peanut butter. Instead, it is to receive the entire jar of peanut butter with permission to take more or less as much as you like.
And the problems only began with the peanut butter. At times, it seemed the entire menu had been created using a random number generator. Compare, for instance, Porridge and Muesli, and let me know if you can figure out the logic:
Porridge w/hot milk, 70 Rs.
Muesli w/hot milk, 75 Rs.
Advantage: Porridge, 5 Rs.
Porridge w/banana, 90 Rs.
Muesli w/banana, 80 Rs.
Advantage: Muesli, 10 Rs.
Porridge w/apple, 90 Rs.
Muesli w/apple, 90 Rs.
♦ The random numbers weren’t even my favorite part of the menu. Let us pass over the section entitled ‘Drinks’ and the section entitled ‘Hard drinks’ and arrive at the final section, entitled ‘Beverages’. Here is a sampling of some of the beverages on offer: Mars bar, Dairy Milk (e.g. Cadbury chocolate), Sheneker bar (e.g. Snickers bar. I don’t mind picking on the sort of spelling mistake that is the result of sloppy copying from the wrapper of a candy bar you have sitting in your very own display case), coconut biscuits, toilet paper, tissue, 100g cheese (100 Rs.), 500g cheese (500 Rs.), and 1kg cheese (1000 Rs.). I suppose the closest any item came to being an actual beverage was the last one on the list: Hot shower, 50 Rs. I enjoyed that particular beverage immensely.
♦ The culinary adventure in which I actually eat:
Pizza (ordered with vegetables, came without)
Grailed cheese (I expected a grilled cheese sandwich; I received a plate of grilled pieces of cheese and two toothpicks)
Pancake w/peanut butter (The pancake accounted for 13/14 of the cost to me; the peanut butter for 13/14 of the cost to him)
Hot chocolate (this somehow also ended up being ‘with peanut butter’)
Mid-afternoon ‘Snak’ (we missed lunch because of our cheese factory trek):
Sherpa stew (I’m now qualified to climb Everest)
A cup of tea (for Havdalah)
Tibetan bread with ghee (I now understand why China occupied Tibet)
Egg-fried rice (unremarkable, so I won’t)
Apple ‘pai’ (I ordered this mainly because I was curious how they would make this in a frying pan, and was pleasantly surprised)
Together with my hot shower and two-nights’ stay, the total bill came out to an even 1000 Rs. (about $14)
♦ And has been described in greater detail elsewhere, our Havdalah featured samim in place of b’samim. Good times