Monday, February 11, 2019


Nepal. Old Gurung Museum and women wearing traditional clothing
Photo courtesy of guide Gyanendra Karki

My friend and fellow children’s book author Caroline Hatton went trekking in the Annapurna region of the Nepal Himalaya in November 2018. She took all but two of the photos in this post. For info about her books, visit

Northwest of Kathmandu, in the Himalayas, rises the mythic Annapurna mountain range. Below its snowy peaks, the verdant foothills are the homeland of the Gurung, one of many ethnic groups inhabiting Nepal. Some aspects of the Gurungculture are its own language and distinctive clothing.

Hugely popular treks such as those to the Poon Hill view point or Annapurna Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit go through the region, which is a part the Annapurna Conservation Area, the largest national park in Nepal. Trekking here means walking up and down ancient trade routes, through villages and terraced fields, admiring magnificent scenery and a range of traditional to contemporary architecture, clothing, and technology. At lunch time, dal bhat (lentil soup and rice) comes in a traditional brass platter and bowl, and Coca-Cola in a plastic bottle.

The best glimpse I had of the daily life of long ago was at the Old Gurung Museum in Ghandruk, the second largest Gurung town. Ghandruk is also spelled Ghandrung, which can be confusing for jet lagged tourists.

The museum is inside what was once a traditional Gurung house. Its ground floor room is stuffed with a wealth of objects labeled in English with a description of their use. People exercised creativity and skill to make everything they needed from what they had—same as anywhere. Yet, I was thrilled to see the local rendition of this universal truth, from a straw basket for grain, woven tightly enough to keep mice out, to bamboo fencing strong enough to keep a buffalo in. Bamboo containers for milk were large, medium, or small, for cow, sheep, or goat milk, respectively.
Bamboo containers for milk
Bamboo was good for making cages for chickens, shelters for people, and baskets for every need: according to the label on a small one, “I use this basket to harvest the wheat and millet from the field. When it is full, I empty it into a larger basket. This way I don’t have to carry the large basket all day.”
Bamboo baskets
The shiny brass pots and pans, platters, plates, bowls, and cups, were like the ones still used today to serve dal bhat.
Brass containers
On a post hung a brass noodle maker, not to make noodles out of brass, but a brass tool used to make rice noodles, as seen in this short video:

Wool blankets had designs in some of my favorite colors, ivory, beige, and brown. Musical instruments, such as the one with a bow like a small violin, hung here and there. Wood was used to make beds, spinning and weaving tools, and all kinds of containers.
Wooden yogurt container, making me hungry.
As usual, I made all the others in our group of four trekkers, two porters, and one guide, wait outside forever, while I examined and photographed things inside. I love rustic stuff even though I grew up in fancy France, exposed to fine china and crystal and silverware. Perhaps this is because it suits my taste for natural materials and preference for minimizing the use of resources.
Gurung traditional clothing (over a contemporary jacket)
Photo courtesy of guide Gyanendra Karki
Visitors can request to try on traditional Gurung clothing, as in the top and bottom photos in this post. The patterns, colors, women’s jewelry, and men’s hats distinguish them from those of other Nepali tribes.

To experience family-style Gurung hospitality, you can request a stay at Nani’s teahouse in Tolka (see my Jan 14, 2019 post on this blog) by e-mailing English-speaking guide Gyanendra Karki at Until then, say goodbye by putting your hands together and saying, “Namaste!”

For more info:

Read about the Gurung (Tamu) Ethnographic Museum  in Pokhara, the city through which visitors come to Ghandruk. Tamu is what Gurungs call themselves in their own language.

Visiting Nepal: the essential information.

Monday, February 4, 2019

From EMPANADAS to PISCO SOURS: Enjoying Chile’s Favorite Foods

Individual bowls of Pastel de Choclo, a favorite Chilean dish, ready to bake in the clay oven.
On our recent trip to Chile it seemed that every meal was a feast–ranging from sumptuous hotel buffets to large family holiday parties to picnics in the country to meals in local restaurants–each time giving us tastes of delicious Chilean foods.
Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and more fill the summertime farmer's markets.
It was December, the beginning of the southern summer, and the markets, or ferias, were full of juicy, locally grown, ripe fruits and vegetables. Many meals were eaten outdoors, often cooked on a barbecue or in a woodburning clay oven (horno.) And every meal included side dishes of tomatoes (tomates, always peeled), lettuce (lechuga), sliced cucumbers (pepinos) and avocados (palta.)
Typical side dishes. String beans, julienned and served as a cold salad, are a traditional Christmas dish.
A classic dish of Chile is pastel de choclo, a kind of casserole made of beef, chicken, onions, olives, raisins, and a wedge of hard boiled egg, which is then covered in a corn pudding topping and baked in a clay oven. We had pastel de choclo at a family party where guests formed an assembly line to prepare the ingredients. Each serving was cooked in the outdoor clay oven in its own ceramic bowl and then served steaming hot at a long picnic table.
Humitas. They can be made savory, sweet, or sweet and sour, served with added sugar, chile pepper, salt and paprika
The same corn mixture was used to make humitas, similar to tamales, but cooked in fresh rather than dried corn husks. I helped to make the humitas–my job was to secure the husks with a string made from a thin strip of a long leaf, making them look like fat bowties. The humitas were then steamed in a large pot on top of the stove.
Empanadas ready to bake.
Another classic dish of Chile, and elsewhere in South America, is the empanada, a kind of individual meat pie. They are fried or baked (empadanas del horno.)  Empanadas can be filled with meat, cheese, vegetables or other ingredients, but the typical filling in Chile is pino, a meat mixture made of beef, onions and herbs.
Clay oven with  empanadas inside.
During our trip, we spent three days in the country where our son-in-law’s father lives, enjoying fresh milk and vegetables every day from his neighbor’s farm and eating homemade empanadas.
Roadside stand for "The place where you can buy houseplants, beans, tomatoes, and lettuce."
The project of the visit was not only to make the empanadas (I helped roll the dough) but to build the clay oven!
At another family party during our trip, the main dish was cocimiento, a rich stew of vegetables, beef, chicken, fish and seafood (clams and mussels), flavored with wine and cooked slowly in a large pot over a barbecue. It is a bit like paella without the rice. Fish is delicious in Chile and we enjoyed it at several meals during our stay. With a coastline 2,653 miles long, a wide assortment of fish and seafood is always fresh and available.
"The King of Mote con Huesillo" offers drinks at his stand in the main plaza in Temuco. In the background are Chilean palm trees, whose flowers are used by bees to make honey.
Mote con Huesillo. The barley and peach sink to the bottom.
A typical summer drink in Chile is called mote con huesillo, made from dried peaches soaked in water to make a kind of tea, to which sugar and cooked barley is added. On a warm day it is very refreshing!
Enjoying a cafe helado.
On one of our restaurant visits my grandchildren ordered café helados another favorite Chilean treat. It sounds like it should be iced coffee, but café helado is actually an ice cream soda made with coffee, ice cream, and topped with whipped cream and wafer cookies–more like a dessert than a drink!
And, of course, on New Year’s Eve we drank the classic pisco sours, a lemon flavored drink similar to a whiskey sour, but flavored instead with pisco, a distilled alcohol made from grapes that is unique to Peru and Chile. (My only photos are of empty glasses so you'll have to imagine what our pisco sours looked like!)
And these are just a sample of Chile's delicious foods!