If you are a regular reader of this paper you will know I used to live in Bardia National Park many moons ago. If you are a Facebook friend of mine you will know I have been struggling to make banana bread without an oven. You might ask, how are the two related?
When in Bardia we also had no oven, no supermarket, and no western food. But over time the cook and I put together a good selection of western menu items and he created an improvised oven.
During the lockdown period I have been busy cooking using recipes I have searched on the internet. But in the Bardia days we didn’t even have a telephone for the first couple of years and the internet was only found in certain places in Thamel. But I did have a wonderful reference—an old Peace Corps recipe book, which I have just found again this week, under years of accumulated dust! The front cover has long since departed so I do not have a date of print. The back cover states it was printed in Varanasi and distributed by Ratna Book Distributors, Kathmandu, for the princely sum of Rs 50.
The introduction, some of the recipes and presumably the collation of recipes from other Peace Corps Volunteers was done by Walter Martin, Nepal V, based in Salyan. I have tried Googling but have failed to come up with anything on Walter. If you knew him, please get in touch.
Here is part of what Walter says in his long, and extremely humorous intro:
“Nepali khana doesn’t rank with the world’s great cuisines… Badly prepared it can be revolting… Well done, it can easily be as good as pizza pies, hot dogs and Coke… A bland Volunteer may very well be what he/she eats. Granting the usefulness at times and in certain places, of Kool Aid, powdered milk and Cadburys, when they come to be a steady diet and a substitute for necessities, then all the massala has gone out of your experience in Nepal. You’ll go back to the Safeway (USA supermarket chain) a little wealthier, but no healthier or wiser than when you came.” Well said, Walter!
I’m not sure when this book was written but I obtained it—and from where I have no idea—in the mid 90’s. With its reference to goat meat worth Rs 10 filling a big pot, I imagine this was probably written during the 80s. Inside, it shows how to make an ‘oven’, how to create local food, and how to recreate Western favorites including sauces, jams, pies and cookies using ingredients found locally. Invaluable, I would say to new volunteers to village Nepal. And to me at that time. And perhaps now if lockdown continues longer.
For those who were following my banana bread fiasco, you might want to know that Lissa Barker’s (of which PCV batch it doesn’t say) oven consists of a dekshi into which a bread or cake pan is placed on top of a tin can. The lid of the dekshi is then weighted down with a stone. Place in a fire—bonfire or kerosene stove—and voila! I know my cook recreated such a thing which was set in the fire which heated water in an old oil drum. Later I bought a cake tin which was manufactured for volunteers and certainly until the mid 2000s you could still buy in Patan. That cake tin was a large donut shape (in German style) creating great cakes on the kerosene or gas burner.
Speaking of cakes—stuffed inside that recipe book I found an old letter from my mother dated October 1997 containing a recipe for yogurt cake. This turned out to be a year-round favorite as yogurt replaces eggs. Eggs, which had an off-season in the Bardia summer heat.