Author Archives: Leah Bachhuber

BLOG: Week 8 Updates

Whoa! I’ve already been here for 8 weeks? Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun.

Mostly good updates from my eighth week here in Nepal’s capital. I’ve been quite bogged down (in a good way) with work.  Kathmandu, and Nepal in general, is a writer’s paradise because there are SO many interesting things and SO many interesting people doing those interesting things.  So far I’ve written about/am writing about foreign diplomats, artists, wood-workers, writers, chefs, tea experts, yoga gurus, hotel managers, athletes and more.  My job as a magazine writer allows me the opportunity to meet, interview and write about all kinds of fascinating people, which is what I thrive off doing.

The monsoon is slowly abating here in Nepal, which is a blessing and a curse.  I’m not a huge fan of the rains (I know, I know, I am from Portland, Oregon… But still!) so it’s nice to have some moments of hot sun shining through the rain clouds.  The bad part about the slowing rains is that it means the power supply will also soon decrease.  The power in Nepal is directly correlated with the rains (as far as I know) because it is made through hydroelectric plants.  Without lots of water to power the hydro plants, there will be a decreased supply of electricity.  Last year the power was out a maximum of 16 hours per day in the dry season and I’ve heard rumors that this year will be worse, with up to 20 hours of power cuts per day.  So, there will be no rain but no power.  Luckily for people living in Kathmandu (and who can afford it), many of the restaurants and cafes have generators.  This means I’ll probably be living at the local coffee shop when the power is out for 20 hours per day, caffeinating and charging my electronics.

All was good on the running front until a few days ago when I started getting bad pains in what I think are the tendons on the top of my right foot.  I have a tendency to push myself too fast, too hard and too much.  I predict that my foot injury (please don’t be a stress fracture, please don’t be a stress fracture) is a result of too much running with not enough rest.  I’ve been hobbling about for the past three days, begrudging my swollen foot, hoping that the pain will magically disappear.  The timing not so great (is the timing ever great for an injury?) as the Kathmandu Marathon, of which I was planning to do the half, is coming up on October 2nd.  I’m hoping that with a little rest and rehabilitation, I’ll be ok for the race.  I attended this Saturday’s Hash run but, sadly, went with the walking group.  Walking the Hash was nice and relaxing, but I missed the heart-pounding intensity of the running group.

Tonight I went to a book reception at the home of Pulitzer Prize winner Kai Bird, who recently released his fifth book called Crossing Mandelbaum Gate (New York Times review here).  I accompanied my friend and writing mentor, Don Messerschmidt, to the event and had quite a good time meeting everyone in attendance.  There were teachers, diplomats, INGO workers, bookstore owners, photo-journalists, USAID workers and number of people who had spent a large portion of their lives traveling and living abroad.  Meeting everyone and listening to their stories was quite inspirational for me, as I am currently considering just what I want to do with my life (development work? journalism? living abroad? grad school?).  I left the event feeling motivated and excited for both the coming year in Nepal and whatever lays ahead after that.

Before the Kai Bird event, Don and I had lunch and an interview with a spectacular Swiss woman with a fierce independent spirit named Ann-Marie.  Ann-Marie came to Nepal in 1962 and stayed continuously until 1990 before returning to Switzerland.  She still returns to the country every year to visit.  This lady was a fountain of amazing stories.  My hand was aching to keep up with her as I jotted down everything in my notebook and I recorded our whole 3 hour conversation on my iPhone.  Ann-Marie came to Nepal after a stint in the Congo because she was craving more adventure before settling back down in Switzerland.  She’s worked with the Swiss government, managed hotels, trekked with Nepali princesses, met famous mountain climbers and diplomats and investigated the origins of Swiss cheese making in Nepal.  I left the meeting with Ann-Marie thoroughly inspired to have equally splendid adventures as she has had.  If I can be like Ann-Marie, who was probably around 90 years old, with that many stories and that much wisdom, then I’ll consider my life a success.

This and That from This Week:

Above: This week I revisited the Trungram Monastery located in Sankhu, Nepal, where I used to teach English to the monks three years ago. It was great to see how all the boys have grown up and improved their English skills.  The above photo is Nima, who was one of the youngest monks when I arrived in 2007.

Above: This week I stood in a cave that my monk friends tell me was hollowed out of a rock in the 12th century by the famous Tibetan yogi and poet Milarepa.  Supposedly Milarepa sat mediating in this very cave for 6 months.

PHOTOS: Color and Texture at the Vietnamese Markets

It’s early morning at the market in Hoi An and women donning woven, conical hats bob up and down, organizing their baskets full of vegetables, herbs, and fruits. On the outskirts of the market are vegetable peddlers and inside, under the corrugated tin roof are noodle sellers, who are chopping cabbage and flouring rice noodles.

A walk through the markets of Vietnam reveals an astounding array of colors, textures and smells. Seeing the number of colorful vegetables and herbs at the market makes it easy to understand why Vietnamese food is so incredibly fresh and full of flavor. Pho vendors and banh mi stall owners are able to come to the markets every day and get the freshest ingredients, with dirt and roots still dripping off their ends. The variety of food, of all colors and textures, available at the Vietnamese markets seems to directly correlate to the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine.

Here are some photos that show the rich colors, textures and variety at the Vietnamese marketplaces.



















The Hypocritical Vegetarian on Butcher Shops in Kathmandu

In Kathmandu I have, sadly, become a semi-vegetarian and it’s because I’m a hypocrite. By “semi-vegetarian” I mean that when I’m out at a restaurant I’ll gladly order a meat dish, or when I’m at someone else’s home for dinner, I’ll happily rip through some juicy animal flesh. I really do love meat. But when I’m eating at home and cooking for myself, which is most of the time, meat is not on the menu.

The reason that I don’t cook meat at my own home is because the Kathmandu butcher shops are… intimidating. There are butcher shops everywhere. There is one down the street from my house and a few more within ten minutes walking. I literally pass dozens of butcher shops on my morning runs. But, no matter how many times I pass a Kathmandu butcher shop, I still cannot help but stare when I walk by.

The butcher shops are generally quite small, probably no more than 10 feet across, open air stalls. In front of the stall is a table that displays the shop’s product, which is most often chicken, pig, goat or buffalo (never cow, for cows are sacred animals here in Nepal). If the animal is large, like a pig or a goat, the sections are laid out in large chunks on the front table: the head on one side, the abdomen and front legs in the middle and the hind quarters on the other side. If it is a goat, the legs of the animal bend unnaturally, every which way. If it is a pig, the shop keepers often rub the whitish-pink skin with a spice that dyes the whole animal a shade of neon orange. Chickens are laid out in rows, sans head and feet, and are blow torched to singe off the tiny down feathers. The store proprietor often stands behind the meat-heavy table with a wand, made of a stick and a plastic bag, that he or she waves around the meat in a half-hearted effort to keep the flies at bay.

Whenever I walk by a butcher shop, I’m always struck by how, well, animal the meat is. The legs and hooves are still intact, the heads are sitting there, staring at me with open eyes, the hair and bristles are still visible on the skin. The “animalness” of the meat at the Kathmandu butcher shops puts me off because of how whole the meat pieces are. When I think about this, it is, of course, horribly hypocritical of me, because when I’m back in the supermarkets of the US, I make a beeline to the meat department and without any consideration pick out a plastic-wrapped package of chicken chunks or pork loins. In the US, the meat section of the store is so sanitized, so clean and sparkly, that it’s easy to forget that the little package of perfectly white, perfectly uniform, perfectly bone-free meat pieces actually came from an animal.

I think if most carnivorous people in the US saw the butcher shops in Kathmandu, they would likely feel the same way. There is blood, guts, hair and eyes. There are bones, tendons, organs and fat strips. Plastic wrapped, pre-sliced, pre-weighed meat packages do not exist here.

As a Westerner, it is easy to look upon the butcher shops here and think: “How dirty! What a bloody mess they are!” But, I think the fact that I am so put off by seeing large pieces of animal, with the heads intact, or that seeing a butcher slash away at a hanging goat carcass makes my stomach knot a bit is actually a reflection of the disconnect we Americans have with our meat. The distaste I feel at the open air butcher shops here is a negative reflection on my culture, not theirs.

Last summer I worked on two WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) farms in Thailand.  One farm in northern Thailand near Chiang Dao that I stayed at had a big business raising pigs. They had around 70 large pigs and would slaughter a few each week to sell at the market and eat themselves. I stood on, squeamishly, and watched the farmers slaughter a pig with a large, blunt machete. (Read the whole story here: “From Sty to Stew: Understanding Hyper-Local Food Systems”)

With gritted teeth, I observed as the farmers sliced open the pig’s belly, took out the organs and swiftly severed the head. I couldn’t help but think: “Gross!”

Shortly after the pig slaughter I was replaying the event in my head. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “I’m an avid carnivore back at home. How can I think that an animal slaughter is ‘gross’?”

Seeing an animal slaughtered for food was completely new to me, but this made no sense because I’ve eaten animal meat my whole life. The farmers in Chiang Dao, Thailand, were actually shocked that I had never seen an animal killed before. For them, eating meat meant killing the animal themselves. For me, eating pig or goat or chicken in the US means going to the nice and neat meat aisle. I found that the farmers, who raise and slaughter, and then eat the pig themselves, had a much higher degree of respect for the animal and a much greater understanding of the food they ate. They ate almost every bit of the pig, including the blood and the organs: nothing went to waste. In the US, I’ve never seen an animal slaughter because this “dirty” work is done far, far away from my home, in a meat factory, probably in another state. I don’t know who kills the animals I eat, how the animals are killed or where my meat even came from in the first place. Is it imported from Mexico? Was it raised on a cow farm in Alabama? Was it raised on corn or grass? Was it injected with hormones and steroids? Who knows? This system makes no sense and when I consider it, is actually far more off-putting than seeing a locally grown, grass-fed animal slaughtered by the butcher, who also lives down the street from me.

So, as I walk by the butcher shops here in Kathmandu, and see the dead, glassy eyes of a recently slaughtered orange pig staring at me, I can’t help but stare back. The realness and the wholeness of the animals makes it difficult for me to order meat at the butcher shop to cook for myself, but I think this is not a negative reflection on Kathmandu butcher shops, it is a negative reflection on me and the food culture in my home country. It’s difficult for me to visit the butcher shops here because I am a product of a broken and disconnected food system in which people have no idea where their food comes from. As long as the food comes in a tidy little package, with no eyes, bones, tendons, or fat, I guess no one really cares.


Above: Recently slaughtered pigs in a row.
Above: The butcher slices and dices recently slaughtered pigs.  When I look at this my first instinct is to think: “Gross!” In fact, it’s not gross at all, I’m just used to a food system that raises, slaughters and packages animals behind closed doors.
Above: A recently slaughtered pig.  This pig was most likely raised locally, within the Kathmandu Valley.

Above: The butcher cuts up a pig into different pieces on one of the open air tables.

Above: An orange and bristly pig head at a butcher shop near Thamel, Kathmandu. Photo by: Rick McCharles

Above: Kathmandu residents line up to purchase meat at one of the local butcher shops. Photo by: John Pavelka

BLOG: A (Re)Visit to Trungram Monastery

Yesterday I made a trip outside of Kathmandu to visit the monks at Trungram Monastery, where I spent a good portion of my last Nepal trip living and teaching English. Trungram Monastery is located about 1.5 kilometers away from the small Newari village of Sankhu, which is about an hour by mini-bus from the Kathmandu city center.

I caught a bus from Chabahil area, which is near Boudhanath stupa, one of the biggest holy sites for Tibetans in Nepal. I arrived in Sankhu about an hour later and spent some time walking around the town taking photos of the Newari architecture and the small vegetable markets. Since three years ago, I noticed a marked increase in Sankhu’s size (the population of which is estimated at about 10,000). The town now includes quite a few more small shops and even became host to a Kathmandu Bank.

I hiked up to Trungram Monastery from the town, which takes about 30 minutes and winds up a hill, past rice fields and vegetable gardens. It was a walk I had taken many times before and it felt good to let my feet lead me through familiar territory. I recognized the same small houses, resting huts and water taps from three years ago.

Walking up to the monastery, it seemed to me that very little had changed. The grass was still green and velvety, the paint on the prayer room looked fresh and the big Tibetan Mastiff dog was still chained to the dining room door. I found my good friend Jangchup, a 23-year-old monk who I’ve stayed in contact with through Facebook, in his room. He proceeded to give me a “re-tour” of the grounds, pointing out things that had changed since I was living there. Mostly, the only things that had changed were that a few shrubs were now bigger. Also, the stoic guard who used to live there, a villager who spent most of his days flinging rocks at monkeys with his sling shot, had since retired.

I visited the classroom that I used to teach five classes per day. Class was in session and I said hello to all the boys who were my former students. The monastery currently has a new English teacher, a Dutch girl who stays in the village below. Jangchup showed me the library, which is full of Tibetan writings and philosophy books. Several years ago the monastery purchased three new computers, which are stationed in the library for the monks to use. The computers do not have internet connections, but I was nonetheless impressed at their investment and encouragement of technological proficiency. Jangchup spends some time each day teaching the young monks how to use the computers.

Jangchup and I spent the day walking around the monastery and the village, exploring the famous Vajrayogini temple, talking with the locals and checking out the small meditation caves in the area, where reportedly famous monks used to come to meditate for months at a time. After a few hours of exploration, we returned to the monastery for lunch.

The food, which is vegetarian, was simple yet delicious, just like I remembered. Red-robed little monk inhaled their rice and vegetables, excited to go run around outside after lunch. There were a number of new small monks at the monastery that I didn’t recognize, but most of them I remembered from 2007. Many of the boys looked exactly the same, but a few had grown up quite a bit. Some of the boys wanted to chat, but most are so shy, especially around females, that whenever I gave them a smile, they ran away in fits of embarrassment.

After lunch I went up to the small monks’ residence hall and hung out, chatting with those proficient in English and reminiscing with them about our times together three years ago. They all asked me who I remembered and who looked the same.

“He looks the same,” I said, pointing to Pasang. “He looks different. He’s grown two feet!” I said about Nima. They all burst into a fit of laughter at that remark.

Everyone wanted to know if they looked the same or different. I asked if I looked the same or different. They told me I looked the same, except “more white.”

The rambunctious nature of the small monks was surely the same as it was three years ago. During break time, just as I remembered, they spent their free hour karate chopping one another, running around on the roof of their residence hall, playing with a goat left by one of the villagers and break dancing.

I left in the late afternoon to catch a mini-bus back to Kathmandu and said goodbye to everyone. A few of the older boys who now have internet mobile phones said they had Facebook pages.

“Add me as a friend!” I said as I waved goodbye.


Above: Villagers climbing the steps up to the Vajrayogini temple complex. They were just returning home after transporting baskets full of vegetables to Sankhu to sell.

Above: Jangchup stands in front of one of the meditation caves we explored near Vajrayogini.

Above: Jangchup and I examined some of the fine metal work on the Vajrayogini temple complex. The temple had an interesting mix of Buddhist and Hindu deities.

Above: The puja (prayer) room at Trungram Monastery. This is the place that the monks gather in the morning and evening for two-hour prayer sessions. The prayer sessions are amazing to sit in on. They include lots of deep Tibetan chanting, gongs and horns.

Above: Me standing in one of the meditation caves. This is the oldest cave in the area and Jangchup told me that thousands of years ago, monks would come here to meditate for up to six months.

Above: The boys at the monastery. The majority of the monks pictured here are my former students. (So proud of them!) Anyone under four feet I most likely don’t know, as the smallest monks have only recently entered the monastery.

Above: The small monks sit on the lawn practicing their Tibetan after lunch.

Above: Two of the boys run up and down the hill adjacent to the monastery.

Above: On our way up to the Vajrayogini temple complex, Jangchup and I came across this Hindu shrine on the side of the path. The grounds surrounding it were still wet with fresh blood, as an animal (most likely a goat) had recently been sacrificed to the Gods.

Above: Me standing in front of the Buddha in the Trungram Monastery’s puja room.

PHOTOS: Himalayan Hash Run #2

This past Saturday was the women’s festival of Teej here in Nepal. On Teej women dress in red, head for the holy Hindu sites like Pashupatinath and dance the day away. Part of the Teej rituals (only for the women) include fasting all day. They must not eat any food for 24 hours and cannot even drink a sip of water. (I read a news article about hundreds of women at Pashuatinath who, while celebrating, fainted from lack of food and water this year.) During the 24 hour fast, women pray for a good husband. Instead of fasting and praying for a good man, I laced up my running shoes and headed for the hills with the Himalayan Hash House Harriers. To the chagrin of my neighbor, Gita, I left the house around 2 p.m. after eating a meal to fuel myself for the extravaganza. “Don’t you want to stay?” she asked, eyeing my dirty athletic shoes that were caked with mud from the last Hash run. “Don’t you wan’t to look like a bride?” she asked, pointing to her made-up face. I told her, sorry, but I had some running to do.

This week’s Hash was about an hour outside of central Kathmandu near the village of Sankhu, which is actually where I used to live three years ago when I was teaching English to monks as Trungram Monastery. It was great to be back running around my old stomping grounds. I recently purchased a small, waterproof waist belt that I can run with. My new gear allows me to take my point-and-shoot camera along with me on my Hash runs. Here are some photos from Himalayan Hash #1666.


Above: The Hashers circle up before the run begins.  The GM (Grand Master) in the middle debriefs us before we set out.  Saturday’s run was laid by “The Scholars,” the three young Nepali guys on the far right.

Above: The runners sprint along the river near Sankhu.

Above: A group of us take a breather, trying to find the confetti paper on the ground that will turn us in the right direction.

Above: Some of the Hashers run by a rice field. The women in the paddies are harvesting the rice.

Above: We had to make several river crossings on this Hash. I think I crossed rivers that were at least waist deep about four times.

Above: The Hashers try to figure out which way to go.

Above: The runners check out the awesome rice paddy views from a hill top.

Above: We wait at a “holding” spot for the rest of the runners to catch up.

Above: Me at the holding, sweating and smiling.

Above: After almost an hour-and-a-half of running, the runners came across a group of singing women dressed in red saris, celebrating the women’s festival of Teej.

Above: Paul made a rather impressive and graceful “Hash Crash” when we were crossing some dried up rice fields. The wounds were more spectacular in person.

Above: Somehow, when we were waiting for the rest of the runners to catch up, I got roped into dancing with the Nepali women in the Teej circle.

Above: The women in the Teej circle were singing and dancing when we ran by and continued to do so when we left.

Above: Dancing in the Teej circle in the countryside on the outskirts of Sankhu.

Above: After the run is finished, the virgins get initiated into the group with beer from metal goblets.

Snapshot Story: Breakfast on the Saigon Streets

The streets of Saigon have already come to life just after the sun makes its appearance over the ragged, urban cityscape. Motos zoom by with passengers on the back, cyclo drivers push and pull their bandy legs on their vehicle’s pedals and the coffee vendors expertly funnel the rich, black, liquid caffeine from a silver, dented pot to glass mugs with bottoms full of cloyingly sweet condensed milk.

From a corner adjacent to my hostel in Saigon’s backpacker district comes a mingling of smells that is impossible to resist. There is the salty smell of frying eggs, the juicy aroma of sizzling meats and an overpowering and romantic fragrance of just-baked, crunchy baguettes. The street stall is run by a sturdy Vietnamese woman who doesn’t smile, she just concentrates on cooking her eggs to perfection.

I order a bánh mì trung with the works for breakfast. The sandwich, which I think is one of the more perfect breakfast foods in Asia, is a version of the famous bánh mì made with an added omelette. The woman hands me a steaming mug of coffee that looks like tar and tastes like heaven before she sets about making my Saigon street breakfast. With two swift cracks she breaks the eggs into the pan, moving the skillet about with the hands of an expert. A serrated bread knife cuts through the crunchy outside of the baguette to reveal a soft and puffy inside: the perfect loaf of bread, a legacy left by the French. The surly woman slices off pieces of páte and stuffs them into the baguette’s fissure. With chopsticks, she adds fresh herbs and vegetables: green onions, a few sprigs of cilantro, cucumber and shredded carrot.

In just a few minutes the sandwich is finished. The woman, with the corners of her mouth turned down, wraps the stuffed baguette in a piece of yesterday’s newspaper and snaps it shut with a thin rubber band. She hands it over, I pay and then unwrap the sandwich, feeling like it’s Christmas on the hot and sticky morning streets of Saigon. At that moment, sitting on the street corner eating my bánh mì trung off an old piece of newspaper and already starting to sweat from the southern Vietnamese heat, I am absolutely certain that there is nowhere in the entire world I would rather be.

Snapshot Story: Female Construction Workers in Nepal

From my observations I can safely say that the construction industry in the United States is largely dominated by men. When passing by construction sites I rarely see a woman and if I do, she is usually holding a sign to direct traffic, not actually doing the manual work.

In Nepal, there exists a more equal balance between the male and female construction workers. Seeing a woman stacking and mortaring bricks at a building site is just as common as seeing a man doing the same job. Nepal lacks many of the big machines that we have in the US to assist with construction, for example, cement-mixing trucks. Everything is done by hand: laying bricks, mixing cement, digging earth, transporting rocks and putting up bamboo scaffolding. I have tremendous respect for anyone working in the Nepalese construction industry, for the intense manual labor that I see on the streets and at building sites looks to me to be literally backbreaking.

After growing accustomed to seeing women, both very young and very old, working construction jobs, I began to notice their clothing. Despite the messy, dirty chaos of their work sites, the women construction workers manage to keep their clothing incredibly clean and bright. There’s no coveralls for them, for they don their delicate and vibrantly colored saris and kurtas to work. There exists a contrast between the femininity of the women and the harsh nature of their manual labor. To watch women workers with their perfectly clean saris and kurtas transport bricks on their heads, smiling and laughing all the while, almost seems unreal.

Nepal’s Genius Security Systems

Sometimes I think that we in the Western world unnecessarily complicate life.  This theory is often confirmed when I am traveling or living in developing countries and I see how they do things here.  People in the developing world often have simple and easy solutions for life’s everyday problems.  Westerners could learn a thing or two from these solutions on how to make life less complicated.

I spend a lot of time roaming the streets of Kathmandu and have noticed that Nepalis have come up with some genius security systems for their homes and businesses.  Now, in the West we often install expensive alarms that trigger calls to the police who then have to drive to the point of break-in.  What happens if the alarm doesn’t go off?  What happens if the police don’t get there in time?  You’re out of luck.

The majority of security systems in Kathmandu are much simpler, but I assume, very effective.  All you need to install a simple, yet genius Nepali security system is some cement, rusty nails and maybe an empty wine bottle or two.  There are two types of security systems I’ve seen: nails and glass.  To install the nails system just put some wet cement around the top of the wall around your home.  When the cement begins to dry, stick the rusty nails in (pointy side up).  Voila! You now have a layer of rusty, pointy nails to deter any intruders.

Nepal Genius Security System Version 2 is the “glass system.”  To install the glass system, simply invite all your alcoholic friends to your house for a weekend of booze fueled revelry.  After all the guests and their hangovers have departed, take all the empty wine and beer bottles and smash them with a hammer.  Then, as with the “nails system,” put a layer of cement around the top of the wall around your house.  Stick the shards of glass in the cement and, voila!, now you have a layer of razor-sharp glass pieces to keep away bad guys.


Above: Exhibit A: The Nails System

Above: Exhibit B: The Glass System

Above: More of the Glass System.

Bibimbap: Food of the Gods

Stone Pot Bibimbap (Photo by avlxyz-flickr)

Throughout my Asian travels I often find a food or drink in a certain country that I absolutely cannot get enough of. In Thailand I ate enough spicy green papaya salad and young coconuts to feed the US military for a month. In Singapore I drank so much kopi (coffee sweetened with condensed milk) that I often returned home so caffeinated that I could barely read a sentence. In Cambodia I ate so many mini grilled bananas on a stick that I most likely kept the SE Asian banana business afloat while visiting. And, of course, in Vietnam I sometimes begged my travel partners to eat pho with me three times a day.

And then came Korea. Before moving to Kathmandu I toured South Korea, from Seoul to Busan. I had eaten Korea food several times before, but it was when I visited the country that I truly began to understand the glory, the textures, the freshness and the flavors that is Korean food. Within 24 hours of my arrival I re-discovered bibimbap (perhaps one of the most popular foods in Korea) and that’s when my obsessive tendencies kicked in. Over the course of the next few weeks bibimbap became my go-to food. Korea is bursting with delicious and fresh food, so of course I tried countless other dishes, but bibimbap was always there to save me when I wanted a dish that was guaranteed to be scrumptious.

Me, documenting the delicious glory of bibimbap in Seoraksan National Park. (Photo by Jane Tucker)

The word “bibimbap” means “mixed rice” in Korea. The dish consists of a bed of white rice topped with a variety of vegetables, a fried egg, sometimes meat and always the ubiquitous spicy red hot sauce found everywhere in Korea. The dish is served in a large bowl with the toppings neatly placed in separate piles on top of the rice. After being served, the diner adds hot sauce to taste and mixes the bowl’s contents with a spoon until everything is uniformly incorporated.

An alternative to regular bibimbap is “dolsot bibimbap.” Dolsot bibimbap contains the same ingredients as the normal dish, it is simply served in a hot clay pot instead of a regular bowl. I was slightly more fond of dolsot bibimbap, mostly because of the novelty factor of the sizzling hot bowl that makes everything a bit crisper during the mixing process and keeps the whole thing warm for longer.

Popular bibimbap toppings include a fried egg (with the yolk still runny), shredded carrot, shitake mushroom, cooked spinach, sesame seeds, a drizzling of sesame oil, zucchini, kosari and other pickled vegetables. The hot pepper paste is sometimes served already on the rice, but usually there is a large squeeze bottle handy with extra. Each unique flavor blends perfectly with the others, creating a spicy, satisfying and healthy bowl of sustenance. As I found true almost everywhere in Korea, along with the main dish is served a smattering of small side dishes, which include kimchi (fermented cabbage), marinated tofu, seaweed, daikon radish and other pickled delights.

For those lucky enough to have a well-stocked kitchen and a Asian market nearby, here is a recipe and instructional video I found for bibimbap.

Some bibimbap pictures for your viewing pleasure.



Above: My Korean travel partner and best friend Jane spices up her bibimbap with extra hot sauce in Seoraksan National Park.

Above: One of the pleasures of eating Korean food are the numerous little side dishes served with the main course.

Above: This is dolsot bibimbap, which is basically the same as regular bibimbap, but is served in a hot clay pot.

Above: This bibimbap is served with a side of kimchi and broth. (Photo by: avlxyz)

PHOTOS: Krishna Janmashtami Festival

Last Thursday I attended the fantastically colored festival, Krishna Janmashtami, also known as Krishna’s birthday party. Krishna is one of the main gods worshipped by Hindus. The festival, which began before the sun had risen over Kathmandu, was ushered in at Patan Durbar Square with much pomp and circumstance. I have been to Patan Durbar Square dozens of times, but have never seen it as packed as it was for Krishna Janmashtami. There is a Krishna temple located in the main courtyard of Patan Durbar Square, which was where most of the day’s activities were centered.

There were two main lines (one for women and one for men) that wound and roped all around the neighborhood. Everyone was standing in line to actually enter the Krishna temple to give offerings and pray. There were thousands of attendees and I predict that it probably took around five or six hours for those waiting in line to actually reach the Krishna temple. Someone had planned ahead, though. There were several Red Cross tents set up with water and food and first aid kits, which I presume was for in case anyone fainted from the heat. There were several people sleeping in the tents when I passed by.

In my quest to understand the riots and fanfare surrounding this Krishna, I asked all my Nepali friends what kind of god he is and what makes him special. I came away with a number of varying answers, but mostly I came to understand that Krishna was somewhat of a “playboy.” According to one of my sources, Krishna had 1,000 wives. While winding through the crowds at the festival, it soon became apparent that the women’s line to enter the Krishna temple was about ten times longer than the men’s line. My friend told me that many women come to this festival because they want to pray to Krishna, who is apparently regarded as a “women’s god,” and ask him for a good husband. I wondered why all these thousands of women wanted to stand in line for six hours to ask for marital bliss from a god who had 1,000 wives. I decided this was a fruitless question to ponder, so I abandoned the thought and began snapping photos of the spectacle. Here are some of my photos from the event:


Above: The women’s line was exponentially longer than the men’s line. These women probably have another two hours before they get to enter the Krishna temple.

Above: Krishna Janmashtami festival attendees carried long, fluorescent peacock feathers. The peacock feather is significant because Lord Krishna wears one in his headdress.

Above: Pigeons scatter near the front of the line. The festival was held at Patan Durbar Square.

Above: Patan Durbar Square was packed with festival attendees and onlookers. A band periodically squeezed its way through the main cobbled street, banging out a rhythm for devotees to enjoy in the sun.

Above: A woman shades her eyes with her peacock feathers. This group has almost made it to the front of the line.

Above: After the devotees enter the Krishna temple, they proceeded to go around to the back of the complex where dozens of Brahmin priests had set up shop on the ground to give out prayers and tikka (red dots on the forehead).

Above: A Brahmin priest waits to perform another ritual. On his forehead is a mixture of rice grains and red tikka powder.

Above: A Brahmin priest gives a tikka to a devotee. Those who visited the priests after entering the temple paid a fee for the prayer and tikka. Someone told me that they priests work on a “sliding scale.” Attendees paid whatever they had, anywhere from a few rupees up to 100 or more rupees.

Above: The priest’s provisions displayed on a tarp around his feet. The provisions included various powders, pastes, rice grains and colored thread.

Above: A Brahmin priest sits in a line with others of his caste, waiting to give prayers.

Above: The same priest finds someone to bless. Notice his hands that are stained red from all the prayers and tikkas he had given since morning.

Above: Two women receiving blessings.

Above: A priest gives a blessing.

Above: The priest shows a woman how to properly hold the offering, which is a leaf bowl full of rice.

Above: After the Brahmin priests gave tikkas, they also received them from the devotees. This priest has quite the build up of tikka paste on his forehead.

Above: Provisions for the day’s blessings.

Above: Two priests sit on a structure behind the Krishna temple.

Above: As I left the festival, these women near the back of the line still had another five hours or so until they reached the temple. Luckily, they had reached a spot in the line that offered some shade.