Travels with Lili-Didi

“Have you ever been to New Orleans Café in Thamel?”

“Yes, that’s where we ate last year when my arm was in a cast.”

“I like that place. What about Helena?”

“No, I’ve never eaten there. Have you been to the Garden of Dreams?”

“No, I’ve been coming here for 12 years and I’ve never been to that park.”

“We’ve got to go, you’ll love it.”

This is the kind of conversations you have when you meet a friend in a town you’ve both been to, but never together. There was a lot of comparing and telling anecdotes about things that happened at one place or another as Lillian and I wandered around Kathmandu.

One day, not long after I arrived, Lillian decided she wanted a mortar and pestle. To make the best Dal Bhat, the national dish, fresh spices are roasted then ground up before being added to the Dal. The mortar and pestle are a must.

We went looking for one in the busy Ason Market, just south of Thamel. You won’t find souvenirs or even tourists here. The shops sell food like lentils (dal) and rice (bhat), dried fish, meat, noodles, spices and chilies. It’s also a place to find all kinds of kitchenwares.

Lillian surprised many merchants with her questions in Nepali. Some, who seemed a bit stern at first, were soon laughing and teaching her the words for their products.

A shopkeeper at a large, well-tended shop pointed to the temple across the square and told us in English that we’d find a mortar and pestle at a shop on the street behind it. We walked around the temple on the left, in a clockwise direction, as prescribed by tradition. Nearly immediately, Lillian spotted one solitary mortar and pestle in a shop that sold pressure cookers, rice cookers, electric fans and other household necessities. After a bit of friendly bargaining in English and Nepali, we headed home with our treasure to a delicious supper of Lillian’s Dal Bhat.

Cooking dal bhat
Lili-Didi cooking dal bhat at home in Kathmandu. Can you spot the mortar and pestle?

It was delightful to visit Kathmandu with an habituée, someone who’s earned the title of “Didi” from her local friends. Didi means older sister in Nepali. It’s added to your name by those who respect and love you. Lili-Didi introduced me to places I’d never visited before and to the warm people of Kathmandu in a way that would have been impossible without her. Thanks for a great visit, Lili-Didi!


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