Monday, December 31, 2012

Bangladesh's Gift to the World

It is my firm belief that every country has at least one culinary delight which is its gift to the rest of the world. I also believe it is my destiny to find ALL of these delights and share them with my wonderful family and friends. Here are some examples that you may be familiar with:

Germany- Nutella (chocolaty hazelnut spread that tastes amazing with bananas!)

England- Cadbury Eggs (the cream eggs for sure!)

Japan- Japanese Mayo (you know that bottle that comes in a cupie doll wrapper? delicious!)

Italy- Gelato, Artichokes, Spagetti, Olive Oil, Espresso (What's not a culinary delight in Italy???)

Norway- Lefsa (thin tortilla made from potatoes)

Spain- Olives (thank you to whoever figured out how to make them edible)

France- Crepes (banana nutella please!!!)

I could go on and on but the reason for todays post is to introduce you to the biggest culinary delight of Bangladesh: Rosh!

Date Palm tree with Rosh pot to catch the sap
Rosh is a drink that is taken directly from the Date Tree. Someone will climb the tree and attach a pot to it to catch the sweet nectar. Later that day the pot will come down full of liquid. You can only get Rosh for 2-3 months out of the year: December-February (good thing I have impeccable timing when I travel). As if Rosh were not enough on its own, we also sometimes have Muri (puffed rice) which we put into our glass of Rosh and it's breakfast in a cup!

The same liquid can be boiled and thickened to make a syrup. Then a variety of morning treats are dipped in it. I have had it with fresh rice cakes as well as something similiar to a small pancake. Lastly, the stuff can be hardened as well to make Gur which is like a molasses I suppose. It's solid and very sweet and I am told it aids digestion after a meal.

Unfortunately I don't know if you will be able to find this deliciousness in the states, although, I'd never heard of it until now so I never looked. Who knows, maybe you can try it out after all!

Happy New Year!

Fresh Rice cakes with hardened nectar "Gur"

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas from Bangladesh!

Today is Christmas Day!  Last night we went out to try to get into the Christmas spirit which as you may imagine is pretty difficult in a Muslim country. It's not that they don't believe in Christ. Actually, they believe that Jesus was a prophet sent down at a time when mankind needed him. Same as Christians! However, having said that, they do not see him as the son of God or celebrate His birth as Christians do. 

Christmas light display at the Baptist Church in Jessore, Bangladesh
We went out last night looking for lights. We had seen some lights over the past week peeking out of the high fence on the Baptist church, but before we stopped there we tried the Catholic church. We honked the horn on our van to get the guards to open the gate. They peeked through at first and seemed hesitant to let us in until our driver announced "we have foreigners in the car!" At once the gate was opened and we were allowed in. There was a small Nativity seen set up as we went in, but other than that there was nothing that resembled Christmas. We found the father and spoke with him, he invited us to the midnight mass but warned us that the mass would be presented in Bangla. We thanked him and continued on our search of the Christmas spirit.

Christmas light display at the Baptist Church in Jessore, Bangladesh
Next we drove to the Baptist church where we knew we would get a Christmas light display. Upon entering this establishment (also through a guarded gate) the guard said to one of my Muslim companions "I see you are here just to look and not to pray" apparently this was a sassy remark regarding the fact that our companions were all Muslim. So even though they had the light display, they clearly were not in the Christmas spirit of welcoming everyone in. We took our pictures and walked around. Again we were invited to the service, this one would be Christmas day at 9am. One of our Muslim friends who was translating for us about the service, kept saying "thank you father" as we had done at the Catholic church. We had to explain to him that "Father" is only for Catholic priests and that he was know speaking with a pastor. It was quite comical. As we were leaving my friend asked the guard "so what do you think now? we are just here to spectate? these ladies wanted to come to church for Christmas". The guard quickly tried to cover his gufaw, but we had no intentions of returning.

We never made it to the third Christian church to see if they would have lights or not. Rather we just decided to go have some tea and bananas at the tea shop up the street. Being here this Christmas has made me realize why my mom always yelled at me when I tried to be lazy and spell Christmas with an X. Christ really is the reason for the season.

Merry Christmas everyone!!!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Night Out in Bangladesh!

One of the main reasons I created this blog (and gave it the name that I did) was to bring to life the often comical stories that come about while traveling as a vegetarian. If you are vegetarian yourself, you know about all the ridiculous questions you get asked regarding your dietary choices. Take those deitary preferences overseas, especially into a developing nation and the disbelief at the thought of someone conciously choosing not to eat meat is prevalent.

Last night my fellow expats and I decided to give our chef and maid (it's much less glamorous than it sounds, trust me) the night off. We ventured out with a couple of our local coworkers as escorts for a night on the town (an evening in the village is a more literal description). We hired an ez-cart (electric rickshaw) to take us into the center of Jessore. We went into a pool hall and played a couple of games of pool. We quickly obtained a large audience of men, something very hard to avoid here (apparently Bangladeshi's aren't taught that it's rude to stare). Once we had enough of that we headed out to dinner. Dinner was at the Sunmoon (or maybe it
was monsoon, I can't really remember) hotel, which was a hotel guaranteed to send you home with bedbugs. The restaurant was quaint and they had our places set when we arrived. Bottles of water with the seals intact were placed on the table for us.

As we were perusing the menu I just asked my friend to order whatever there was on the menu that didn't contain meat. I wasn't picky except for that. What I didn't realize was, this was the sort of place where you order a ton of food and share it family style. Not wanting to force everyone at the table to follow my dietary needs on our exciting night out, I requested some vegetable curry and veggie noodles to be shared with the table.

Our appetizers came out, veggie soup and veggie wontons, and all was good. Then the main dishes started coming out. The waiters wanted to put the food on our plates for us rather than us scooping it ourselves. The table ordered fried rice with chicken in it and yet the waiters brought me my own huge plate of egg fried rice which I don't believe we requested (very kind of them). So based off of the plate of rice I had in front of me, it was quite clear who the vegetarian at the table was. Yet, everytime they came around with one of the chicken plates and tried to scoop it onto my dish they gave me this look of utter disdain when I would politely decline the chicken. "but it's just chicken!" I could read in their eyes. Over and over they would attempt to serve me chicken and over and over I would graciously decline. At one point we all just started laughing because they just couldn't comprehend that I wouldn't eat chicken.

One last note of humor on the dinner's events. One of my friends at the table with me is a diet coke fein. It's her one guilty pleasure. While at dinner we all ordered sprite (mostly to help wash down the heat of the peppers in the food), with the exception of my friend who ordered a diet coke. The waiters brought sprite to my friend and nothing for me. They could not grasp the idea that the one who wouldn't eat meat wasn't also the one who wanted a different drink. My friend never received her diet coke and after the meal was over and we were all ready to leave, our eager to please waiters, brought her a full bottle of sprite!

Photos: 1) Nazmeen, one of the English teachers here, trying to play pool with several young men standing very close behind her and staring.
2) a typical meal here of veggies and rice, that I am served by our chef (not from the restaurant as it was very dark and photos did not turn out)


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Welcome to Bangladesh

the food being cooked for our picnic

 I have found myself on that portion of the globe where far east transitions to middle east. Temples become mosques here, the religion of choice is Islam and if you don't like spicy food survival becomes difficult.
Heather playing cricket, if you look closely you can see the little red ball in my hand
I have only been in Bangladesh for one week and already I have had some amazing experiences. I was welcomed in with an all day picnic which included a game of Cricket. I received a crash course in the rules of the game and jumped in to play a position that I can only guess would be most similiar to short stop in Baseball. I met many new people and had to pose for what seemed like millions of photos. By the end of the day my cheeks were painfully frozen into a smile position and I haven't been able to get them out of it since!

Traffic here is a little insane, cars, buses, motorcycles and rickshaws all compete with pedestrians for a spot on the single lane roads. Horns are constantly honking in warning. It's a complete free for all and nobody has the right of way, which also means noone is at fault if you misstep and become the next object laying on the side of the road. I always tend to let out a little scream as I close my eyes in fear and play chicken with the cars as I try to get to the other side.

Heather in shalwar kameez
traditional Bangladeshi wear
Women must keep their chest and rear under cover here so I purchased a couple of local outfits in an attempt to blend in a little better. The clothes are very beautiful here however, they are not at all flattering to the female body. The point is to hide it not flaunt it so in addition to MC Hammer pants and a long tunic women must also take an orna (scarf) and wrap it in a way that covers their chest; covering your head is optional.

I'm looking forward to getting settled here and learning more about my new friends and this amazing culture.