Steve's Weird Food for Nepal: Yak Cheese Fondue

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Time was running out on the SWF: Nepal timeclock when we went for our last supper as a group, in Kathmandu. So imagine my delight when I opened the menu at our chosen restaurant and saw “Yak Cheese Fondue”. It was an excellently odd mash-up of flavours and cultures that seemed very appropriate in Kathmandu, where on the same menu you might see a traditional Nepali meal of dahl baht, or pizza, or fish meuniere, or a cheeseburger and fries, or chicken cordon bleu. (In fact, that list above is the exact order placed by our group for dinner.)

(Aside: This diverse menu phenomenon was common all over Nepal and India. We could generally be guaranteed traditional local foods, pizza and pasta, Chinese, and “Continental” anywhere we went. Emblematic of this was the place next to our hotel in Varanasi, whose sign proudly proclaimed “Authentic Mediterranean, Mughlai, Continental, Indian, South Indian, Chinese Food and, in parenthesis: Special Pizza.)*

But there was one small problem – the yak cheese fondue was only available for two people or more. Apparently the delicate intricacy of the yak cheese fondue is simply not scalable to a single serving. And, inexplicably, no on else in the group was interested in sharing with me. Dejected, I ordered the traditional Nepali meal, but when I thought about it I realized that two orders of yak cheese fondue would only cost 760 Nepalese Rupees, or about $11.00. With the integrity of the Steve’s Weird Food Project at stake, there seemed to be little debate about what was to be done. I called the waiter back over and changed my order, though it took a while to get the idea across that I was ordering two meals, but I was only one person. (Clearly these are a people not accustomed to the North American appetite.)

Nevertheless, the order went through, and fondue preparations began. A second table was pushed up to ours so we could spread out and make room for all the necessary fondue paraphenalia, and there was quite a bit. The Nepalese don’t waste their time with wimpy little pots of sterno for keeping the fondue warm. Instead, a large gas burner was brought over, accompanied by a two foot tall cylinder of compressed gas.

The set up – no fooling around.

This occasioned much merriment in the group, and anticipation was high when the actual fondue arrived. It had been described in the menu as yak cheese flavoured with rum and cinnamon, served in a clay bowl. And that’s exactly what it was – an enormous clay bowl full molten yak cheese, bubbling away like a science experiment.

Bubbly fondue

It was accompanied by a large bowl of cubes of white bread, and a big plate of coleslaw-like salad. Thankfully, the Nepalese fondue tradition has not evolved to include the ridiculous and non-functional two-tined spear-like fondue fork, so I was able to use a normal four-tined dinner fork.

And the taste? Mild, pleasant, no discernible flavour of rum, and mercifully little essence of yak. Everyone tried it, and they all had the same reaction, “Nice.” It was a thinner mixture than I’d expected, but I think that because yak cheese doesn’t seem to melt very well. This makes it an odd choice for a cheese fondue, but I can only surmise that the supply of Gruyere and kirsch in Kathmandu is probably not ample.

Me and the fondue

With SWF: Nepal safely taken care of, a second round of drinks was ordered and the cards came out for another game of Presidents and Assholes. It was a really nice time. The dinner conversation was as good as ever – that night it was about the common Indian practice of arranged marriage. The general consensus was that it might not be a bad idea; certainly the divorce rate for arranged marriages is much lower than the overall divorce rate. We also discussed the best live concerts we’d ever been to, and asked Akshay why toilet seats in India never seem to fit the toilet bowl to which they are affixed and therefore always give an unpredictable sideways lurch when you sit down. He had no real answer for this burning question, so we wandered back to the hotel with that and other imponderable mysteries in our heads, and went to bed.

Per the request from Rob H, here's a photo of the gang taken in Sauraha. From left to right: Jonno (with Sheila cleverly hiding behind, though you saw her on an elephant yesterday), me, Akshay, Adam and Patti.

* Rob H.: Notice how I did that aside without using an asterisk?


Karen said...

We ate at a Nepalese restaurant in Minneapolis over the weekend - in your honour of course. You should chastise Steve because he did not order the Yak and he had the opportunity. Surely he should have, just out of respect for you and your enthusiasm for the SWF Challenge.

Lisa said...

Mmmmmmmmmmmmm cheese!!!!

(I love cheese!)

Steve said...

Yeah, in hindsight, I should have ordered the Yak...

Unknown said...

Lotsa people pics - excellent.

I laughed out loud at the * at the end, but the asides are best placed in the story - thanks.

You hair is looking good but the smile on your face is wonderful.

Keep them both up.


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