Sunday, January 29, 2017


Today was cold and snowy. There wasn’t much accumulation, but it was enough to make you want to stay inside. This past week has been stressful to say the least. I welcomed the chance to divert my attention from watching the world burn to making delicious things in my kitchen.

Not bad for the first time, but it's pretty evident my pie making skills definitely have room for improvement.
I didn’t make a bread, per se, although there were plenty to pick from. I made something I’ve been wanting to try for a while: Appeltaart, or Dutch apple pie. I’ve never attempted something like this before. I started out mixing together 2c of flour, a stick of butter plus 4 ½ Tbsp more, 2/3 c of powdered sugar (or caster sugar), 1 tsp of cinnamon, plus 1 ½ eggs (saving the other half for later). I think the recipe forgot some parts because I had to add enough water for it to come together. Then I had to work the dough with some extra flour to make it soft. While I was preparing the dough, I had my daughter peel and core four Granny Smith apples. I asked my friend who lives in the Netherlands how they make them, and he said typically the apples are either sliced thin or sometimes they’re chopped. So, I tried it chopped. Then I tossed the apples with some powdered sugar, cinnamon, and some golden raisins (I went with golden raisins because I hate regular raisins—they’re the fart of the fruit world.). So, I took my dough and divided it ¾ to ¼, rolling out the larger portion and lining my spring form pan with it. After I placed the dough in the pan, I poured in my apples. Then I rolled out the smaller ball of dough and cut strips out of it, using these strips as the latticework on top. I even took some of my extra dough and cut out a couple of oak leaves to place on top. (I tried my best to avoid having them look like Christmas trees, and I thought using maple leaves would make them look like a weed leaf.) I took the little bit of leftover egg and brushed it on top and left it in a 350ºF oven for about 65 minutes. I was disappointed that all of my latticework fell (wonder if I could fix this with either wider strips or sliced apples instead). And the outer edge of the crust was kind of hard. But otherwise, I thought it tasted good. There was nothing wrong with the flavor at all. All I need is some vanilla ice cream.

Kind of reminds me of Andorran trinxat, but that just means they know comfort food when they see it.
The main dish I picked today was Boerenkool Stamppot. This super easy comfort-food recipe is the perfect dish for cold days like today. I started out by peeling and dicing four potatoes and a small onion and throwing it in a large pot. Then I tore up half a bunch of kale and threw it in, too. Covering all of these with water until it was just covered, I also added in a bay leaf and salt and pepper (to taste). I let this boil for about 20-25 minutes until the potatoes were tender. After draining the liquid and removing the bay leaf, I mashed up all the vegetables and added some milk and butter. Then I poured in some sliced smoked sausage that I heated up (I actually used Polish kielbasa instead, but truthfully, I can barely taste a difference between the two.). I added a little more salt and pepper as I stirred everything together (it’s especially good with smoked sea salt). I loved everything about this. My friend said that they use bacon bits, and even though I bought some bacon, I forgot to fry it up. I believe it was a hit with everyone.

I really liked this. However, it's probably not the type of dish I'd bring to an office pitch-in.
The other dish I made is called White Asparagus Salad. White asparagus is a little hard to find, especially this time of year. I know I’ve seen it before. I think there’s even a purple/red asparagus, too. However, the two stores I went to didn’t have it, so I went with green asparagus. I cut off the hard ends of the asparagus and boiled the top parts for about 10 minutes before putting them in the fridge to cool. In a bowl, I mixed together a ½ c of mayo (I use the fake stuff), some chopped chives and parsley, and a hardboiled egg that I chopped up. To serve this, I laid out a lettuce leaf, placed my cooled asparagus on it and lined the sides with tomato wedges. Then, I placed the mayo-egg mixture on top of the asparagus. I actually kind of liked this. I’m not used to eating asparagus cold, but it was really not that bad. If you take a bite of asparagus with the sauce and then take a bite of tomato, it’s really good. I liked this, but I’m not sure if others did. Well, I know my husband ABHORS asparagus (“slimy green worms” he calls it), and I think the kids liked the asparagus and tomatoes but not necessarily with the sauce.

Overall, I loved it. Now, it's just time to go to the Netherlands and do this for real. 
Overall, I loved it. I know there are tons of recipes I missed that I wanted to make. I pulled a recipe solely for its name: Naakte kindertjes in het gras, or Naked babies in the grass. It’s basically green beans and navy beans; I just didn’t have time to make this one. The Netherlands is also famous for its Dutch raw herring, for which I promised my husband I wouldn’t make. Traditionally, it’s served with raw onions. However, if I ever got the chance to go to the Netherlands, I really want to try it. We may have a “leader” (=”tyrant”) now who finds fault with all kinds of people, but I think that if we would just sit down and try each other’s food and talk about it, we’d realize we’re more alike than we are different. Eet smakelijk [Bon Appétit]!

Up next: New Zealand

Saturday, January 28, 2017


This topic has the propensity to be super huge. I mean, there are just so many Dutch musicians that are probably worth mentioning, and I’ve been so busy this week that I haven’t had the chance to fully vet them all! But I did discover a few who are now my new favorite thing. 


So, let’s just go with general genres on this one, starting from the beginning-ish. When it comes to classical music, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck composed over 70 keyboard pieces and a number of other vocal pieces during the latter part of the 1500s. Willem Pijper is often considered one of the more important composers of Dutch classical music, especially of early 20th century music. Louis Andriessen is a late 20th century composer who composed a number of large-scale works, whose influence ranges from Stravinsky to Count Basie.  

When it comes to folk music, the Dutch focus on the bass line rather than the melody line so much. This is especially true for dance music; cloggers wearing wooden clogs listen to the bass line for their cues. This type of clogging is a cultural highlight, and unlike other clogging traditions where just the sole of the shoe is wooden, the Dutch decided to outdo them and made the entire shoe out of wood. The shoes are definitely used as a percussion instrument. (I used to have a pair when I was a kid.) There was a folk music revival of sorts in the 1970s but has since waned, even though a roots rock still exists. 

Like many of its neighbors, the Netherlands has been interested and excelled at jazz music since the mid-20th century. Willem Breuker was a bandleader and composer, but he also played saxophone and bass clarinet (I didn’t know anyone admitted to that—I’m kidding! Sheesh.). Misha Mengelberg is a jazz pianist and composer. He has worked and performed with Han Bennink, a noted jazz drummer and percussionist. I love the video (posted above) showing Han using a pizza box and the chair as percussion instruments. Music is everywhere, my friends.

There has certainly been an array of rock bands to come out of the Netherlands. One of the most famous bands known in the US and internationally is Golden Earring. They did one of my favorite songs, “Radar Love.” Eddie Van Halen and his brother Alex were born in the Netherlands before moving to the US when they were kids. Of course, the Netherlands also has their own metal and punk rock bands that have quite an underground following. During the 1990s, the indie rock scene started to grow, and I regret that I didn’t have time this week to really take a good listen to some of these bands. One rock band I came across that I like very much is Urban Dance Squad. Their rock rap style influenced bands such as Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers. 

Electronic music jumped off in the 1990s, and today Dutch DJs are among some of the hottest DJs in the world. Names like Tiësto, Afrojack, Sander van Doorn, Alice Dee Jay, Armin van Buuren and others consistently come up on “Best Of” lists. All of those names are ones I’m familiar with since I’ve been a huge fan of trance and techno for a long time, and my husband is a house and minimal house fan. 

While there are definitely examples of other styles of rap and hip-hop represented in the Netherlands, I’m glad to see that one of my favorite genres, jazz hip-hop (or sometimes categorized as acid jazz) is alive and well in the Netherlands. One of the top hip-hop producers Nicolay hooked up with American rapper Phonte to create The Foreign Exchange. I checked them out on Spotify, and they’ve got some really great stuff. I might consider downloading some of their albums the next time I get paid. Another Dutch duo I fell in love with is Pete Philly & Perquisite. In fact, I downloaded two of their albums and have been playing it non-stop. I appreciate the merging of classical, jazz, and hip-hop. And they do it well. I can’t wait until it gets warm so I can roll my windows down and blast this. (If he or they ever perform with Sampa the Great, I’m done. My life will be complete.)

Up next: the food

Thursday, January 26, 2017


When it comes to Dutch art, one form dominates them all: painting. A few Dutch painters have become such familiar names that some of their art is now worth millions. 

Vermeer, "The Milkmaid"
Dutch art pretty much started with the Dutch Golden Age. In the 1620s, the Dutch painters grew out of the Baroque period. The Flemish/Dutch painter Rubens brought forth the realistic style of the Baroque. 

Frans Hals, "Willem Heythuijsen"
One of the key characteristics of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age is that artists tended to evoke intimacy and emotion from the viewer. If you were going to make it as a painter during this time and you had a good amount of talent, it was behooving to hook up with wealthy families who commissioned portraits. Portrait painting was the thing and many of them paid well.

Rembrandt, "The Night Watch"
Starting out as a portrait painter, Rembrandt was one of the more famous painters to work during this period. His realistic-style paintings often depicted the suffering in his own life. His most famous painting is probably “The Night Watch.”
Vermeer, "The Girl with the Pearl Earring"
Johannes Vermeer is well known for his work with light and shadows. (Perhaps lessons inspired by the chiaroscuro styles of Italy?) He is most famous for his painting “Girl with the Pearl Window.” 

Van Gogh, "Starry Night"
During the 19th century, the Hague School brought Dutch painting to the forefront of the art world at that time. Impressionism also made its way into Amsterdam art studios. Vincent van Gogh, one of the world’s most well-known artists, represented the post-Impressionist period. His unique use of impressionist brush strokes with bright colors and defined edges creates a very eye-catching scene. Today, many of the paintings of Vincent van Gogh have sold between $50-100 million.

example of pointillism by painter Jan Toorop
In the first decade of the 20th century, Dutch painters saw a rise of pointillism style of painting, and not long after, other art movements like cubism and expressionism that were on the rise other places in Europe became popular among Dutch artists as well. As the 20th century rolled on, artists excelled at other mediums: sculpture, design, and public art. 

Dutch-language literature actually encompasses the literature from a number of countries, namely Netherlands, Belgium, Netherlands Antilles (Caribbean Netherlands), and Suriname as well as countries where the Dutch have spent a considerable time, such as Indonesia (or Dutch East Indies as it was called then), South Africa, and French Flanders. The Dutch spoken in South Africa and Namibia actually developed into its own language called Afrikaans, which is a mix of 17th century Dutch with local African languages.

Early on, about the 1113th centuries, the earliest form of literature was poetry. Most of this was about heroic stories of noblemen. Anna Bijns was an important Belgian poet who carried an important message in Dutch-speaking countries: she was quite the 15th century feminist. Translations of the Bible into Dutch were among first books to be printed. After the Netherlands gained its independence, literary topics started to expand. Suddenly, works on government, history, philosophy, religion, culture, and humanities began to emerge. Drama written in Dutch became a thing during the 18thcentury.

As the Netherlands saw a period of political changes and social upheaval, poetry once again rose to the forefront of literature. Probably the most famous writer during this time was Willem Bilderdijk, an intellectual poet. Later on, many poets writing in the style of romantic nationalism introduced works that touched on Dutch culture as well as give a push to Flemish literature. By the late 1800s, a movement by a few Dutch authors called Tachtigers started to show some homage to foreign authors, like Percy Bysshe Shelley as well as influence others like Oscar Wilde.  Poetry and drama were still going strong. WWI and WWII would change things. During WWII, many writers either moved (if they were fortunate) or went underground. One of the most popular required reading selections in schools around the world is the Diary of Anne Frank, a young girl living in Amsterdam who wrote about her life hiding during the war. She later died in a concentration camp in 1943. Today, there are many authors who write in every genre.

Up next: music and dance

Monday, January 23, 2017


I’ve had a thing for the Netherlands for a while now. I know two people who have spent time there, one for several years. From listening to them talk about the Netherlands, I grew an interest in the country. And thanks to Duolingo, I began studying a little bit of Dutch. However, I was also doing the German track at the same time, and I don’t recommend doing that because they’re too similar. (It’s the same reason why I had to stop doing Portuguese and Spanish at the same time.)
The Dutch name for the Netherlands is Nederlands, literally meaning “the lower country.” (Nederlands is also the name for their language, Dutch.) It’s called this because about half the country is less than 1m above sea level. The country is also widely known as Holland, which is sort of a misnomer since Holland only refers to two states (North Holland and South Holland). However, there are a number of people who refer to the entire country as Holland. (For example, the Japanese word for the country, Oranda, is based on the word for Holland.)

The Netherlands is located in the northwest corner of mainland Europe. It’s surrounded by Belgium to its south and Germany to its east, and the western coast borders the northern end of the English Channel. The country experiences warm summers and cool winters (I'm already sold). 

Evidence shows that the Neanderthals were most likely the first people in this area. Other groups have migrated through this area over time, and archeologists have uncovered many of their items, including the world’s oldest boat (a canoe dubbed the Pesse Canoe). Smiths began smelting the iron ore from the bogs and started creating swords, knives, and other tools and weapons. The Romans took over the lands for the first couple of centuries AD, and the Franks took control when the Romans were defeated. The Franks also had to share this area with the Frisian Kingdom. The 10th and 11th centuries were dominated by the Holy Roman Empire. At this time, the Netherlands was nothing more than a collection of small city-state kingdoms, and advancements in agriculture helped develop communities and society at a quicker pace than in the past. They couldn’t get too comfortable, though: things changed as they fell under Habsburg rule during the Middle Ages. Holland began having trouble growing grain and startd figuring out how to effectively drain the wetlands. Finally, they gained their independence and many of the states formed a united confederation. During the 17th century, the Dutch Empire began expanding to the US, the Caribbean and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Between the Dutch East India Company and Dutch West India Company, they set up trading posts all over the world. Under the Batavian Republic, they fought as an extension of the French army under Napoleon Bonaparte until he was defeated. Although the Netherlands managed to remain neutral during WWI, they were invaded by Nazi Germany in WWII. In 1954, the Kingdom of the Netherlands reorganized itself, releasing several of its colonies and reclassified others. They were one of the founding members of NATO, Benelux, the EU, and a number of other organizations. The 1960s and 1970s were a time of quite a few social and cultural changes in the Netherlands. That momentum led to Netherlands being the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001. (The US wouldn’t achieve this for another 14 years.) 

Although Amsterdam is the largest city in the Kingdom of the Netherlands and is considered the capital, unlike most capitals, it’s not where the center of government is located. For the Netherlands, that would be in The Hague. Amsterdam was named after the dam on the Amstel River (yes, the same river Amstel beer is named after). The city is widely known for its red-light district and weed cafés as well as its picturesque bridges over the canals and waterways. Anyone who’s ever read The Diary of Anne Frank knows Amsterdam, and anyone who’s ever taken an art class in school should know who its two famous resident painters are: Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh. Today, the city is a global alpha city, often topping the Best Cities lists in a number of categories. 

The Netherlands has a developed economy, and many of the top global companies are headquartered here; they’re all names most of us are familiar with: Philips, KLM, ING, TomTom, Unilever, Randstad, Heineken, and Royal Dutch Shell (known as Shell Oil Company in the US). The Amsterdam Stock Exchange is the oldest one in the world. In the 1950s, huge reserves of natural gas were discovered, which really helped the Dutch economy. They’re so big that they equal about a quarter of all the reserves in the EU. While the Netherlands in Europe uses the euro as its currency, the islands of the Caribbean Netherlands use the US Dollar instead.

Since about the time of the Reformation, the Netherlands has traditionally been a Protestant country: about two-thirds Protestant and one-third Roman Catholic. But by the time the 20th century rolled around, things started to change. Today, roughly about two-thirds of the people claim no affiliation with any particular organized religion. It’s one of the world’s most secular countries (sounds like my kind of place). There are certainly smaller numbers of Catholic, Protestant, and other Christian denominations still present, and there are also sizable Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist populations as well.

The official and most widely spoken language is Dutch. To me, Dutch is like a cross between English and German. West Frisian holds an official status in the province of Friesland. The European Netherlands also declared two regional languages: Low Saxon and Limburgish. When it comes to the Caribbean Netherlands, English has an official status on Saba and Sint Eustatius, and Papiamento has an official status on Bonaire. About 90% of Dutch can carry on a conversation in English since it’s required in secondary schools. German and French are the second and third most popular foreign languages studied. 

Oh my gosh, these are so kitchy.
When I was a kid, the stereotypical images of the Netherlands used to fill my head: wooden shoes, windmills, tulip fields, and what I read in Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge, including the story of the boy who plugged the dam with his finger. As I entered college, the famous cafés of Amsterdam piqued my interest in the country more. And as an adult, the fact that the Netherlands has a more efficient healthcare system than the US, more affordable college, and a secular view draw me in more. I’ve already learned so much about this small country that does big things. But I think there’s more to learn out there.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Well, today didn’t turn out like I imagined it would. I know sometimes there are days like that, but when they happen, it still throws me in a completely opposite direction. It was just a whole series of small things (like forgetting to buy green chilies) that kept throwing me off what I was supposed to be doing. In the end, I did manage to make three of the four recipes I pulled for Nepal. 

Spicy. Sweet. Kind of like me.
Actually, I started the bread prep yesterday. I chose to make Gwaramari bread, and to start this, I mixed all my dry ingredients together in a bowl: 1 2/3 c flour, 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp each of salt and black pepper, and a ¼ tsp each of ground coriander, ground cumin, ground ginger, and garlic powder. Once I mixed all of this together, I slowly poured in enough water to get it to a paste consistency (I ended up using a little less than 1 c). Then I covered it with plastic (ok, I used wax paper) and put it in the fridge overnight. I think it’s supposed to rest for 24 hours, but mine was closer to 16 or so. When it came time to actually cook these, I poured enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a skillet about ¼”. When it was hot, I put oil on my hands and pulled pieces of the dough off and rolled them into a ball and placed them in the oil. Once they were browned on all sides, I let them drain on a paper towel. I served this with mango chutney, which really made it taste great. I tried it by itself, and it really needs the mango chutney to go with it. Together it gives a certain sweet-spicy flavor to it that makes this really good. 

Surprise of the day. It's good whether it's served cold or warm.

Next I made Aaloo ko Achar, or Spicy Potato Salad. I peeled and diced two large potatoes and boiled them until they were soft. Then I drained the water from them and dumped them into a bowl. (I used a plastic bowl. This was a mistake, and you’ll find out later why it was.) Then I added in ¼ c of peas and carrots, half a small can of diced green chilies, a few shakes of crushed red pepper, ¼ c of lemon juice, and ½ tsp of black sesame seeds. I stirred everything so that it was mixed consistently and set this off to the side. Then in the same saucepan I used for the potatoes, I heated up 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil and threw in ½ tsp of turmeric and 1 tsp of fenugreek seeds. Once the fenugreek seeds started looking brown, I took it off the heat and dumped the whole thing—oil and all—on top of the potatoes. This is where using a plastic bowl was a mistake. As I started stirring everything together, I realized the sides of my plastic bowl was turning a lovely shade of turmeric yellow. Great, I just got this bowl for Christmas. I guess it just needed to have that used-for-twenty-years look. I topped this with fresh cilantro just before serving, and I thought it was great. The lemon certainly gave it a flavor I wasn’t expecting, and the combination of the fenugreek seeds, turmeric, and sesame seeds added a little bit of spiciness that I was also wasn’t expecting. Topping it with cilantro was a good idea; it complimented the other flavors. 

Comfort food, Nepali style.

The main dish today was Thukpa, or Nepali chicken noodle soup. What’s better than warm chicken noodle soup on a cold January day? Not much. (A side of a million dollars would be nice, though.) To begin this, I started with making a spice sauce. I pulled out my blender and threw in a half onion I diced up, 2 tsp of minced garlic, 1 tsp of dried chopped ginger, 1 tsp ground cumin, ½ tsp turmeric, ¼ tsp black pepper (in lieu of timur powder/Szechwan pepper), 1 pinch of onion powder (in lieu of asafetida powder), and half a small can of diced green chilies. I blended this up until it was smooth. Then I added in about ¾ of a container of grape tomatoes and blended until it was smooth again. (This actually made my blender smell like onions and curry.) In a large saucepan, I put a little oil in the bottom and heated it up before pouring in my spice mix and cooking it for several minutes. I poured in a large container of chicken broth (ended up to be 4 ¼ c, so I filled the remaining ¾ c with water) and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Now, the recipe called to cook a chicken thigh in the broth and later shred it, but instead, I used some grilled chicken strips that I bought to put in a salad. I just chopped them up a little and threw them into the broth. After the fifteen minutes were up, I added in some carrots and red bell pepper that I thinly cut matchstick style. While all that was simmering, I heated up water and cooked my Thai rice noodles. After they were cooked, I drained them and then ran cold water over them and drained them again. (Actually, I dumped a whole bunch in my sink on accident. But I still had enough to use for dinner.) To serve this, I put the noodles in the bottom of the bowl and ladled the broth with the chicken and vegetables on top of the noodles. I also topped this with cilantro. I thought it was wonderful. My son thought it was a little bit spicy, but I didn’t think so. I liked it quite a bit.

My meal, so far. But wait! There's more!

I was supposed to make Momo, or Nepali chicken dumplings. It’s like a national dish or something, so I didn’t want to leave it out. But I was too tired to make it today. Luckily, I have tomorrow off of work for Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, so I’m going to make those tomorrow and update this post with photos of the deliciousness. Hopefully all goes well.  

....UPDATE: OK, now time for Part 2.

I'm not even sure what these are. But they were kind of tasty. The right ingredients make all the difference.

First of all, let me start off with the fact that I couldn’t find wonton wrappers at any of the stores I went to. All I could find was springroll wraps. And I even went to an international store, so I must’ve not been looking for them in the right places. The springroll wraps were just too thin. Anyway, I mixed the filling: one large can of canned chicken, ½ red onion diced, ¼ c chopped cilantro, 2 tsp dried minced ginger, 2 tsp minced garlic, ½ tsp ground coriander, ¼ tsp turmeric, ¼ tsp cumin, half a small can of diced green chilies, 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil, and a few shakes of coarse grain salt. I mixed everything together and let it sit to let the flavors blend while I made the other stuff. Next, I made the tomato pickle (also called Golbheda ko achar). For this, I heated up some mustard oil (I mixed together 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil with ½ tsp of dry mustard) and sautéed 2 tsp minced garlic with 2 tsp of ginger. Then I threw in some fenugreek seeds, a little crushed red pepper, and a pinch of onion powder (in lieu of Jimbu herbs), and a pinch of black pepper and stirred. When it was all mixed with the oil, I threw in my chopped grape tomatoes and stirred, letting it cook down for about 8-10 minutes. After it cooked down and cooled a bit, I threw it in my blender to get it down to a smoother paste consistency. 

Holy crap, these were delicious! Pretty sure they're not authentic, but I'm making them again anyway. I thought they were better with hoisin sauce, though. 
So, I did try to steam these using the springroll wraps, but they ended up falling apart when I tried to take them out of the steamer basket. So, I said to myself, “Skip this. We’re gonna fry these suckers.” And so through a series of mishaps and evolution, my momos turned into momo-springrolls. The sauce threw me off. It's definitely tomato-y, but the ginger was strong. It was an odd combination I wasn't used to. They still ended up really tasty, albeit not as authentic as I was hoping they would be. I guess that’s how the springroll crumbles sometimes.  

Up next: Netherlands


Nepal has quite a diverse culture, and its music reflects that. And because of its location between Tibet and India, their styles reflect these similarities. The larger ethnic groups have their own styles. Many cultures, including the Kirat culture, are known for their dances, which are often performed for festivals, weddings, and other religious functions. Sherpa music is very much influenced by Tibetan Buddhism music, and there aren’t many differences between the two. Maithili music is probably one of the oldest musical traditions in Nepal. Today, musicians use modern instruments, even though traditionally, Maithili music is played on traditional instruments. 

There are certain genres of music that span more than one ethnic group. Dohori is a type singing game, typically between men and women. It’s more of a debate, I suppose. The idea is that the guys will start a line of poetry, done in rhythm, which asks a question. Without wasting a beat, the women will respond with an answer (usually a witty answer). It goes back and forth until someone can’t think of a question or answer, I suppose. Sometimes these can go on for an excruciating amount of time, like a week. And I thought Wagner’s 15-hour Ring Cycle was long! 

Depending on the style and ethnic group, common instruments include a variety of percussion instruments (like the damphu, a type of large tambourine), wind instruments (like a variety of flutes), and vocal music. Many Nepali musicians borrow the same instruments found in Indian and Tibetan music as well. 

Today, they also borrow many of the modern Western musical styles, like rock and hip-hop (in fact, they call their version Nephop). I sampled a few bands and groups I found on Spotify. One I listened to is a metal band called X Mantra. As far as metal bands go, they’re pretty tame. They really maintain a melody line in both instrumentals and vocal. And they vocal screaming is kept at a minimal. There was even one song that reminded me of when Guns N Roses sound when they get sentimental or something. 

The next one I listened to was Nepathya. It was a little more on the traditional side, a little slower. He used modern instruments, and even modern instrumentation (like the drum beat and a soft rock effect on the music), but it gave me the impression that perhaps some of the songs were inspired by some more traditional music. 

Mukti is a pop singer who sings in English and Nepali even though the vast majority of the song titles are in Nepali (I’m assuming). Her music tends to be a little slower overall, and it often uses traditional instruments. 

However, I found an album under Mukti & Revival called Sandhai Bhari that is a blues album. I love the blues, so I was immediately drawn to this album. For the most part, it tends to have more of a Chicago Blues or Roadhouse Blues feel to it. I very much enjoyed this one. 

The music of Diwas Gurung seems to span across different categories for me, so it’s making it hard to place. It’s like a cross between late-80s pop and mid-90s rock with elements of electronica and trance. But I think he spans several genres. Other videos I watched of him shows his stretch of musical ability. 

Jindabaad was the closest thing to alternative rock that I found. (I didn’t get to do an extensive search this time.) They sing in English, and when I listened to the album Plastic Heart, I couldn’t help but take notice of the musicianship they have in their music. And they tend to build up their songs to a hard rock chorus. I just wish their album was longer than six songs. I probably would’ve bought it if it were longer. I like their style, though.

I found a few rappers on YouTube. The first one I found was Diwa$ & Dipendra. The song I listened to was more of an R&B/hip-hop song. I liked his style, although his flow reminds me of someone I’ve heard… I’m not even sure who. It’s kind of reminiscent of a Japanese-style or Mexican-style rap. I also came across Laure and listened to a few of his songs; he tends to use strings, and has a nice cadence to his rap. I just wish I knew what he was talking about.

Up next: the food

Thursday, January 12, 2017


Because Nepal sits in between two major Asian cultures—Indian and Tibetan—it would make sense that Nepal’s cultural arts share many of these cultural identifications along with new styles that merge both cultures. 

The majority of the ancient artifacts we have today came from the Newa people. The Newa people were known for their religious art (pretty much all of the examples of their art are religious based). Among some of their mediums they used were paintings, metal work, and sculpture. Most of the paintings were paubha paintings, which were paintings that depicted various deities or religious objects or scenes and used for meditation. Sandpainting mandalas were something that Buddhist monks are known for. Other types of sculpting, like stone sculpting and wood carving, were also highly popular. Repoussé art is where the artist hammers out designs in super malleable metal.

As Nepal came in contact with Western cultures, many of their artistic styles stayed with them. As artists learned various styles, they would introduce it to other Nepali artists. Raj Man Singh Chitrakar is often credited to introducing watercolor painting and making it popular. Other artists who were instrumental in bringing different styles and genres to Nepal include Chandra Man Singh Maskey, Bhaju Man Chitrakar, and Tej Bahadur Chitrakar.
by Raj Man Singh Chitrakar
The traditional architecture of Nepal is centered around practicality and functionality as well as aesthetics. Pagodas are generally common with Hindu temples, but it’s also used in Buddhist temples as well. The number of layers can vary. Stupas are also commonly found in Nepal; a stupa is a structure that typically holds the remains of Buddhist monks and nuns. It can be a place for meditation and is generally a dome shape, kind of like Patrick Starr’s rock. 

Nyatapola Temple in Bhaktapur, Nepal
The National Museum of Nepal is one of the main museums in the country, housing many of their national treasures and relics. There are several sections of the museum, including one for Nepalese history and the Art Gallery. This gallery includes many of the ancient works of art going back to the first few centuries of this era. 

A large portion of the literature coming from Nepal is written in Nepali. It’s an old language related to Sanskrit. Bhanubhakta is often considered the first producer of Nepali poetry, and really, Nepali literature in general. We really don’t have any evidence of any writing in Nepali before him, so he wins it by default. However, at that time, most of the people who were literate enough to know how to write were the Brahmins and upper crust of Indian society. Most of the people in Nepal wouldn’t have been included in those circles according to some historians, so they consider Suwananda Daas as the first. The time before their independence struggles and their Civil War inspired a number of authors to use their talents as an expression of their views and as an outlet for their creativity. Many short stories, novels, and poetry were produced during this time. In fact, the writers emerging since the 1990s have really pushed the styles and genres of Nepali literature, and authors writing from abroad add an additional level to Nepali literature.  

Harry Potter in Nepali
At the same time, there were works being written in other languages. One of the other languages people wrote in was Newari (sometimes referred to as Nepal Bhasa literature). Newari literature actually pre-dates Nepali literature. Starting in the early 1500s, Newari lit took off, and its Classical Period mainly consisted of various styles of poetry, short stories, and drama. During the Rana dynasty (1846-1951), Newari literature dropped off. Writers were often jailed for writing in Newari. Writers were also arrested during the WWII years. Buddhist monks would often write in Newari and were the subject of harassment by the government (and even some were exiled) for teaching Buddhism and writing in the Newari language. During the 1960s, the language underwent another blow when only one language was allowed (Nepali). All others were banned. Today, it’s not quite as oppressive as it was, and Newari literature serves as more of a niche genre.

Up next: music and dance

Monday, January 9, 2017


Four main things come to mind when I think about Nepal: 1) Mt. Everest, 2) Sherpa guides, 3) they have an odd-shaped flag, and 4) the Bob Seger song “Katmandu,” named after the city Kathmandu. However, I’m fairly certain there’s more to the country than a rock song named after its capital and flag shaped like no other.  

The name Nepal is thought to have derived from a number of origins, including being named after a Hindu sage known as “Ne.” Others believe it’s related to the Newari people or of other Tibetan origins. 

Nepal is a landlocked country that lies in between the Tibetan region of China to the north and India to the south. Small areas of India separate Nepal from Bhutan and Bangladesh. The country is divided into three main areas: terai (plains region), hills (between the terai and the mountains), and the mountain region (part of the Himalayan Mountains). Eight of the worlds “eight-thousanders [8000m+]” are located in Nepal, including Mt. Everest. Nepal’s climate is generally linked to its altitude. It also experiences five seasons: the four traditional seasons along with a monsoon season. 

Sir Edmund Hillary (of New Zealand) and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay
People have trekked through the Himalayas nearly 11,000 years ago, and various Indian and Tibetan people more than likely started living in the Nepali region about 2500 years ago. It was once under the Tibetan Empire, but later was ruled by the Chalukya Dynasty of South India who introduced Hinduism to the Buddhism that was already there. During the mid-18th century, a Gorkha king by the name of Prithvi Narayan Shah worked to basically set up Nepal as we know it. There was quite a bit of negotiations and conflicts over borders, especially concerning a few of the northern Indian states that border Nepal. The British East India Company certainly wasn’t happy about giving up those states, and a war ensued. The British completely underestimated the Nepali fighters. Starting in the mid-1800s and lasting well into the beginning of the 20th century, different factions in Nepal fought against each other over who should rule and how. Slavery was abolished in 1924, which led to certain social changes. In response to the tyrannical Rana government, pro-democracy groups popped up during the 1940s. Finally King Mahendra had had enough of it in 1959 and enacted a “partyless” system, which lasted until the people revolted in 1989 and forced a multiparty system in. In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal decided to stir up the pot by trying to get rid of the parliamentary system in lieu of a people’s republic. This led to a civil war where 12,000 were killed. Nepal finally moved to becoming a federal republic and secular state in 2006, losing its notoriety as a Hindu Kingdom while abolishing the monarchy. In October 2015, Nepal chose Bidhya Devi Bhandari as its first female president.  

The capital city is Kathmandu, located in the Kathmandu Valley. The city itself has about 1.4 million people, but there’s about 5 million in the metro area. The city is a multiethnic community with a mix of Hindu and Buddhist populations. Kathmandu, as well as Nepal in general, depends on the tourism industry. It has a thriving arts scene, casinos, hotels, museums, restaurants, and shopping areas that attract millions of people each year. In April 2015, an earthquake that measured 7.8 on the Richter scale devastated the city of Kathmandu. 

Nepal’s economy is still highly dependant upon agriculture. In fact, it employs nearly three-quarters of the people in some aspect. They still have to contend with a large number of unemployed and underemployed, though. The service sector seems to be increasing. Through many reasons and causes, Nepal struggles with poverty and receives aid from several countries. Its currency is tied with the Indian rupee.

Traditionally, Nepal has been a Hindu country with a smaller number of Buddhist followers (it’s said that Buddha was born in Nepal). The country is the site of the Lord Shiva temple, an important pilgrimage destination for Hindus all over the world. There are actually smaller numbers of Muslims, Christians, indigenous beliefs, and other religions followed there as well. However, the government declared the country a secular state in 2006.

Although Nepali is the main language spoken in Nepal, there are a number of other languages spoken here, along with four different sign languages! Nepali is often used as a lingua franca among different ethnic groups and is commonly written in the Devanagari script (the same one used for Hindi and Sanskrit). Tibetan is spoken in the regions near Tibet, and many people in government and commerce use Maithili. In larger cities like Kathmandu, many people understand English as well. 

Nepal is certainly remote and rugged and has its own set of cool features (no pun intended). The Nepali word for Mt. Everest is Sagarmatha, meaning “forehead of the sky.” (Lovely name. I think I know a guy who could go by that name, too.) The Nepalis are actually years ahead of us: according to the Nepali calendar, it’s 2074. Roughly 20% of 13-15 year olds smoke tobacco, which is probably why (among other reasons) their life expectancy is only 59 years old. However, Nepal is the #1 producer of mustard seeds and #3 producer of ginger, which probably means I’m going to love their food.

Up next: art and literature