Sunday, July 22, 2007

Jatiyo Phol (National Fruit)
July 22, 2007

Since I am stuck inside due to the copious amount of rain and because my Harry Potter book has not arrived yet, I thought I would create a blog entry on katal (or jackfruit), Bangladesh's national fruit. The katal trees are really beautiful. Since we are coming to the end of katal season, I had Hamida buy one for me today. Katals are very large fruits. Here is a picture of some of them for sales in the fruit market in Old Dhaka (I asked Hamida to buy a very small one for me...)

Katal in Market
Some of the larger fruits during the middle of katal season (about a month ago.)

Opening a Katal
Apparently you have to put oil on your hands before opening them, because the part that surrounds the fruit is very sticky (like sap).

The inside has little fruit sections. Each piece is a like a separate fruit itself!

There is a large seed in the middle of each fruit piece. Hamida tells me that you can cook the seeds and eat them...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

It's a Wedding!
July 17, 2007

When people get married here, they decorate the building that they live in with miniature lights. Last week someone in my building got married so for one sparkling night my apartment building was lit up in beautiful lights. Here is a picture:

My Apartment Building
Decorated with lights for one of the tenant's wedding.

Cultural Quirks
July 17, 2007

Yesterday in my Bangla class I learned that it is rude for women to cross their legs. Also, that you are supposed to stand up when addressing a senior authority figure. In fact, this is apparently so culturally ingrained, that employees will stand up if their boss calls them on the phone!

Cookies and Cockroaches
July 17, 2007

I have been in Bangladesh eight months now; it has been over ten months since I left the States. I (and several of my other expat friends) have started to notice that we have become more homesick lately. Aside from my family and friends, I think that the thing I miss most is the food. Dhaka doesn’t really have any nice, good quality restaurants that are not either Bangladeshi or Indian. My friends and I went to a Greek restaurant the other night which was supposed to be fancy (at least the prices were high!), but the food neither Greek nor tasty! They had very overcooked steaks and some chicken and pasta dishes. I would love some good sushi (they have a Japanese restaurant here, but the sushi is only mediocre) or Moroccan food! Or even some real Italian food – fresh basil and tomatoes… Mmmm…The American Club does have “authentic” American tasting food, but they mainly serve grill items like cheeseburgers and hotdogs.

Hamida only knows how to cook Bangladeshi food, so usually that is what I eat three times a day. While Bangladeshi food does taste good, eating the same thing everyday becomes monotonous. Plus, Bangladeshi food is VERY fattening. It is all rice and vegetables, very little protein – sometimes fish (which I find hard to eat since you have to remove the small bones) or chicken. Everything is also cooked in TONS of oil! I go through a gallon of cooking oil a month and she is only cooking for one! I frequently tell her to cut down on the oil, but there seems to be a minimum threshold that Hamida is unwilling to go below!

Consequently, I have started teaching Hamida how to cook American food. This is kind of like the blind leading the blind, since I don’t really know how to cook myself, but it is an experiment I am willing to attempt for a small taste of home! I purchased some healthy cuisine cookbooks and am in the process of translating some of the recipes into Bangla for Hamida. Thankfully she reads! (Many bouas here don’t…)

I started out with oatmeal. I figured that is very basic and even I can prepare it! Normally at home I eat my oatmeal with fresh blueberries and sliced almonds. Since they don’t have blueberries (or sliced almonds) in Bangladesh, however, I now eat my oatmeal with mangoes and freshly grated coconut – which is also quite delicious!

Having mastered the oatmeal (Hamida is quite willing to learn new things), I thought I would move on to something slightly more challenging – meatloaf! That all-American staple! I cooked the recipe with her two times. The cookbook is American so the measurements are in cups and teaspoons. I was able to acquire some at the American Commissary, but it was difficult explaining to Hamida the difference between the cups. Thankfully, each cup size has a different colored handle, so in my recipe directions I said things like: “1/3 cup (blue cup)” and she was able to figure it out…

The same day I taught her how to make meatloaf, we also made chocolate chip cookies. (The Commissary also sells chocolate chips.) I had made them once before by myself and her kids really liked them. So, after we successfully completed the batch, I gave her a bunch to take home to her family. She was a bit frightened by the mixer at first, but after I showed her how to use it, she really liked it. I taught her how to use the oven too. (Bangladeshi’s don’t use ovens to cook, they just use the burners.)

Yesterday I asked Hamida to make meatloaf by herself. She was initially a bit scared, but I told her that if she had any questions, she could come ask me. At one point, she did come to ask me how much vanilla she was supposed to put in the meatloaf. This was a bit alarming, but then I showed her the Worcestershire sauce and told her she was supposed to use that instead. In her defense, they were both dark brown bottles and we did use both of them the day she learned how to make meatloaf (since we made cookies that day too). The labels are also in English since I bought them at the Commissary, so she wasn’t able to read them…

All in all, the first cooking experiments were successes! I have to now wait a couple weeks until she has mastered the meatloaf before I can teach her something new…

On a totally separate note, this is apparently cockroach breeding season! Which means that my house is overrun with the little buggers! I put the powered poison stuff on my kitchen floor, sink, and counters at night, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much good. Maybe they are too little still to be affected by it. I have also tried standing outside my kitchen with a bottle of bug spray, then quickly turning on the lights and spraying everything that moves before they can get back to their dark little crevices. I want to have my landlord call an exterminator, but he has been really bad about responding to my requests lately. (I think he has had some health problems.) So for now, it is just Kristin vs. the Cockroaches…