Saturday #128 was my last free day in Kathmandu and I had a few things to pick up before boarding a Dragoman Overland truck for a 12-day trip through Nepal. I generally try to do something fun or at least semi-interesting on a Saturday but every so often a backpacker has a day when his priorities are picking up laundry, visiting an ATM and money changer, buying toothpaste and deodorant, and perhaps enjoying some comfort food before setting off on another adventure into the unknown. Saturday #128 was one of those days.
I checked out of my hotel at 10:00 and walked about 3 km to the hotel that Dragoman uses as a rendezvous spot. Along the way I was approached by no fewer than six sidewalk touts who asked if I required “tuk tuk, marijuana, hashish, massage or beautiful girl.” They all have the same pitch and they all seem to offer the same five services. The touristy heart of Kathmandu is annoying that way.
I eventually made it to Hotel Tibet in the north end of this city of 700,000. It’s a nice tourist class hotel with a comfortable lobby, sunny cafe, and a rooftop bar/terrace. The rooms are more than adequate and less than half the price of the neighbouring Radisson.
After a hot shower at the hotel I headed out to run my errands. Stop #1 was a T-shirt shop in the city’s bustling Thamel neighbourhood. I met Husein, the proprietor, while shopping for souvenir patches a few days earlier. He asked if there were any specific patches that I needed, so I showed him a list on my phone. When he spotted the word “Dragoman” he said that he had recently made some embroidered T-shirts for a guy who had just finished Dragoman’s India loop. He claimed that he could replicate the orange Dragoman truck logo on a patch, add the name and dates of a trip, and charge me about $4 per patch. I ordered one for each of the five trips that I have done with Dragoman.
I was several doors away from Husein’s open-air shop when I noticed him at work on his sewing machine. Even from that distance, I could see that he was working on something for me.
I must have mentioned my blog when I first met Husein because today he presented me with a rather large “100Saturdays.com” patch. It won’t stay white for long if I sew it on my backpack so I’ll probably use it as the centrepiece of whatever I end up doing with my collection. Unless someone has a better idea, I’m leaning to a wall-hanging or perhaps a bedspread. Either way, it has to be something that I can look at regularly as I really enjoy the memories that these little pieces of cloth bring flooding back.
By mid-afternoon I was feeling a wee bit peckish so I stopped at a cafe that I had visited on my first day in Kathmandu. Markham Bistro is located in Thamel but it’s apparently named after another neighbourhood known as Markham. It’s pretty easy to feel at home at Markham Bistro given their decent Western food, excellent coffee, an eclectic soundtrack of jazz, folk, country and Bieber (he’s EVERYWHERE), but even the name brings back fond memories as I grew up a few miles from Markham, Ontario.
And when I say “decent” Western food, that’s my take on the Bistro’s entire menu. They do some things better than others but their Eggs Benedict is the best I’ve ever had. Anywhere! The Hollandaise sauce is made from scratch, the eggs are poached to perfection, but it’s the foundation of the dish that struck me as the most innovative and tasty. Rather than the traditional English muffin which can be dry and tough to cut with a fork, the chef at Markham Bistro substitutes mashed potato fritters that are crispy outside and creamy inside. Another ingredient that you don’t find in too many restaurants outside of Spain is Serrano ham and they use it in place of the traditional back bacon. I highly approve even though admitting as much could cause the Canadian government to revoke my citizenship.
Based on my videos of the streets of Kathmandu, you may have concluded that dodgy street food is the only option in the Nepalese capital. In fact the city has a few high-end restaurants located within the better hotels, dozens of independent restaurants operated by locals and expats, dozens of pubs, one or two nightclubs, and countless cafes that would look right at home on Queen or King Street in Toronto.
In addition to the Eggs Benny at Markham Bistro, I had an excellent piece of New York style cheesecake at Finn’s, a very nice crispy chicken sandwich and creamy coleslaw at Rickshaw Cafe, phenomenal wood-fired pizza (mushroom and bacon) at Fire & Ice, and a classic Caesar salad made table side at Rosemary’s Kitchen. It was straight out of 1975, but so good after going about a month without lettuce.
With the exception of these Western treats, I’ve eaten mostly Nepalese food at local restaurants and street vendors. Aside from a hearty 12-bean soup and pots of extra strong Himalayan coffee, the local fare has been pretty ordinary.
I was craving a steak when I arrived from India so on my second night in town I found my way to a place called Kathmandu Steak House. The hand-written menu listed seven steaks – Italian, New York Strips (sic), tender, juicy, succulent, extra tender and extra juicy. I assumed they had sold out of the extra succulent steak as it was not listed.
Not many restaurants in Asia use the terms T-bone, Sirloin, Ribeye or any other recognizable cut. When you do find beef on the menu, it is generally described with flowery language but no mention of the actual cut. It’s not that the cattle in Asia are put together differently, it’s just that Asian butchers take them apart a little differently. Their machetes and skills (or lack thereof) are better suited to just hacking the carcass into a thousand 1kg portions regardless of the cut.
At Kathmandu Steak House I ordered the “New York Strips.” I knew I was in for an experience (and not a good one) when the waiter didn’t know what I meant by “medium rare.” When the steak arrived it was served on a sizzling cast iron platter – generally a good sign – but alas the New York Strips turned out to be the same steak that everyone else in the joint was being served, only mine had been pre-cut into 1/2 inch strips. But look on the bright side, I told myself – I would not have been able to cut the steak myself as I’m not in the habit of carrying a McCullough chain saw.
After running all of my errands and picking up everything I will need for two weeks on the truck, I returned to the hotel and got dressed for the 6:00 PM group meeting. I always like to make a good impression at these initial group meetings so I put on my cleanest dirty T-shirt. I would have worn clean pants but I only own one pair of shorts and one pair of long pants and it’s far too cold to wear the shorts while the long pants are sent out for laundry. I would wash them in the sink but my last few hotel rooms have been so cold that medium weight pants would take a week to dry!
The meeting went reasonably well. The drivers (Dutch-born Jan and Italian Jacopo) seem like really good guys and the other five passengers (all women) are very nice. Some have done overlanding before and a couple have no idea what they’re in for. It should be interesting!
As luck would have it, I will be reunited with my old girlfriend, Sura. She’s the rather large and Trumpishly orange overland truck that I spent a month on when I toured Mongolia in 2015. The drivers have changed but the old girl herself looks just the same – welded torsion bar bracket and crudely patched gas tank and all!
I’ll write about the Dragoman group and our adventures throughout Nepal in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!