One of the biggest clichés in Western culture, of Hindu culture, is the ‘Holy Cow’. My favorite line from Conor Grennan’s book Little Princes, when he is talking with the young boys in the orphanage about their favorite foods, he ponders how to tell them his favorite food is “their God on a bun”.
Jokes aside, cows really are, kind of a big deal here in Nepal, or at least they used to be. Historically speaking, way back when, the cow was a source of income and wealth to a family, and came to be revered as a sacred possession, a gift from Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, not necessarily a God itself. Cows are definitely a big deal, but Nepali Hindus don’t worship the cow, they actually kind of just leave it alone. They don’t get in its way, they don’t milk it, they kind of just let it wander around and they certainly don’t kill it. By the way, killing cows is a little teaser for tomorrows post, so make sure you don’t miss it. Anyway, it is more like cows are taboo not necessarily sacred here but, needless to say, there is a big taboo against eating of the National animal.
I have not yet convinced my family of the superior path of vegetarianism and many less strict, Nepali Hindu don’t bother either. The every present chickens on the side of the road, yeah we eat those and the buffalo has risen to prominence here as provider of milk and the ‘other red meat’. We drink buffalo milk, sans pasteurization, so it needs to be scalded on the stove. We buy it from a little ‘dude pasel’ (milk shop) that has a chest fridge. The buffalo owners from around the area will bring their milk there to sell. It has a little bit of a strong, cooked taste, but Dave and the kids have come around to liking I am still not so friendly with the buff milk yet and tolerate it only in consumption of coffee and baked goods. We also eat ‘buff’ as opposed to ‘beef’, and it serves basically the same purpose. We eat it ground in tacos and chili and other cuts with stroganoff and dal. You can tell it isn’t the real stuff, but it isn’t all that bad.
Recently however, in modernizing Nepal, there seems to be some changes in regard to the ‘holy cow’. The traffic police in Kathmandu have begun rounding up wandering cows and holding them ransom till their owners pick them up. They’ve blamed traffic jams on the wayward cows and cows have also been responsible for accidents where the driver tries to avoid a cow and crashes into another vehicle. Even though killing a cow is illegal here in Nepal, many not so strict Hindus don’t have a problem with cows, and cow meat, that has been killed outside of Nepal. With so many Nepali traveling overseas for education, business and otherwise, quite a few of them have come into contact with burgers and steaks and other cow products.
While picking up some meat in the store the other day, Dave came across a package labeled ‘tenderloin’. ‘Yo kay ho?’ (What is this?) he asked the shopkeeper. She glanced around the store and walked over next to Dave. Nonchalantly, she looked curiously at the package and under her breath she told him it was none other than actual, cow meat ‘beef’. Dave bought all the packages available.
There is a large meat packaging plant on the north side of Kathmandu where you can go to find specific cuts of meat that aren’t sold in the stores or larger quantities. Friends of ours told us a story of visiting this meat-packing plant and overhearing a conversation of a Nepali man asking for cuts of steak, the shop owner brought back some packages but the man turned them down. Looking slightly embarassed, and attempting to be covert, the man asked for the ‘other buff’.
I don’t think the cows of Nepal need to start watching their hides, and I’m sure the cow will remain a special part of Hindu culture and history, but things are definitely changing in Nepal and meanwhile, we are enjoying our ‘tenderloin’.