tea conundrum – बाबु चिया खाने?

As a follow up to my post on comparing the conversation starters  here I write some more on how we get around with tea. The importance of tea in Nepal, or may be, at least in Kathmandu. These are some ideas and facts I’d wanted to share for some time – my personal hausaufgaben (that’s homework in German). On a brighter note – I have a new theme and a fix domain – www.momobites.com.


I am a tea person and my morning starts with tea. Every day at six, I take my Ideapad laptop to kitchen (or nearby) to read Setopati (Nepali Online news portal) and most of the time, the boiling tea water resonates my feeling concerning Nepal’s political landscape, hot and turbulent. The packaged tea leafs from Nepal will last us three more weeks and by then we hope to get another batch from someone coming from Nepal. Our current batch is from the tea shop near Basantpur Durbar Square. I am not sold with the tea bags found in USA plus with our limited budget we can’t afford a grandeur brand.

As a time limited experience from Charlottesville, Boston and Providence – I guess the tea (or coffee) time is usually personal and to the point. You take caffeine mostly to wake yourself up and feel refreshed. Personally tea time for me is designated by the time of the day, something very prevalent from the sub culture I bring from Nepal. A brief description of my routine in Nepal was as follows.

  • Morning Tea @ Six – no milk and no sugar – – To wake me up
  • Morning Tea II @ Seven – milk and sugar but half the quantity – – Newspaper and news
  • Afternoon Tea @ one – milk and sugar – – lunch time tea (talk time tea)
  • Anything after this – milk and sugar – – guest and talk time tea

Two years ago my team (technically Aditi’s team) spend six months on this research study. Personally, I think this study and the published paper is of national importance which reveals how international friends are manipulating this (Nepal)puppet country in the field of health aid and health related national programs. Those six months however, were the most tea intoxicated time of my life. All the literature study, desk work, planning and in-depth interviews meant a lot of tea (and some coffee). The picture below is of Radheshyam (team member) waiting outside Singha Durbar south gate. We were to take an in-depth interview from one of the high ranking official in Ministry of Finance. He made us wait for two hours. Any guesses on how we spend our time?


The Tea shop pub culture

Tea shops in Nepal are akin to the bars and pubs of Europe. People come here to share some progressive ideas, ramble more about politics, and make friends. Most of this require some water, some milk and sugar, a place to sit, and good company. I see it in Chabahil – Ganeshthan near my home every day, with a spike during holidays and weekend. My recent trip to Janakpur this summer for Nidan required me to work in the earliest possible hours. At seven in the morning when the most of the businesses are non functional these tea shops would be open, filled with people. Late last year when our small team reached Taklung after six hours bus ride and 10 km walk on a hot and sunny day we were approached with tea. We begged for cold water.

Tea is part of our culture and I love it. It gives me good feeling of being South Asian and being Nepali. Its one of those culture which I can talk about, humor it, and love it at the same time. Like the most tea cultures around the world, its something that brings people together. Disclosure – There is certainly alcohol culture too, but that usually happens in the evening/night for majority and I may talk about it some other post.

Types of Tea

There is a culture (and many smaller sub-cultures) in Nepal with a cup of tea. Tea time has variations in time, place, quantity and quality. I certainly have few moments of emotional attachments with few of these cups/glasses. From the first cup of tea I made which tasted like strong sour hot water to the first cup with Aditi after she said yes to my proposal. The black tea I drank with Avi and Pradhumna after eight years, in Pokhara and the first morning in home after I got married with family and my newly wed wife. The following are some type of tea I see prevalent in Nepal.

“mitho” tea

Mitho Tea

Image Credit – Veronica (BackPacks and Pumpkins – Blog)

One of those few teas that actually taste good. My mother makes one of these, and so does our new Nepali friends in Charlottesville. You know the one with just the good amount of milk, tea, and sugar. I am not a good fan of masala tea but they taste good.

“pasale” tea

Any one remember the typical tea glass in most of the tea shops in Kathmandu? The glass this lady is holding in the image below. Image from June 2012, article written by Niraj Karki in ECS Nepal. (web link). Good read.


“kaam kaaj” tea

This was one of my favorite during medical school years, and then while working in Kathmandu University School of Medical School – Chaukot. The tea time, was first at around nine thirty in the morning, with a follow up at around two thirty. A fifteen minute chat time with friends and colleagues, with some breads and donuts. Sometimes there would be wai-wai fry. Back during my work in Chaukot in 2010/11 our small tea group talked about politics and bollywood. Our friend, Smrity literally introduced us to Zoom TV during these tea talks.

“gaunle” tea

Most Nepali know this. A long steel glass, filled up to its brim, with tea. A bit thin and light in color; but still has a good punch. Be it the hills, mountains or the Terai flat lands in Nepal, the rural village Nepal – this kind of tea takes 20 minutes, and the steel glass needs to cool for at least five minutes before we are able to take a first sip. Its hot and it fills up the glass. You need a special grip to hold this glass and there is so much effort to take that first sip.


“pahuna” tea

One famous tea culture in Nepal. Carrying this from my previous post from last week. Most households in Nepal offer tea to almost all kinds of guests – friends, families or someone who is at the door for say more than 15 minutes. Extending all four seasons, and irrespective of the time of day – a cup of tea, is presented to you, almost everywhere. I have mentioned my Taklung experience above and am sure everyone has their own. Classic Nepali Tea Culture.

“chutti ko” tea

Holidays and day-offs are big everywhere, and tea on these occasions are wonderful delight. Morning tea with some good food like – jerry swari, maalpuwa, khajuri, and few other South Asian sweet snacks are some of my favorites. These are usually morning teas, and they feel great during the months of September-October-November. These being the festival months in Nepal. These are in part the South Nepal food choices, related to my father’s origin, unto which this is highly influenced.


As a medical school student, however, holiday tea in Dhulikhel (and Kathmandu) representing the hilly outskirts of Kathmandu meant more like – sel-roti and aalu-chana, with may be, sometime chiura (the beaten rice).  Friday evening sometimes meant beer and some local stuff that mostly gave a big hangover Saturday. The dorm rooms and the respective rest rooms (aka toilets) took a lot of post-binge-throw-ups. We wake up late afternoon, with heavy dehydration and headache, nauseated and thirsty. The weekendnoon-tea after one of these events are usually with no milk, and mostly lemon flavored.



Guess what, part of blogging in WordPress allows me some information of my readers. I see when and where my blog appears in internet searches. Guess what appeared when one from Nepal searched the key word – “how to take bike license in nepal by giving bribe” 

In another note, I watched Flash Point Paradox. Waited for few months for this. It was awesome, as expected. For the unknown I am big fan of Flash.

NEXT WEEK – I write about Dashain..

How To : start a conversation (comparing NP and US)

I am experiencing a lot of new cultural and technological advancements in this part of the world. For new readers, I am in USA, for next few months. Exploring and learning new perspectives. One of the best thing so far has been the super speedy internet speed, and the worst in my list right now, is the super expensive mobile bills. Disclosure – I come from Nepal, where my average downloads speed was 40 KBps and one phone called cost Nrs.1.5 (that’s around 2 cents). Today I talk about how I am learning to start a conversation in USA, but before that, lets look at what I know from Nepal (a developing world in the east).

how to : start a conversation in Nepal

We have few good ice breakers in Kathmandu, and few that I prefer more than others. I have a list in here and I am definitely looking for more suggestions/comments. The best talk topic in Nepal for the last eight years or so has been about its internal politics. These range from the peace treaty, and interim constitutional assembly, to democratically elected communist government, to a judicial civil servant becoming the executive head of the country. Time and again, we talk about sports and almost all like to complain about insufficient water, electricity cuts, and the polluted populated city. But here are the top five starters. (All intention in trying to write it in one personal type i.e. no त, तिमी,  तपाईं, or हजुर)

  1. अनी अरु के छ त ? – so what else is happening?
  2. “चिया खाने?” or “चिया खायो?” – Want to have some tea? Had Tea?
  3. “मोटायो” or “दुब्लायो” – have you gained weight? or have you lost weight?
  4. तेस्को (person “x”)  बारेमा सुन्यो – have you heard about X? [here x = arbitrary person/place/or anything worth gossiping]
  5. Education? and/or Work? – These are the where? what? and how you doing?

For some strange cultural aspect Kathmandu, and majority in Nepal are very fond of talking about weight. Its either “you’ve gained” or “you’ve lost” weight. There also has been one incidence where two different people in a span of fifteen minutes, have first looked at me and said that I’d gained some weighed and then once more the second person comes in and says that I’d lost some weight. Its the ultimate ice breaker, with no consequences. For all said and done, one does not need to loose or gain weight, to receive this opening. You simply take it, and move on, no one will notice how much “love-handle” you’ve accumulated or shed. Its one sentence, and your answer is either –

  • YES I have been gaining some weight
  • NO, you think so
  • Is it, I never noticed it

Nepali community love to start a conversation with either a weight loss or weight gain.

Tea Time Talk

Nepal is almost a tea state. Majority prefer tea, me including. But somehow very few are tea connoisseur. Tea has become a staple diet and one of the best conversation starters in Nepal. Most of the time, its present in even the remotest area of Nepal, even those that has not been conquered by Coca-Cola or Pepsi; which is saying a lot. I have always wanted to write something about tea in Nepal, and hope to do something about it, soon. Well, back to tea, we associate tea with two things.

  • First – As the morning wake up drink. Yes, this is similar to the rest of the world. Some slight variation do exist, but the thing that irks me the most – is the amount of tea drank, and its concentration in the mixture. I will write about this next week.
  • Second – The guest tea. Even on a dead summer day, when the temperature of Kathmandu (both outside and inside) is around 39 degree Celsius (that’s more than 84 F), me and my mother (and a whole lot of other people) offer our home guest – dead option of tea.

“Tea is tea, no amount of cold water, can replace it, even in the dead summer noon” – “now would you like some tea”

how to : start a conversation in USA

Obviously, we do not talk about weight in here. Its a big “NO” and most of the population here prefers coffee. I did however, learn few starters appropriate in here

  1. अनी अरु के छ त ? – so what else is happening?
  2. Weather
  3. Regional/Local Sports
  4. Regional/Local Politics

My thoughts on Weather and Sports

Here, we love to talk about weather. Somehow, even though its just a starter, we can take it three or four sentences with weather. Its amazing how much I have learned about weather after coming to USA. Its depth in literature and its daily use. Its tremendous, and frankly, an easy curve to gain some insight on the culture here. Be sure to read your weather reports before you gloat about them. Plus, haven’t really experienced the winter here, so can’t talk with full confidence. “the winter is coming”

Second most important conversation starter is about local sports. Americans are big on local sports. Its a tradition, I am definitely felling in love with. This is actually one absolutely good thing to talk about, but first I have to have a stable place to stay, then decide a game of my choice, and then choose a team. Baseball, Basketball, and American Football are new to me, for now. I also witnessed a customer getting a heavy discount – because he followed NY Knicks, was wearing one of their merchandise clothing wear.

How do we get started?

For me and my wife (Aditi), these days begin with – “Hi, I am (or we are) from Nepal”. We then take our talk, time dependent, to the variety of Nepali knowledge that we can think of, and relevant to the person in front us. After talking to few, in the last two months, we have now begun to develop a pattern for our openings. Its not final, but we are definitely on the right track. We basically talk about the geo-political and medical health in Nepal, trying to skim on recent political developments, and emphasize more on what can be done more, rather than our (Nepali as general) failures in the past.

NEXT WEEK – I suppose I can write about tea 🙂