When I was growing up in Nepal in the 1990s, I couldn’t wait for Saturdays. What made them extraordinary wasn’t the fact that my father would make me go buy milk from the government dairy truck at dawn, or help him clean the garage and give the German shepherd a bath.
It was that Saturday was goat curry day.
We lived in Pokhara, a city known mostly for its lakes and views of some of the world’s highest mountains. And on most days, we ate vegetables — almost anything green cooked with potatoes in cumin and coriander paste. On occasional Fridays, my father would bring home fresh fish from Fewa Lake, caught by security guards in the local irrigation office where he worked. We called those “Good Fridays” because he and my mother would prepare an elaborate meal — deep-fried trout marinated in curry and yogurt and a thick fish-head stew — while my brother and I studied our multiplication tables.
If Fridays were good, Saturdays were grand. After my father and I would return from the butcher with bags of perfectly cubed goat meat, Mom would start cooking: In our tiny kitchen she would chop red onions and tomatoes, soak cumin and coriander seeds in water, and then grind them with garlic and green chilies on a flat stone with a pestle. As rice, dal and vegetables cooked separately, she would saute the onions, basil leaves, cloves and cardamom, then fry the goat in a pressure cooker sitting on a coiled clay heater. She would scoop the paste from the stone, add it to the cooker, throw in a few pinches of turmeric and a little salt, and close the lid. When the pressure cooker whistled for the third time — 25 to 30 minutes later — lunch was almost ready.
The dish that emerged was something my father would describe as first-class khasi ko maasu: extraordinary goat curry.
I learned to peel garlic and ginger from my mother. As a boy growing up in Nepal, I watched her in the kitchen—especially on Saturdays when we cooked an elaborate curry. She would grate ginger with a razor-sharp knife and smash garlic under her palm. Then she would pile the garlic and ginger on a silauta — a flat stone used like a mortar — add cumin and coriander seeds, and crush the mixture with a lohoro, a round stone that works like a pestle.
She didn’t measure spices with tablespoons and teaspoons — everything was calculated in pinches, sprinkled from her fingers. Every ingredient that went into every dish was freshly prepared — or as they say in America, from scratch — and then cooked under low heat for hours. I learned to embrace my parents’ meticulousness. It brought our whole family of four into the kitchen, each of us assigned a task.
But when I moved from Nepal to America for college in 2003, I went four years without eating a proper curry. Instead, I was introduced to all kinds of odd American culinary inventions: Daytona Beach Style Wings at Hooters, Bacon Angus ThickBurger from Hardee’s, and the Corn Dog in the college cafeteria. Goat curry started to sound like the name of an English punk band, and its taste, a memory from another life.