Thursday, December 1, 2011

Come to the Supermarket (in Old Kathmandu)

Well, maybe Cole Porter did not write exactly these words in Aladdin (see the full lyrics below), but he was probably thinking of a place like the Asan Chowk market in Kathmandu. According to Wikipedia, "a chowk (Urdu: چوک) is a Town square, an open area commonly found in the heart of a traditional town used for community gatherings, market square, or simply traffic intersection."

The Asan is a short walk from the Thamel tourist area of town, but it can be an adventure getting there and back. The first thing that struck me was the crowds. Late afternoon, the streets were mobbed! Where are all these people going? It's such a contrast to many American cities, which often are deserted downtown after 5 pm. In the second photograph, you can see the fabrics hanging along the buildings. This is one of the fabric areas that I mentioned in the previous Nepal article.

Once you reach the Chowk, it's as crowded as the surrounding streets. Watch your feet or you'll step in a vendor's merchandise or in a hole in the sidewalk.

This is the famous salt from northern Nepal and Tibet. For hundreds of years, the salt was mined in Tibet and carried south to India by traders (sometimes on goat back). In return, traders brought rice and other products north through the Himalaya. Towns like Lo Manthang and Kagbeni became prosperous salt centers. This commerce finally diminished in the mid-20th century as factory-manufactured salt containing iodine became readily available in India. But the traditional salt is said to bestow medicinal properties. Who knows about that, but it tastes good in cooking. The black salt has a strong H2S aroma when you grind it up, the pink much less so.

Do you want spices? Here you can find them, anything your cuisine needs.

Nuts and beans? Anything you want.

Roots, garlic, ginger, and ginseng? This is the place.

Fruits? Yes, indeed.

Many of the vendors bring their wares to the Chowk on sturdy bicycles. I think most of them are from India and have only one gear. They also have rod-operated brakes rather than cable, like most modern western bikes.

Do you need some incense, bells, or other religious supplies? Come to the Asan Chowk.

These leaves are woven into little boats. Hindu pilgrims place food offerings in the leaves and float them down the Basmati River, which runs through town some distance from here.

These vivid powders are also used in Hindu activities.

Need a chicken or a mallard to go with those vegetables and spices? Plenty from which to choose.

And plenty of paper goods on which to serve your feast.

How about a kite or kite string? This fellow will help you.

Finally, how about some elegant flip-flops for your party? Cole Porter never anticipated these....

From Aladdin, music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Aladdin was originally broadcast by CBS as the "Du Pont Show Of The Month" on February 21, 1958. First LP release: February 10, 1958.

If you want a fancy fan
Or a turkey born in Turkey-stan
Or a slave that's awf'lly African
Or a Teapot early Ming,
Come to the supermarket in old Peking.

If you want to buy a kite
Or a pup to keep you up at night
Or a dwarf who used to know Snow White
Or a frog who loves to sing,
Come to the supermarket in old Peking.

They have: sunflow'r cakes, moonbeam cakes,
Gizzard cakes, lizard cakes,
Pickled eels, pickle snakes,
Fit for any king,

If you want a bust of jade
Or an egg that's more or less decayed
Or in case you care to meet a maid
For a nice but naughty fling,

Come to the supermarket,
If you come on an ostrich, you can park it,
So come to the supermarket
And see Pe-

If you want a gong to beat
Or a rickshaw with a sassy seat
Or a painting slightly indiscreet
That is simply riveting,
Come to the supermarket and see Peking.

Well, If you want some calico
Or a gentle water buffalo
Glow worm guaranteed to glow
Or a cloak inclined to cling,
Come to the supermarket in old Peking.

They have bird's-nest soup, seaweed soup,
Noodle soup, poodle soup,
Talking crows with the croup,
Almost anything.

If you want to buy a saw
Or a fish delicious when it's raw
Or a pill to kill your moth'r-in-law
Or a bee without a sting,

Come to the supermarket,
If you come on a turtle, you can park it,
So come to the supermarket
If you come on a goose, you can park it,
So come to the supermarket
And see

(I have a 1960 recording on LP from the London Coliseum performance - brilliant.)

1 comment:

  1. This makes our vast supposedly Fresh Markets look pretty bland and unappealing (except for the chickens, which I really do prefer to buy dead and picked!).