Jellabie Heaven

During the bumpy ride from Kathmandu to Chitwan we stopped briefly in a small, ramshackle town, partly to make use of some dubious toilet facilities but mostly to purchase bananas for the elephants we were going to meet the following morning. The arrival of a coachful of travellers seemed to become the subject of local amusement as a small crowd watched us pour out of our air-conditioned bus into the heat of a mid-day sun. Their faces seemed to guess this was yet another crowd of crazy foreigners.

The town had probably grown from its position on a major crossroads of the trans-Nepalese highway which stretches from the border with India all the way up to Kathmandu. Below the town, rammed into its gorge-like banks, stands the solitary road bridge which traverses the great white river we have been bumping alongside, through breath-taking scenery, for many hours. Not that we’ve travelled a great distance in terms of miles but what this famous highway lacks in substance it makes up for with an ebullient and ever-present sense of danger. Riding this road is not for the faint-hearted, but that’s another story.

The town’s wide board-walks own more than a passing resemblance to sepia photographs of old frontier towns like those of the American Wild West. Shaded under wooden fascias small businesses and shops ply trades which seem to acknowledge they exist in a place of habitual flux. As brightly painted HGV’s of dubious reliability rumble noisily past every small space between road and buildings is occupied by rickety market stalls set higgledy-piggledy amongst major earthworks which throw dust and dirt over everything and everyone. Winding their way through the piles of bricks and chugging machinery twenty-eight weary travellers go in pursuit of bananas. No matter what the risk we had to purchase our treats for the poor elephants of Chitwan.

Our Nepalese guide handled the haggling but the first banana seller wasn’t in any mood to negotiate. Perhaps the sight of so many anxious tourists desperate to buy bananas was unsettling and with our given quota of a dozen each we would easily have diminished his entire stock. I had the distinct feeling he somehow doubted our integrity.

As our garrulous group snaked its way around the market behind an amused guide, our ranks were expanded by several street-traders who were most anxious to tempt us with their merchandise. Had we been in the market for flutes or fiddles money would have changed hands but all we wanted were bananas and as we were coming to the end of our allotted half-hour stoppage time panic was beginning to show. What about the poor ellies? We had to have bananas.

Coming to the farthest end of the market we unwittingly surrounded two elderly women about to unpack a hessian bag full to the brim with fresh bananas. Entirely nonplussed by the ambush they accepted the price our guide offered with barely a haggle. We readily lined up with our Nepalese notes at the ready as the ladies started counting bananas into paper bags. Not surprisingly they quickly ran out of stock but managed to get some more from the neighbouring stallholder. The women obviously possessed a flair for such enterprise.

Gathering back at the coach we could now relax and take a few moments to see what the rest of the town had to offer. Underneath the eaves of the nearest board-walk two young men, sweaty faces split by the widest of smiles, were cooking bite-sized portions of food in a blackened pan over an open flame. Being that our expedition had set out at dawn the sight and smell of steaming hot piles of neatly stacked golden delicacies was too tempting. All those warnings about consuming wayside treats dissipated into dust, especially when one of my fellow travellers explained they were Jellabies – ribbon-balls of deep-fried, sticky, sweet dough. Yum. And just for the record no repercussions, except the extra few pounds in weight.

If you want to try them I have found a recipe.
• ½ cup corn starch
• 1 cup flour
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 cup sour milk
• ½ cup milk
• 1½ cups sugar
• ½ cup water
• 1 pt cooking oil
1. Sift together flour, corn starch and baking powder. Add sour milk and milk and mix well to form a soft batter.
2. Put sugar and water to boil for 15 minutes to make a thin syrup. Add to milk mixture. Pour batter mixture into a squeeze bottle.
3. Squeeze mixture into the hot oil, making a few rounds for one jellabie. Turn and fry until golden brown.
4. Remove from oil and dip while hot in syrup for a few seconds.
5. Remove from syrup and drain. Serve hot or cold.
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