Thursday, June 30, 2011

This Little Piggy Went to Market: Bhat-Bhateni Super Market in Kathmandu

Shopping in Nepal takes many forms. At its most traditional, a shopping trip consists of winding through the narrow alleys of old Kathmandu, haggling with the proprietor of each tiny shop to bargain your way to success.

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It is frustrating. It is inefficient. It is also a little fun --that Negotiation class in law school is finally paying dividends!

Outside of these narrow streets, one can follow the same hunt and bargain strategy at larger, more modern stores around the city. The surroundings are more contemporary, but the process is still frustrating and inefficient. It helps that nodes for certain goods have popped up across Kathmandu (check Putalisadak for computer electronics, Dili Bazar for furniture, and Tripureswor and Thapathali for medical and laboratory equipment). Without thorough, reliable guides or maps, or, you know, addresses for businesses here, discovering these nodes and finding specific shops feels much like a (maddening, draining) scavenger hunt. Your reward at the end is your much-desired product and the feeling that you now know your city a bit better. Ask me where I bought those chairs. I can't give you a shop name (it doesn't have one) or the address (ha!) but I can draw you a handy map on that napkin you're using. Welcome to Kathmandu.

The same rules apply to food in Kathmandu. Vegetable markets and small shops sell foodstuffs as they have for many decades (and might still be using that same scale).

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Modern supermarkets have cropped up around the city as well, allowing for more one-stop shopping. Many of these are smaller and more cramped than the comparatively GIGANTIC supermarkets I was accustomed to in the US (even ones in urban centers). That is why I lost my breath when I stumbled upon Bhat-Bhateni Super Market a few weeks after arriving here.

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Now that we have moved, we live just a few minutes' walk to the store. You can see it from our apartment in the picture below (the tall grey block building with the red roof to the left on the horizon).

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We feel lucky to live near one of the best grocery/department stores in the city. I once thought it was the best store in Kathmandu until I stumbled upon the new Bhat-Bhateni in Maharajgunj. Built in 2008, the new location really blew me away -- wide, non-cluttered aisles! Air conditioning! And the best is yet to come: Bhat-Bhateni just opened a new location in Koteswor and is planning to open two more in the Valley (Patan, Boudha) and one in Pokhara.

Our nearby "old Bhat-Bhateni" is modeled as a six-floor department store with groceries on the ground floor and different departments above. It seemingly sells everything: kitchen and bath supplies, electronics, bedding, furniture, clothing, shoes, watches, perfume, jewelry, home appliances, etc. We feel so fortunate to live so close to a one-stop shop in Kathmandu where the prices are fixed (no haggling!) and more often than not quite fair. In some ways, Bhat-Bhateni is like any American store.

The produce section looks familiar.

There are escalators between floors.

Like American stores, Bhat-Bhateni sells home decor items. I will let you judge whether these pieces suit your taste.

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The checkout lines may look similar, but do not be deceived. I have never seen a checkout girl (they are always women and waiters in restaurants are always men, by the way) actually use the scrolling checkout belt, although admittedly it is quite short and therefore a bit unnecessary. The checkout lines are frequently swamped and more than once I have had to stand my ground to stop someone very brazenly and nonchalantly cutting in front of me in line.

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There are other notable differences between this store and ones in the States. There is no fresh meat or fish. All such products are frozen and kept in large freezers.

You must purchase your goods from any given floor on that floor itself. At the entrance to each floor, there is a set of lockers where a guard will store your other bags while you shop. I find this a bit annoying, but we have perfected the art of starting our shopping trip on higher floors and working our way down to the groceries at the end.

Organization is not a strong suit. Clutter is common in the densely packed, narrow aisles. Items can be hard to find in a given area, and while Bhat-Bhateni may be your one-stop shopping destination, you may have to traverse up and down a handful of different floors looking for the product you want. And, that product may not even be there. Inventory is highly variable and what you see in the market one week may be gone the next only to reappear months later (if ever).

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Speaking of inventory, I see food products here that I have never laid eyes on before. Walking the aisles is a cultural and culinary adventure. I look forward to sharing some of the highlights in tomorrow's post.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

40 Days of Yoga: Week One Recap

As the Downward Dog Days of Summer march on, we thought that we would pause and offer a brief recap of our first week. Surely you are all dying to know how that personal revolution thing is coming along, right? Here are my thoughts on Week One: Cultivating Presence.

First, a bit of a clarification. I began researching Baron Baptiste's 40 Days of yoga by reading about various yoga studio programs and blogs that explained and documented the basic program because the Kindle version of his book was not available until last Tuesday (perfect timing, though -- as if fate intervened by way of Amazon!). By reading online reports and descriptions of the program, I pieced together the basic facts but missed some critical details. Such critical details include the fact that caffeine, meat, and alcohol are not verboten in the program, just gently discouraged, especially as you progress over the course of the five weeks.

By the time we cleared up this little matter, we had already suffered through one day of caffeine withdrawal, so, figuring the worst was over, we decided to dig in our heels and continue caffeine free for the next 39 days.

This is not to say we did not waver about the caffeine. Because oh, that first day without it was bad. Very bad. I had a dull headache for much of the day, I felt incredibly lethargic, and I was in a sour mood -- perhaps the worst part of all. I started to wonder if we were crazy for trying this no caffeine thing.

But, I had given up caffeine before (for over a year, no less!), so I knew that caffeine weaning is a pretty fast, if painful, process. Sure enough, Day 2 was much better. And by Day 3, caffeine was an almost distant memory.

Instead of coffee, we are now drinking decaf iced tea (much more thirst-quenching in the summer heat and humidity anyway). We make a tea concentrate by brewing several tea bags in a small pot of water and steeping them for a long time. After letting the concentrate chill in the fridge, we fill a glass halfway with concentrate and then add seltzer water to top it off. The seltzer water was a last minute addition -- and it is amazing! Here is our iced tea creation, with fresh mint from our CSA.

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As for the yoga, it was great. In fact, it was the only thing that gave me energy on that miserable caffeine-free first day. We were only able to download one podcast -- Kinndli McCollum's -- for Week One's prescribed asana series, a short 20-minute practice. Although we could have repeated this session for six days, we chose instead to diverge a bit from the 40 Day program and alternated her podcast with some longer sessions by Terileigh and Dave Farmar (who, by the way, totally kicked our butts; we will definitely be returning to him).

We also used a short 5-minute podcast by Kinndli for our first meditation, which you are supposed to do every morning and night. Meditation -- even just for five minutes -- is perhaps the most challenging part of this program, and I struggled to imagine extending the meditation time as the weeks progress.

But, silly me -- why worry about the future when this week I should have been cultivating "presence?"

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mannequins of Kathmandu

Pediophobia: intense, irrational fear or dolls, mannequins, or other false representations of sentient beings.

Some people find mannequins and dolls creepy. Like any child of the 80s, I had a healthy fear of the killer Chucky doll from the Child's Play horror movie series. Not that I ever wanted to or was allowed to watch -- the previews were frightening enough, thank you very much. And besides, I was already sufficiently traumatized from the time my aunt and uncle allowed me to watch Nightmare on Elm Street at the tender age of four (file that under "what were they thinking?"). Some adults find doll collections creepy. I say leave the dolls out of it -- the creepiest thing about such collections is the owner's odd hobby (apologies to all Beanie Baby enthusiasts past and present).

Childhood nightmares aside, I do not have a problem with mannequins or dolls today, which is a good thing because mannequins are ubiquitous outside of clothing stores in Kathmandu. The mannequins here are a lot like the ones I knew in the States, with some minor differences.

Many storefronts hang thin, plastic mannequin shells displaying their wares.

Full-size mannequins are around, too, but sometimes their posture is a bit off.

Or they are missing some apendages.

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Or, perhaps, they are just having a bad hair day (they're only human, err...).

What really gets me are the child mannequins.

Some are more lifelike than others.

And some are...well, unfortunate.

But really, pediophobics, there is nothing to be afraid of...or is there?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Recipe: Mango and Chickpea Salad

Fresh, in-season mangoes are finding their way into all kinds of meals at our house these days. This recipe incorporates their delicious sweetness in a savory, one-dish recipe that is perfect for summer. You can serve the dish warm or cold, and because it is vegan, it will hold up well in the sun and heat -- consider it for backyard parties or picnics. The recipe is also flexible in terms of ingredients, and you can substitute just about any vegetables for the carrots, green peppers, and onions that I used here.

Mango and Chickpea Salad


1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 green peppers, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup mango, diced
1.5 cups of cooked brown rice
2 cups of cooked chickpeas
2 tablespoons chopped almonds or other nut (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet or wide-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, green peppers, carrots, salt, and cumin and gently cook for about five minutes, until vegetables soften slightly.
2. Add balsamic vinegar and lime juice and cook until liquid evaporates. Remove pot from heat.
3. Stir in mango, brown rice, and chickpeas until well mixed. Add salt to taste.
4. Top with chopped nuts, if desired. Serve warm or cold.

It's a tight squeeze for ingredients on our small counter top, but it works.

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I keep dried beans, like kidney beans and chickpeas, stocked in the pantry, and I cook a batch every couple of days so that we have ready-to-eat beans on hand.

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Same goes for brown rice.

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Mango is easy to cut (and eat!) with this trick.

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Chopped almonds or other nuts would make a great topper for this salad, but we didn't have any on hand. Instead, I used roasted dried lentils to add some crunch.

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Enjoy warm or cold. This recipe makes about four cups, and leftovers will keep for a few days.

Friday, June 24, 2011

40 Days of Yoga for Novices and Beginners: Be Not Afraid

The history of yoga stretches back perhaps as far as the 3rd millennium BC (we are not sure of the date because it is just that old), so I will not dare to compare my personal story of yoga discovery with the practice's lengthier and assuredly less embarrassing history. But the tale of how the world's least flexible person came to practice yoga is simply one that must be told.

By now you know that I am embarking on a yoga-filled 40-day journey to "personal revolution" along with Claudine. Readers who know me well have at this point received the news with well-deserved shock and moved onto the you-must-be-joking head shake. Readers who do not know me well can take me on my word: I am about the least likely person ever to attempt, complete, or enjoy a yoga class (see: world's least flexible person). My current 40-day trip into the desert is a welcome challenge to myself to commit to giving yoga a chance after trying it, giving up on it, and cursing it in the process a number of times.

My first exposure to yoga was on my high school swim team. My coach decided to throw in some yoga with our stretching and "dry land" conditioning routine. I welcomed the yoga as a distraction and potential way out of more grueling time in the pool. Not much was learned or accomplished by anyone during these yoga sessions, however, given the wisecracking and joking around. Teaching yoga to a group of teenage boys is like, well, teaching anything to a group of teenage boys.

My college water polo coach again tried to introduce yoga into our cool down routine (what is it with aquatics coaches and yoga?), but this was a failed mission all over again as we rushed through poses at the end of practice to be first to hit the locker room and get to dinner.

Years later, Claudine brought me to a handful of yoga classes as she began practicing with increasing regularity. About once a year I would tag along, bathed in blissful ignorance after forgetting my previous experiences. Each time I would endure a version of hell (it was, after all, always a sweaty "hot yoga" class) accented with "om" chants and the smell of patchouli. I generally disliked the classes other than the part where you get to rest and basically take a nap near the very end. I lacked any kind of flexibility or knowledge of the proper technique or form. I felt foolish and uncomfortable, especially in an atmosphere of new-agey yoganess that, along with the gender ratio in class, made me feel slightly emasculated. But each year I went back for my annual reminder: I was not a yoga person and I did not like yoga.

Here in Nepal, due for another annual taste, I gave yoga a shot again. It was different this time. I think it helps that we practice yoga at home here, so I no longer have to feel self-conscious about my form and flexibility (or lack thereof). Also, the options for traditional gyms are quite lacking here in Kathmandu, and the streets are not very conducive to recreational running -- without my traditional crutches of weightlifting and running, yoga was a good candidate for the physical activity I eagerly craved.

The more I gave it a chance, the more I liked it. In the past, one reason I discounted yoga was that I failed to see it as a "real" workout. In retrospect, this was probably because I was using improper form and not trying very hard. With a bit of commitment and concentration, I now find the classes challenging and as tough and rewarding as any weightlifting session or run I knew in the past. This, coupled with improvement and some visible results, has me returning to yoga in Nepal and actually a bit excited about this 40-day experiment. And I am learning what a new friend, Yoga Dan, once shared with me as I griped after one of my old hellish yoga sessions in the States: "It doesn't take flexibility. It's not about the flexibility at all, man."

Yoga Dan happened to be a bearded, tattooed, 6'7" former professional basketball aspirant badass (and fellow Michigander), so when he talked, you listened.

Yoga Dan (photo credit:

And he is right -- it's not about the flexibility (though I'm still working on it and now consider myself the world's fourth least flexible person). It is also not all about the workout. If they weren't such pacifists, yoga purists would kill me for saying that I internally eye roll when I hear some of the dogma and deeper teachings surrounding the practice of yoga. On the other hand, my friends will probably punch me for admitting that some of this stuff resonates, and at the very least a yoga session leaves me as relaxed and clear-headed as any other kind of exercise I have tried. For all of the skeptics out there: don't knock it till you try it.

As I come to the end of this story (just barely shorter than yoga's history on earth), that is my final word of encouragement to anyone curious about yoga but hesitant to give it a real shot -- keep an open mind and just try it. For the inflexible: it's not all about the flexibility. For the gym monkeys: done right, it is an amazing full-body workout. For the jaded turned off by the yoga mysticism babble: find a teacher who tones it down and keeps the mood light. For the men who think it's just for chicks: I dare you to say that to Yoga Dan's face.

Now that I have begun my mid-summer, yoga-themed Lent, I will have a chance to give yoga a serious try to see if it really sticks with me. Perhaps the next 40 days is just the beginning of the tale. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Downward Dog Days of Summer: 40 Days of Yoga in Nepal

When I first arrived in Nepal, I had high hopes of finding an amazing yoga studio, and this expectation did not seem unreasonable given that Nepal borders India, the birthplace of yoga. My search, though, yielded mixed and ultimately disappointing results. There was the sleep-inducing sivananda class in the freezing cold "studio"; far better was the cool yoga community led by a California native, but she has returned to L.A. for the time being. Now there is a fairly wide selection of classes offered at Moksh Cafe in Patan and soon 1905 Restaurant in Kathmandu, but the times for ashtanga classes -- my preferred style -- are not especially convenient for me.

I was deeply missing the Chicago School of Hot Yoga, where I became an almost daily student as soon as it opened last summer. The studio spoiled me with amazing teachers and a fun community. I mean, it was either that or temporary insanity that had me waking up at 4:50AM every weekday morning to make the 6AM classes. In December. In Chicago.

I am hopeful that one day CSHY will stream videos of its classes. I am also hopeful that when that day arrives, Nepal's internet speed will actually allow me to stream videos. I am not holding my breath for the latter.

My solution? Free yoga podcasts in our home "studio." Since moving into our new place, Brian and I have discovered that our living room/dining room/office also makes a great yoga studio -- especially because only half the room is so far furnished and thus is not really a dining room or office yet.

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In addition to ample space, we've also got the heat thing going for us during this time of year. Plenty of heat and humidity here -- no machines necessary.

And the crowning touch? We even have incense. (I KNOW. What happened to us?).

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We are partial to TeriLeigh's podcasts because the sound quality is good, her instructions are clear, and the classes are challenging, fun, and often a bit irreverent. Teaching the Baron Baptiste style of power yoga, she offers 145 podcasts on iTunes, so we have plenty of material to work our way through. By chance, we started out with a few of the classes that she teaches during a 40-day workshop based on Baron Baptiste's book, 40 Days to Personal Revolution. We became intrigued -- not so much by the promise of personal revolution (self-help books and their cousins kind of make us squeamish) -- but by the idea of practicing yoga for 40 days. Even when I was attending classes at CSHY, I could never claim a record like that.

As it turns out, the 40-day yoga "challenge" does not require 40 days of consecutive yoga, but rather six days of yoga per week for 40 days. Brian and I were already flirting with a nearly daily habit, so we thought, why not? The 40-day experience appealed to us both. Brian is just beginning to try yoga in earnest and thought the formal commitment would be a way to get "over the hump" and more comfortable with the practice. I have read that committing to the 40 days is a way to rejuvenate yoga practice for the already-converted. Overall, it sounded like a fun experiment for us to undertake together in what Brian has now termed our "Downward Dog Days of Summer."

Then we read the fine print: the program is not just about yoga but also meditation. Okay, I can buy into that. The mental exercise would be good practice, after all, if I ever decide to do the popular 10-day silent meditation retreat in Nepal that both entices and terrifies me.

In addition to daily meditation, the program concentrates on a different concept each week, like "presence" in Week One. Again, okay. Self-help book concepts aside, over time in my yoga practice I have grown to appreciate the mindfulness that it cultivates just as much, if not more, than the physical benefits.

We plan to check in periodically to report on the progress of our latest experiment here in Kathmandu. In the meantime, we wish you peace, love, and yoga. Namaste.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Recipe: Mango and Sticky Brown Rice Pudding

For a long time I thought that I did not like two of the featured ingredients in this recipe -- mangoes and coconut.

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I know, mangoes? What was I thinking? Well, I unjustly lumped the mango with the papaya, which, for the record, remains one of the very few fruits that I still do not like, along with stinky durian. As for coconut, I was at first turned off by its vaguely soapy aftertaste in both dried and milk forms, but now I love it.

With mango season in full swing, my thoughts turned to a simple but delicious dessert that I had in Thailand several years ago: mangoes and sticky rice. A Thai classic. I had plenty of mangoes on hand, but what about the other key ingredients?

The version that I had in Thailand featured black glutinous rice, which you may be able to find in Asian supermarkets or at Whole Foods. The irony for me, of course, is that I now live far closer to Thailand but cannot get such products in Nepal. I substituted short grain brown rice, and it worked perfectly.

The last key ingredient I had to track down was coconut milk. I could not find it at the nearby Bhat Bhateni superstore, so I almost gave up on the recipe entirely -- until I stumbled upon this at the Gemini market near Boudha.

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Then I set about prepping my ingredients and developing a recipe. I adapted my recipe from this one, making a couple adjustments along the way.

I had to scrap the coconut oil because unfortunately we cannot get that product here, despite the fact that coconuts are plentiful and cheap. Instead, I increased the coconut love by adding some unsweetened dried coconut to the finished dish.

And instead of adding cane sugar or coconut palm sugar (of which I have neither) to the coconut milk, I created a bit of mango puree and stirred that into the cooked rice to add natural, mango-flavored sweetness. That said, this substitution makes for a very subtly sweet dish, so if you want a sweeter dessert, add some sugar.

Because my version does not include any added sugar, it may be better suited for a tropical-inspired breakfast than dessert.

Mango and Sticky Brown Rice Pudding


1.5 cups uncooked short grain brown rice, soaked in water overnight to soften
3 cups water
14 ounces coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
One ripe mango, pureed
One ripe mango, thinly sliced
1/2 cup thinly sliced dried coconut (optional)
1 tablespoon lime zest
1 tablespoon unsweetened dried coconut

1. Drain the soaked rice and combine the rice with three cups of water in a pot. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer, cooking until the rice has absorbed all of the water. If, by the end of cooking, the consistency is on the dry side, add a little more water and continue to cook to increase the sticky factor. When the rice is cooked, remove from heat but cover the pot to keep it warm.
2. While rice is cooking, prep your mangoes. For the slices, peel the mango first and then cut the flesh off the core. Thinly slice. For the puree, use your method of choice to extract the flesh and then mash with a fork or potato ricer.
3. When rice is fully cooked, stir in mango puree.
2. Heat coconut milk in a small pan over low heat and add salt, cooking until the milk is warm.
3. Separate the coconut milk into two halves.
4. Pour one half of the coconut milk over the cooked rice and stir. Allow the rice to sit for 20 minutes to soak up the liquid.
5. Divide the rice among individual bowls. Spoon the remaining coconut milk over each rice bowl.
6. Top each bowl with mango slices and, if using, dried coconut slices. Then sprinkle each bowl with lime zest and unsweetened shredded coconut. Serves 6-8.

I like to use my Y-shaped peeler to remove mango skin.

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This makes slicing a mango much easier.

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The flesh of ripe mangoes is easy to puree by hand.

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The mango puree melts into the warm rice.

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The rice mixture quickly soaks up the coconut milk.

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While you wait for the rice to absorb all of the coconut milk, prep the final touches for the dish.

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Ladle rice into small dishes, top with additional coconut milk, and arrange your toppings.

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It's a little bit of Thailand -- by way of Nepal.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mango Madness: Mango Season in Nepal

We are solidly in mango season here in South Asia, birthplace of the mango and millions of mango lovers. Wikipedia tells me that India is the world's largest producer of the fruit, but that its harvest only makes up one percent of the world's mango trade because the country consumes most of its own output. I do not blame you, India -- fresh, ripe mangoes are like the sweet, juicy gateway drug of fruits. So overpowering is the mystic allure of the mango, it may have inspired Chris Kattan's recurring Saturday Night Live character, Mango.

"Can you know the mighty ocean? Can you lasso a star from the sky? Can you say to a rainbow... 'Hey, stop being a rainbow for a second'? No! Such is Mango!"
Photo credit:

But back to edible mangoes. I have been enjoying living in such close proximity to one of the world's great mango cradles because the mangoes I get here are so tasty and cheap, especially compared to the presumably imported varieties I sampled in the States.

I suppose there is no "right" way to eat a mango, and much as the advertising geniuses at Reese's Peanut Butter Cups would have you believe, you can probably tell a lot about someone by how he or she eats a mango. When eating the fruit raw and unadulterated, all mango lovers run into a somewhat stubborn pit. I have found two good ways to go about dealing with this pit in a way that maximizes mango munching.

First, "the hedgehog." Slice the fruit of the mango off of the pit as best you can. With a sharp knife, score the remaining sections, taking care not to pierce the outer skin.

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As you bend the skin of the fruit back and invert the sliced section, the pre-sliced portions stick out for your easy access. In some cases this resembles a hedgehog. In all cases this makes for easy pit-free enjoyment of your mango; this happens to be Claudine's favorite method.

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Second, "the fat kid." Slice the mango in half lengthwise, cutting along the edge of one side of the pit.

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Like a halved grapefruit, the two halves of your mango can be eaten with a spoon.

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No need for fancy slicing or hedgehogs, just get down in it like a fat kid. You will have to pry the pit loose using your spoon and if you want to do this method correctly, you should probably desperately scrape and lick as much flesh as possible off of that pit before you discard it. It should come as no surprise that "the fat kid" is my favorite mango eating method. I have plenty of photographic proof that I had years of practice in this realm from approximately 1987 to 2005.

Mango lovers near and far, do you have a favorite method for eating fresh mangoes? Please share with us in the comments!

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