It’s the smell that you notice first. Floating out from an unknown doorway or shop in the crowded
streets of Kathmandu, it beckons you like something ancient and nourishing. Then you spy its source,
scarcely noticeable among the bustle around you. A large human-sized earthen oven with the most
delicious looking roti or Nepali bread, being pulled from it. The warmth and smell wrap you in their
soft embrace, and you never, ever want to leave. Nepal is a foodie heaven. Yes, there are the soaring,
mighty peaks of the Himalayas that will most certainly amaze you. All the ancient and exotic cultural
and architectural wonders will enchant you for days. But the food… the food of Nepal will let you
taste all of the history, culture, and stories mixed together and then tell its own tale.
There aren’t enough days in the year to talk about the variations and intricacies of all of the foods of
Nepal, but to get you started here are five favorites. You can find these staples in any home,
restaurant or even street corner across Nepal. But just because they are common they are no less
incredible and inciting each time you eat them.
First on the menu and my favorite, Momo. Found throughout Nepal, this is a Tibetan dish. For
Tibetans, and now most Nepali, this is a staple done by everyone’s grandmother. Much like a
dumpling in other cultures, the dough is slightly thicker and chewier than in other places. These are
often filled with buffalo meat. But potato, chicken, and vegetable make their appearance almost as
often. They are always served with a bright and spicy sauce Chatni. Try them steamed or fried, but
just make sure you try them!
The nourishing quality of the most often eaten meal in Nepal can’t be understated. Bhat, Dal, or rice
and lentils can be the most complex and interesting meal you have ever had. The simplicity will
confound you because the slightly soupy lentils can burst with hidden spices harmonizing nicely with
the lentils cooked to just soft. The rice is always soft and fluffy with the basmati persuasion. Most
often this meal is accompanied by Saag or some type of greens sautéed with a little heat lent by a
pepper or two. One other supporting member of the cast is either a curry with meat (usually chicken)
or a medley of vegetables. No less complex in flavor, it only lends its charm to the whole affair.
Newari Khaja Set
The Newari ethnic group in Nepal is one of the largest groups predominantly in the Kathmandu
Valley. They have their own special meal referred to as Newari Khaja Set. It is never an exact menu,
but similar to dhal baht, the centerpiece is a warm, aromatic rice surrounded by various curries of
different colors and varieties of vegetables. Spicy potatoes, spicy cooked buffalo meat, and duck are
often part of this meal of at least 10 different dishes. A warmly spiced, and often surprisingly hot
vegetable pickle lends its vigor to the meal. Don’t expect to be hungry for your next meal anytime
Maybe after all this amazing array of spices and curries, you would like something sweet? Then Sel
Roti is the perfect treat. Think doughnut, but in shape only, and not doughy. It’s actually made out of
rice flour and enhanced by cardamom, and cinnamon. Butter, cream, sugar, and banana are also added to the mixture, then it’s fried. Memories of country fairs and small-town carnivals will flood
your senses, but with a slight exotic charm as the smell envelopes you when it’s cooked. Eat this
warm and relish.
Another dish that traveled along the ancient trade routes from Tibet is Thukpa. Not only has it
become a mainstay in Nepal, but is still a favorite in Tibetan kitchens throughout Nepal and Tibet.
The stock has traditionally been made from yak which forms the base of a slightly spicy broth with
various vegetables and meat added and cooked, and at that last moment, handmade noodles are
added to cook similar to pasta. Nowadays it can be vegetable, chicken, or buffalo. On a cold day on
any trek, tuck into this cozy bowl and let it warm you.
Nepal is a predominantly agrarian based country, and so you can expect much of the product tends
to come from small farmers right around the area you are eating. Needless to say, they might not
even have the capacity to use pesticides let alone afford them, so many times expect your food to be
made from local organic food by default. If you need to satisfy more than sight on your travels, or if
you’re a die-hard foodie, then Nepal should be on your radar. But bring your spoon, locals only eat
with their hands or a spoon. No forks and knives for the locals!
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