Like nature, culture and tradition, Nepal is diverse in terms of food as well. Nepal, specifically its capital city Kathmandu, is often referred as the budget eating capital of Asia. Nepali recipes are quick to prepare and tasty to eat. They are also known for high nutrition. Whilst Nepali cuisine is somewhat basic, it certainly does not lack in terms of flavor. Nepalis extensively use different spices and flavorings such as ginger, garlic, coriander, pepper, cumin, chilies, cilantro, mustard oil, ghee and occasionally yak butter. A vast range of flavors can be found in simple dishes like daal bhaat, the national dish of rice, lentils, lightly curried vegetables and pickles; though it can also, sometimes, be disappointingly bland. In the Kathmandu Valley, the indigenous Newars have their own unique cuisines of spicy meat and vegetable dishes, while a vast range of Indian curries, breads, snacks and sweets comes into play in the Tarai. In the high mountains, the traditional diet consists of noodle soups, potatoes and toasted flour. Various tourist destinations of Nepal offer varieties of cuisines to the visitors. Price and taste of these cuisines vary from place to place. Food is not much expensive in Nepal. A simple meal and drink may cost you less than a dollar. Cost, however, can be higher in tourist-oriented restaurants, and even more at high-end restaurants and hotels. Here is the list of some delicacies which are not meant to be missed while in Nepal.
Daal bhaat tarkaari (daal means lentil, bhaat rice and tarkaari vegetable), usually just known as daal bhaat, isn’t just the most popular meal in Nepal but it is the only meal Nepalis eat twice a day. Above all, they don’t feel they’ve eaten properly if they haven’t had daal bhat in any day. It’s a meal that is meant to be cooked and eaten only at home. Visitors can enjoy this delicacy if one can spend much time trekking or travelling off the beaten track. Daal bhaat is also served in restaurants ranging from excellent to pathetic. It’s worth looking out for restaurants with the name Thakali. This ethnic group of the western region of Nepal, prepare a particularly good daal bhaat. Daal Bhaat in Nepal is supposed to be eaten with hands, knead the mixture of the contents in the plate served into mouth-sized balls with the right hand, then push it off the fingers into your mouth with the thumb. A plate of daal bhat along with side dishes of maasu (meat) – chicken, goat or fish can be great delight for the taste buds.
Momo is a popular Tibetan dish available almost throughout the country. The dumplings with vegetables, sweet or meat stuffed inside have become a popular fast food item in the country. Momo is served either steamed, deep fried or pan fried with a dipping sauce locally called achar, normally made with tomato as the base ingredient. White dough of flour and water serves as the outer covering of the momo while minced meat, cheese, paneers and nicely chopped vegetables can be used as filling. In Nepal momo can be found in different styles and prices. Momos are served in the stalls at streets or normal to high-end restaurants. Price range can difffer from the place you chose to get momos at. It can be both cheap as well as expensive.
Sel or a Sweet Rice Bread, a traditional and unique Nepali snack is one of the most famous food items popular among Nepalis all over. It is round in shape and is crispy in texture but is distinct from any other breads found elsewhere in the world. It is also referred to as a festive bread as it is used as offering as well as food item in several auspicious occasions. The snack has a high value during the biggest festivals in Nepal specially Tihar. It is also used more in wedding parties, anniversary and other traditional and cultural events. Sel is made of soaked rice grinded to make a batter than mixed with water, sugar and ghee. Traditionally the rice used to be grinded in a heavy rectangular stone plate with a pestle which resulted to the fine texture in batter contrary to present days when people grind the rice in a blender for convenience. Then the batter is deep fried in pure ghee in the shape of a lean doughnut. Sel can also be served with plain yogurt, fried vegetables and pickles. It tastes best when it is fresh but can also be kept at room temperature for more than a week.
Samay Baji Set
Like many aspects of Newari culture, Newari food is often regarded as exotic as well as weird for outsiders. It is complex, subtle and delicious but hard to make. Most delicacies are quite spicy, and based around four mainstays: buff meat, rice, pulses and vegetables, especially radish. The Newars use every part of the buffalo, or buff. Momocha, choyla (cubes of buff meat roasted in hay fire mixed with spices, garlic and greens onion leaves) and kachila (minced raw buff mixed with ginger and mustard oil) are some of the accessible ones. There are other dishes too made from tongue, stomach, lung, blood, bone marrow and every other edible parts of a buffalo. There are various Newari restaurants that serves all the dishes in their own style. Samay Baji is the most popular ones because of it being a platter of several delicacies. It consists of the combination of black eyed beans (samay), choyla, pickle, roasted black beans and chiura or baji (beaten rice). Chataamari is also a dish to look for because of its taste. It is a sort of pizza made with rice flour base, usually topped with minced buff, boiled black eyed beans with an egg at the top. It can even be termed as a Nepali pizza.
Gundruk is fermented leafy green vegetable and is a popular food in Nepal and claimed to be one of the national dishes. It is usually made at homes. It is popular not only in Nepal but also with household worldwide. It is served as a side dish with the main meal and is also used as an appetizer. It can either be made as a vegetable, gundruk ko jhol (soup) or as a gundruk ko achar (pickle).
Likewise, Dhido is also one the unique and typical dish Nepal offers. It can be made of various kinds of flours like wheat, maize and millet, which is boiled and stirred until it thickens with fluffy consistence. A slight gummy and fibrous textured dhido has a plain taste but it goes well with gundruk ko jhol and curries. Dhido also accompanies greatly with the soup of local chicken.
The combination of Gundruk and Dhido or with some meat curries can be a great pacifier to the taste bud of a foodie. This dish has long been considered as food of peasant class. But now a days, it is gaining popularity among urbanites and can be found in any local Thakali restaurants as a prime delicacy.
Aloo Tama simply means “Potato with Bamboo Shoots”. It is a unique and classic Nepali curry flavor dish. It is a hybrid dish that bridges two cultures: tama from China and the spices from India. Fermented bamboo shoots are also used extensively in Chinese cuisine where they most probably originated. One can buy tama at almost any vegetable shop in local market. It can range in color from pale white-gray to bright yellow depending on whether it has been treated with turmeric. Look for nice fresh plump tama that is not too woody – the tenderest young shoots are the best. The most common preparation technique is cooking tama with aloo (potato) and bodi (black eyed beans). This preparation ranges in consistency somewhere between a runny stew and a thick soup and it is best served with plain rice.
Raksi is a traditional home-brewed and distilled alcoholic beverage, usually made from fermented millet (kodo in Nepali) or rice. Raksi, which can be found easily mostly in the hilly areas of Nepal is a strong alcoholic drink, and clear like vodka and bears a heady resemblance to tequila. It is made by cooking the main ingredient, millet, in a series of distillations (pani in Nepali term). Ek pani, or the first distillation of the liquor, is the strongest and three pani or the third distillation is the best. Nepali Raksi was also ranked 41st among the World’s 50 most delicious drink in CNN’s list. It was described as, “Made from millet or rice, Raksi is strong on the nose and sends a burning sensation straight down your throat that resolves itself into a surprisingly smooth, velvety sensation. Nepalese drink this home brew to celebrate festivals, though we think that the prized drink itself is the reason to celebrate.”
There are various other varieties of alcoholic drink that can be found in Nepal. The most commonly available one is Chhyang or rice beer. It is usually made from the rice fermented in yeast for few days. It can be somewhat acidic and gives the resemblance of beer. Though, harder to find but perhaps the most pleasant drink of all is a home-brew liquor called tongba. It is made of millet fermented for more than six month. There is a unique and interesting way to serve a tongba. The fermented millet is put in a wooden container or jug, and boiled water is poured in to the top. It is then left to soak the flavor of millet for a while and it is ready to drink. A straw with a blind end pierced on the side to act as a filter, is inserted into the container to suck out the warm drink from the millet grains.
Juju Dhau is a sweetened yogurt that is made only in Bhaktapur. Literally Juju Dhau means “king of yogurt” in the Newari language. The yogurt is made from the fresh buffalo milk in contrary to the normal yogurts which are made from cow’s milk. The use of buffalo milk results to a richer taste and creamy texture. To make the yogurt, the first phase is to boil the milk after which it is sweetened, mixed with culture, and poured into a red clay pot called kataaro in local language. It is then placed in a warm area, on a bed of rice husks or covering of rice grains and covered with another clay pot on top. The pots are then wrapped in several thick cotton blankets to maintain a warm temperature while the yogurt sets. The excess liquid from the yogurt slowly evaporates, leaving a delicious, thick, smooth and creamy yogurt. While on a visit to Bhaktapur, Juju Dhau is the must eat thing. It can be enjoyed any time of the day with a Nepali meal or as an after dinner dessert.