Nepal Foods and Drinks

Nepal's Major Foods, Drinks and Restaurants.


Finding food of your taste in Kathmandu will not be a problem. If you stay in Thamel then you will probably feel that you are in some busy downtown streets of your city in your country. Nepali food however is completely different and in all the places in Nepal except for Thamel, Kathmandu, Lakeside in Pokhara, Chitwan National Park you will probably have to eat Nepali food. Which is called Daal Bhaat in Nepali. Daal Bhaat is boiled rice, lentil soup and some vegetable curry dish. In fact Daal Bhaat is eaten by most Nepalese twice a day and are available in any restaurants around the country. Many travellers find it tasty and healthy food however there are large number of them who may not like the way rice is eaten. Foods like chips, sandwich, burger, cakes are not available in rural Nepal due to lack of proper refrigeration systems and ideas of cooking styles. However travellers may find light foods like noodles, biscuits, chawmins etc.


You will hear that Nepal's national meal is dal-bhat-tarkari - rice, lentil soup, and vegetables. That's true enough, but how little it tells! The main difference between Nepali food which described this way, sounds like Indian, is how light it is. There is no preponderance of spice, no heavy overcooking. The lush, full tastes of the lentils themselves, the vegetables, always with wilted greens on the side, onions, garlic, and sometimes ghiu (clarified butter) or a little cumin - that's the basis. but every community every village, every household has its own recipes for the dal, or for achar - freshly made conserves with radish, chili, roasted tomato or just about anything, spiced with ground sesame and mustard seeds or timur, the inordinately fragrant black peppercorn look-alike. There are things like gundruk - fermented and dried greens - and maseura - dried nuggets of black gram and vegetable - that are used to make the most delicious broths.


In the hills of Nepal there is more to life than dal-bhat. Consider, for example, the potato. Sherpas happily eat entire meals consisting of boiled potatoes with salt and chilli powder on the side or their most appetising potato pancakes. Many mid-hill communities eat sisnu, stinging nettle soup - a very strange looking (neon-green) utterly delicious gravy, over grain cooked like polenta or grits, called dhido, which could be made of wheat, millet, corn or buckwheat. Nepalis love meat, and the Buddhist prohibition stands only for slaughter, and above certain places at particular times of the year, so mountain communities enjoy yak meat, fresh and dried, and all over Nepal people with a little spare money happily feast on buffalo (beef is sacred and cannot be slaughtered), mutton, chicken, fish (fresh and dried, all river) and duck.


Tibetan-influenced food such as thukpa (noodle soup), fing (mung bean threads cooked with vegetables and meat), and sha-bhaley (a crusty cross between bread and pastry stuffed with meat and pan-fried) adds variety. The debate about the ubiquitous momo (wonderful steamed or fried wonton/ ravioli stuffed with chicken, pork, vegetables and many other new inventive things continues - do you like the classic version, pork lightly flavoured with ginger and scallions, served with a meat broth on the side? Thick covering or thin? Small or large? Heavily spiced with powders and herbs or mild and meaty? Are vegetarian momo sacrilegious? The little street-side momocha or fancy open Chinese-style sui mai? Another mischievous debate to start is ask people which momos they think are better: Tibetan or Newari.


The most distinctive and sophisticated cuisine in Nepal has to be that of the Kathmandu Valley Newars. More than anything else these tastes remind you of where you are located geographically - near Tibet and Burma and Bengal - the dominant flavours are the tang of sour fruit extracts, the bright heat of chilli, liberal and innovative use of mustard and sesame, and the fresh flavours of uncooked ginger and garlic. The standouts include: a particular very spicy sour potato dish, piro aloo; achar with radish and small dried green peas spiced with mustard; aloo (potato) or sukuti (delicious dried buffalo meat) sandheko, a larb-like flavour explosion served cold after being marinated well with ginger, garlic, fried fenugreek seeds, tomatoes and green chilli; sekuwa, the traditionally spiced barbecue; chhoila and kachila, masterfully spiced dry-cooked meats, with the latter often 'cooked' through marination, rather than over fire; saag, regular wilted greens made magical by the infusion of crushed sesame seeds; and the subtly onion-and-basil seed flavoured nine-bean soup, kwanti.


To wash down this embarrassment of riches all the ethnic/ indigenous communities have their own versions of homebrew. The two major kinds: distilled and clear, made from a variety of grains including rice and millet. The general name for this firewater is raksi, while Newars call their rice-brew aila. Up in the Jomosom area Thakalis prepare a deceptively coloured delicate pink raksi from bearded barley that is a great warmer. The fermented, milky beer-like booze is called jaand by Nepali-speakers and chhang by Tibetan-stock communities like Tamangs and Sherpas. While raksi can do your head in, you really must be careful with chhang, as it could cause gastro-intestinal problems and infections if not prepared hygienically. The smell, too, will be slowly leaving your pores for a couple of days. Up by the apple and apricot orchards of Marpha they have started to make European-style fruit brandy and schnapps, all going by the misleading name, Marpha. Some of this is really quite good.


Needless to say, there is plenty of other good food, western and eastern, Italian and Japanese, available in Kathmandu. The same goes for drinks - there are local beers, many, such as Tuborg, Carlsberg and San Miguel brewed under license from European companies, and our very own Everest beer, as well as good local rum (Khukuri), vodka (Ruslan), and whisky (Mt Everest, naturally).


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