Think that Nepalese food is just dal bhat and momos? Well that’s simply not true. I ate my way through a few different dishes while I was exploring the country and here’s a run down of some I think are definitely worth a bite or two.
Ok, ok, I know I said beyond dal bhat, but it’s such an important part of Nepalese cuisine that I couldn’t possibly write a post called Eating in Nepal without actually including dal bhat. The two are so inextricably linked it would be impossible.
Anyone who’s visited Nepal will have come face to face with a tray of dal bhat during their journey. Soupy dal, vegetable curry, steamed white rice, and if you’re lucky, some tangy pickles on the side. It’s Nepal’s comfort food and fuel. It’s not flashy or glamorous, but when done well it’s hearty, warming and delicately spiced. And in cold weather, or after a full day of trekking, it was just what I craved.
I’ve written about these deep fried delights before and they’re good enough to mention again. Sel roti are golden, crispy rings made from ground soaked rice and/or rice flour – they’re basically a skinny looking doughnut. Because they’re not overly sweet they make a great breakfast and taste best fresh out of the fryer, while still bubbled and crisp. Keep an eye out for the street vendors frying up batches of these and when you find them snap them up.
When in the Kathmandu Valley area try to seek out some Newari food, and if you’re feeling particularly bold and extravagant you can go for a Newari feast with an array of offal-based treats to indulge in. A slightly tamer, and more accessible, option is to order a Newari Kaja set. Flattened rice (chiura / baji) is served with sides of marinated buffalo meat, curried vegetables and spiced potatoes and chickpeas.
Sukuti is Nepal’s version of jerky and often comes as an appetiser or snack. It can be eaten plain or also as sukuti sandheko, where the meat is marinated with ginger, chilli, garlic onions and cumin. Personally I think the salty, spicy flavour goes best with an ice cold beer, which is pretty easy to come by in Nepal.
There’s something almost festive about eating dumplings, they’re like little gifts. Fragrant vegetables or succulent meat, delicately wrapped up in a soft dough jacket. Nepal’s answer to the dumpling is the momo, and steamed or fried I never really tired of momos – they’re the gift that keeps on giving.
Buffalo meat momos are most common, with beef definitely off the menu in this majority Hindu nation. But my favourite part of the momo experience is the charred tomato dip (achar) that accompanies them (nb. not the crappy ketchup some places try to serve up), a dunk in this spicy sauce elevates the humble momo to a whole new level.
I bet you didn’t know they have halwa in Nepal. Neither did I. It’s actually nothing like the halwa you’ve probably encountered elsewhere, as this version is made from semolina. The semolina is mixed through with brown sugar, cardamom and a healthy dose of ghee to give it a melt-in-the mouth buttery texture. Paired with a tea (or coffee if you can find any) it’s a moreish mid-morning snack.
Bhaktapur, in the Kathmandu Valley, is best known for its handsome medieval architecture, unfortunately it was hit hard by the 2015 earthquake and the extent of the damage was still visible when I last visited (April 2017). Although the earthquake damaged many buildings the town is still rich with characterful alleys, impressive squares and…curd shops.
Juju Dhau, aka King Yoghurt, is one of Bhaktapur’s many charms – a custardy, set yoghurt made from buffalo milk boiled with spices. If you go, avoid the touristy looking curd shops and seek out one of the more low key vendors on the back streets.
Sometimes referred to as a Nepalese pizza, but I’m not sure that’s quite does the dish justice. It’s actually a crisp, rice flour crepe topped with minced meat, vegetables and egg to create something that looks pizza-like, but doesn’t really taste like one. It was an interesting dish to try but probably not one I’ll be craving again anytime soon.
In Nepal when it’s rainy and grey outside a steaming hot bowl of Thupka (spicy noodle soup) is the answer you’re looking for. Sure, flavour-wise it’s not as complex as pho or ramen but a good bowl of Thupka is a hearty and soothing bowl of noodliness, laced with a lovely chilli kick.
This might seem too simple and obvious to mention, but corn is absolutely everywhere in Nepal and is one of the first things that comes to my mind when I think about Nepalese food now. In rural areas great bunches of corn cobs hang from the rafters of houses, while enticing snacks of smoky grilled corn and popcorn are in abundance in the cities.
As always there were plenty of things I didn’t get around to trying on my last visit, Dhido and Gundruk for example, but that gives me the perfect excuse to visit again. Not that I really needed one, it turns out Nepal is quite addictive.