Breakfast in Nepal? Hmmmh. It’s complicated.
Disclaimer: Ok, so right off the bat I have to say that breakfast-wise Nepal is a tricky one, because the Nepalese don’t really eat breakfast per say.
In Nepal the day tends to start with a chai and not much else and the two main meals of the day will usually be dal bhat (obvs), one eaten around mid-morning/midday and the other for dinner.
It’s a different story if you’re in Kathmandu or Pokhara or at a trekking tea house, where tourism plays a big influence on what’s available and when you eat it. But the point of this feature is to explore what locals eat, not what tourists eat.
In short, what you see below may not be a completely true representation of a Nepalese breakfast but it gives you an idea of some Nepalese foods that I, and locals, ate around breakfast time. Got it? On with the breakfasts!
Sel Roti in Pokhara
I’m a big fan and advocate of doughnut style breakfasts. Any country that feels it’s acceptable for me to eat a doughnut for breakfast with no shame or judgement attached is winning in my book. And Nepal is one of those countries.
Pokhara is the tourist capital of Nepal and in the lakeside area of town you can find any and every kind of cuisine you desire. Except, I didn’t find sel roti here. I found sel roti in another part of town, where locals actually live.
We had wandered into a small shop that sold a mix of groceries and cooked food, and spotted a coil of golden brown, doughnut-like breads in a dish on the counter. We ordered a couple, along with a cup of tea, and took a seat opposite the owner’s young son who was busy doing his homework.
Sel roti looks like a big, thin, ring doughnut that’s been fried for longer than usual, or like a pretzel that someone forgot to tie the knot in.
They’re made from ground, soaked rice (and/or rice flour) and fried in ghee or cooking oil until the outside turns dark and bubbled.
I bit though the crispy outer shell and hit a subtly sweet, soft dough. They’re sometimes flecked with cinnamon or cardamon; alas these ones weren’t. But whether spiced or not, they always pair perfectly with a cup of tea
Sel roti are usually made for festive occasions, such as Tihar (Diwali) or Dashain but you can still find them outside these times too. The most important thing is that they’re fresh, and ideally still warm – day old sel rotis are a no chewy no-go.
Tarkari in Kathmandu
Early one morning on one of the small cobbled lanes in Kathmandu’s old city, we were sitting on the wooden benches outside a small tea stall and enjoying some chai. As so often happens, I noticed a local ordering a plate of something that looked interesting and so decided to follow suit.
On a small silver dish, the stall owner served up a mix of spiced brown chickpeas and potato curry mixed through with chilli and onion and topped off with a hard boiled egg.
The shards of raw onion and chillies ensured I was given a good wake-up call…and a severe case of onion breath.
These small plates of curried vegetables are called tarkari and served across Nepal, there are no fixed ingredients. Sometimes they’re pretty simple, like the chickpea dish here and sometimes they’re a little fancier, like the potato dish.
I’m very much a savoury person so this, basic, but tasty, plate of veg with a fiery bang suited me down to the ground for breakfast.