Not normally thought of as a food destination, the distinctive cuisine of Nepal comes as a pleasant surprise to many drawn to the country for either its spectacular scenery or Buddhist heritage. Similar in many ways to North Indian dishes, Nepalese cuisine is different enough to intrigue and delight.
Nepal’s cultural and geographic diversity delivers a variety of cuisines based on ethnicity and climate. However, dal, bhat and tarkari is ubiquitous and this dish of lentil soup, boiled grain (usually rice) and vegetable curry is a standard in any restaurant.
It would be wrong though to see Nepalese food as just a variant of Indian cuisine. Instead, it has been influenced by other Asian cultures including China and Thailand. The momo, for instance, is basically a Tibetan dumpling with Nepali spicing and increasing tourism has brought with it waves of ice cream and pizzas. The latest craze is ramen noodles as a quick snack.
Khas/Pahari cuisine gives us dal, bhat and tarkari but the cuisine is heavily dependant on grains of different sorts – unleavened flat wheat bread (roti or chapati), porridge-like dhido or ato made from maize, buckwheat, barley or millet. Vegetables are focused on spinach or greens (sag), fermented and dried greens (gundruk or sinki), daikon radish, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, pumpkin and others. Fruit from the hills include mandarin oranges, kaffir limes, lemons, Asian pears, bayberry and mangoes.
Yogurt and curried meat or fish are served as side dishes to vegetables and rice, when available. Castes and religious groups shun many meats but chicken and fish are acceptable to most.
Himalayan cuisine is eaten by culturally Tibetan and closely related ethnic groups in the Himalayas. Buckwheat, barley and millet are often processed into noodles or tsampa which is flour ground from toasted grain. Butter tea is made by mixing butter or ghee and salt into strong tea. This tea preparation is commonly mixed with tsampa flour to make a kind of fast food especially eaten while traveling. Potatoes are another important staple crop and food. Substantial amounts of rice are imported from the lowlands. The meat of yak and possibly yak-cow hybrids may be used, as well as their milk. Meat is often prepared as momo.
Thakali cuisine is transitional between Himalayan and lowland cuisines. It’s less vegetarian than Pahari cuisine – meat is sliced into thin slices and dried on thin poles near the cooking fire and blood sausage is also prepared and dried. This dried meat is added to vegetable curries or sauteed in ghee and dipped into a mixture of red chili powder, Sichuan pepper, salt and local herbs. Since most Thakali people were engaged in trade, they could import vegetables, fruits and eggs from lower regions. A large variety of vegetables were consumed daily, some – especially daikon radish and beetroot – dried and often prepared with mutton. Apples were introduced following the arrival of foreign horticulturists.
Newars are an urbanised ethnic group originally from the Kathmandu Valley and their cuisine makes wide use of buffalo meat. For vegetarians, meat or dried fish can be replaced by fried tofu or cottage cheese. The cuisine has a wide range of fermented preparations, whereas Pahari cuisine has few beyond aachar condiments.
Food in Outer Terai tends to mirror cuisines of adjacent parts of India and Terai diets can be more varied because of greater variety of crops grown locally plus cash crops imported from cooler microclimates in nearby hill regions as well as from different parts of India.
Dishes to look for:
* Dal, bhat and tarkari – lentils, rice and curried vegetable.
* Chatamari – rice flour flatbread with toppings such as minced meat.
* Gundruk – soup of dried and fermented green vegetables leaves.
* Momo – dumplings filled with minced meat served steamed or fried.
* Sel – donoght-like shaped dessert/snack made from rice flour
* Sukuti – spicy dried meat roasted over a charcoal fire.
* Aloo tama – bamboo shoot and potato.
* Sag – spinach and mustard greens.
* Achar – sour, spicy or sweet pickle.
* Sikarni – curd mixed with dried fruits.
Eating Nepalese in Dubai
According to Arva Ahmed, founder of the I Live in a Frying Pan blog, authentic Nepalese momos are bursting with flavour at the Kathmandu Highland Restaurant. Notoriously hard to find, it’s on the second floor of a dilapidated building opposite the Astoria hotel in Meena Bazaar. Call 04 353 6398 for details.