In Nepal, you may come for the Himalayas, but you stay for the food. Nepalese cuisine has influences from both the Chinese and Indian sides of its borders. Being in the middle of these two ancient cultures, you can be sure of two things: there’s going to be lots of rice and lots of spice. If you are sensitive to spicy food, be sure to remind the waiter or vendor to serve the mild version every time.
Your food adventure begins right off the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city. The street cuisine you can find almost everywhere is momo, a local variation of Chinese dumpling. Never leave the country without getting a taste of this popular round treat filled with chicken, vegetables, buffalo, or mutton. Whether steamed, fried, or floating in hot soup, momo is great for quick meal, a delicious appetizer, or a complete meal in itself, especially when accompanied with a spicy side sauce. Other snack foods are sel seroti, a kind of straight donut; wo, a lentil flour patty with or without meat/egg topping; and jeri, a form of twisted pastry that is fried before being soaked in a sugar syrup. Theyâ€™re best eaten freshly fried, with milk or black tea. Thereâ€™s also pani puri, comprised of a round, golf ball-sized hollow cracker (puri) which is filled with a mixture of tamarind, chili, chaat masala, potatoes, onion, and chickpeas, and dipped into a sweet-sour pani sauce. Pani puris are traditionally served in batches of 5 to 8 pieces, served on a triangular plate of dry sal leaves. A person would put the entire pani puri into his/her mouth and chew, unleashing a wide range of flavors. The best fish-based snack in Nepal has got to be tareko matza, an eel fish battered in spices before being deep-fried and served with a spicy dipping sauce. Smaller versions of the fish can be eaten whole, bones and all. Finally, the Indian snack food samosa is also enjoyed in Nepal, a tetrahedron-shaped pastry shell stuffed with spiced potatoes, onion, peas, coriander and minced meat and deep-fried to a golden-brown color.
Proceeding to main meals, the Dal-Bhat-Tarkari is a staple in every Nepalese home. It is composed of lentil soup (dal), plain rice (bhat), and vegetable curry in a spicy broth (tarkari). Another complete ritual meal is samay baji, consisting of flattened rice, roasted meat, smoke fish, diced ginger, black soybeans, and boiled egg. Another viand is chhoyla, which is roasted meat that is diced and spiced and savored with flattened rice. For special occasions, try sekuwa, a grilled dish made by skewering mutton, buffalo meat, or chicken cubes and roasting them over a fire until it is hard to chew. Locals usually eat sekuwa with chiwra (beaten rice), pickles, and fresh veggies. And before dinner even begins, help yourself to some newari, a blend of jerky, ginger, garlic, onion, tomato, salt, oil, and crushed chillies. This appetizer is eaten like chips, and is enjoyed with drinks.
Local condiments are not far away from the Nepalese dining table. A dollop of achar, a pickle made of ground tomatoes and coriander, sliced radish, diced potatoes and other ingredients, can add a flicker of zest to a great meal. So is gundruk, a must-have food accompaniment made ofÂ fermented green vegetables.
Dessert comes in the form of peda, a sweet prepared in thick, semi-soft pieces and shaped into balls or patties. Made from sugar and khoa, peda is added with cardamom seeds, pistachio nuts, and saffron for taste. Khoa can be enjoyed by itself or as an ingredient to other food like halwa. It is derived from whole milk which is heated in an open iron pan until it is thickened, and has different consistencies for different purposes. Khoa has the texture of rough butter and can be aged to acquire a moldy surface and unique odor. Gudpak, a dessert made from jaggery and butter, is best eaten freshly-made, while it is still hot and soft.
Before commencing on a gastronomic adventure in Nepal, keep in mind the following etiquette tips:
â€¢Â Â Â Do not handle anyone elseâ€™s food or eat from anyone elseâ€™s plate. You may only pass food containers with your right hand, as the left hand is considered as polluted as the feet in Nepali society. Even touching food with your spoon or fork will pollute it.
â€¢Â Â Â The Nepalese usually squat or sit on the floor to eat. Donâ€™t stand in front of someone who is eating, as your feet will be near the food.
â€¢Â Â Â If you are invited to dinner at someoneâ€™s house, shoes should be taken offÂ before entering your hostâ€™s home.
â€¢Â Â Â It is normal to socialize prior to mealtime. Always sincerely praise the meal and the chef before you leave.