A casual greeting in Nepalese goes “Khana khanu bhayo?” (Have you taken your meal?). This gives us an idea about the important role that food plays in Nepalese daily life. The staple fare in Nepal is dal, bhat and tarkari (rice, lentils and curry). Dal is a soup made with lentils, while bhat is boiled rice and tarkari is vegetable curry. This is accompanied by achar or pickles and sometimes masu or meat curry. Though dishes vary in range and type according to the region, dal-bhat gets the vote for the national dish as every Nepali kitchen prepares it. But the ethnic cuisines are worth trying, and well, if you want to dip into Nepalese culture one needs to be more adventurous with ones taste buds.
The following text gives you a brief description on ‘what’s cooking’ in different Nepalese kitchens.
Kathmandu: Kathmandu is the home of Newars, a community famous for their elaborate feasts (bhoj). Momocha ( steamed or fried dumplings), choyila (buff cubes fried with spices and greens), palula (spicy buff with ginger sauce) ,kachila (a paté of minced raw buff, mixed with ginger and mustard oil), chatamari (a sort of pancake or pizza made with rice flour),woh or bara(fried lentil-flour patties), kwati (a soup made with several varieties of sprouted beans), musya palu (a dry mix of roasted soya beans and ginger) , bhuti (boiled soya beans with spices and herbs), pancha kol (a curry made with five vegetables) , alu – tamaa ( potato with bamboo shoot), all find a place in the Newari platter. Usually mustard oil is used for cooking and for seasoning, spices such as fenugreek , cumin, sesame seeds, turmeric, garlic, ginger , bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, chili, mustard seeds, etc. are used. Newars prepare some of the dishes only during festivals and certain time of the year. For instance, yomari a sticky rice cake stuffed with a mixture of jaggery and sesame seed is prepared during the Yomari Punhi, a full moon festival celebrated during December.
[Newari Dish – popular cuisine in Kathmandu – consisting of Bara, Chewra, Choiyla, & Achar]
Jomsom & Mustang: Along the trekking trails of Jomsom and Mustang one may come across Thakkali tea- houses and lodges with neat and tidy kitchens that serves tasty Thakkali fare. It is believed no one can beat the Thakkalis when it comes to serving the best dal-bhat and tarkari. Like true connoisseurs, the Thakkalis pay close attention to the presentation and visual appeal while serving food. Thakkali cooks give a distinct flavour to their preparation by using unique Himalayan spices like Timur (a sort of pepper with a fiery taste , commonly used in marinades and achars) and Jimbu (Himalayan herb, used fresh or dry),
In the Hills: Among the highland Bhotias the staple is tsampa or ground roasted barley flour. It requires no cooking and is taken with tea and yak cheese. In Khumbu, the Sherpa homeland, they reap a good potato havest. Boiled potatoes are peeled and eaten with salt and pounded chilies and garlic. Rigi kur is a delicious crispy potato pancake served with a lump of yak butter.Thukpa, or noodle and vegetable and meat broth is also quite popular.
Saelroti: Saelroti, a spongy rice doughnut prepared from well-mixed fermented rice batter, is a food item that is uniquely Nepali in character. Important festivals like Dassein and Tihar are incomplete without the preparation of saelroti.
[Photo Credit: Reshma Shrestha]