While my whole “Five Foods To Try In” series has always been on countries I’ve personally been to and foods I’ve actually tried (i.e. not foods I dream about eating), I decided there needed to be a change. You see, there are cuisines from countries I, alas, won’t be visiting any time soon but that doesn’t mean I think about them any less. I’ve known Trailing Rachel for the last couple of years through the blogosphere and after reading about her amazing time in Nepal (especially on the food front) the idea took root for me to ask her to contribute a guest post on five Nepalese foods you should try. Thankfully she’s like me and is just as obsessed with incorporating food into her travels as I am. The best part, of course, is that she agreed to participate. Did I mention she’s been traveling around the world since the fall of 2015? So if there’s a cuisine out there you can bet she’s most likely tried it. Did I mention too that she’s currently in New Zealand and posting the “ugliest” photos (hopefully you can smell the sarcasm here). And so I’ll turn it over to Rachel now.
I didn’t know much about Nepalese food before I booked my flight to Kathmandu. It’s not like there are many Nepalese restaurants in North Carolina! (Okay there are 3 – I just googled it). Honestly, I just prayed that it was similar to the Indian cuisine that I love and then began my research. Lonely Planet left me hanging, briefing me only on masala chai tea and their famous dumplings, momos. So after spending an embarrassing amount of time searching the Internet for DIY food tours and watching YouTube videos of street food vendors in Nepal, I had an idea of what I was looking for.
In the three weeks that I spent in the country – between the chaos of Kathmandu’s streets, chilling out in Pokhara, and eating in the tea houses of the Himalayas while hiking – I found several Nepalese staples and they didn’t disappoint. Plus, almost every dish on this list is super cheap!
Okay, so Lonely Planet might tell you about this one too. And any local that you meet. It’s likely the favorite and most well-known meal in Nepal and man does it provide sustenance! Rice and lentils with a spicy pickle, some veg, and maybe popadoms – this dish gets refilled as many times as you wish. (Seriously, it’s bottomless. A man will come around and ask if you want more rice, more lentils, more whatever!) It’s like Nepali carbo-loading and almost every restaurant serves a version of it. It’s not something you’d want to down at every meal, but I ate it often while hiking. There’s a reason that every street corner in Kathmandu and Pokhara sells T-Shirts emblazoned with “Dahl Baht Power – 24 Hour!” Because it’s really filling. I had dahl baht for dinner at a tiny tea house once and was barely hungry for breakfast or lunch the next day.
I’m a sucker for dumplings in any form, so I could eat momos every day. And I nearly did in Nepal! They’re handmade and stuffed with a well-seasoned filling. Since a majority of the country is Hindu, you won’t see any momos filled with beef, but you will see them filled with buffalo (usually the cheapest and most flavorful option), chicken, or vegetables. Momos come steamed or fried, and both are outrageously delicious, though the fried ones feel especially sinful. They’re served with a spicy tomato-based sauce on the side or even doused in chili if you so desire. Momos could be a meal in themselves – or if you’re like me, a near-constant appetizer. When you can get a plate of ten of them for between $1.20 and $2.50 USD, it’s hard to say no. They’re also on EVERY menu in town.
Thukpa is a traditional Tibetan noodle soup that I’d never heard of before arriving. Since Tibet borders the country and many Tibetan refugees live in Nepal, it’s no surprise that their food culture has spread here. There are lots of Tibetan restaurants in the bigger cities (they also do a great hotpot!). The name “thukpa” actually just means “noodle soup,” but if you see it on a menu, you’ll typically get something that looks like this. It’s usually filled with meat, vegetables, and noodles. Fun fact: almost every Nepalese household owns a simple pressure cooker which they use to quickly cook all the veg they use in these soups. This dish was a little basic for me, but I didn’t mind throwing in a bunch of their homemade hot sauce and eating it on cold nights. If you want thicker noodles, then opt for “thenthuk” – I had one version of this and it felt a bit heartier.
Okay, I’m sorry – it’s Indian food. But unsurprisingly, there’s great Indian food on every street in Nepal. Curries are my weakness and they’re so prevalent here that you can find a great one at any time. And the best thing? You’re so close to India that you’ve got Indian families cooking the really authentic stuff, and even the tiny family-owned restaurants have menus loaded down with curries I’d never heard of back in the States. And they’ll listen when you ask for it spicy! While I’m usually a strictly butter chicken, tikka masala, and vindaloo type of girl, Indian food was so affordable in Nepal (rather than the usual $16 I pay for a curry at home) that I was finally free to try them all! I loved anything with paneer (that soft, white Indian cheese) or a meatball-esque kofta. This one is a malai kofta which sometimes included nuts and dried fruits in the fried ball of potato and paneer. It was lighter and sweeter than most, but the little koftas just acted like a savory sponge for all of that sauce.
Mmmm, this stuff for breakfast. If you see it on a menu, you must try it! It’s thick, chewy, and hearty. Fried in oil until it turns golden brown and puffs up, the outer layer is slightly crunchy and crispy while the inside is almost stretchy. All of the tea houses in the Himalayas served Tibetan bread, and each time it was a little bit different depending on who was cooking it. But it was always SO tasty. They’ll serve it hot with honey (or you could use jam), and it provides the perfect breakfast for a day of physical activity. Like most of the food in Nepal, it’s made to be eaten with your hands. I’m not actually sure I did enough hiking to compensate for all the food I ate along the way…
I’m a twenty-something lawyer from North Carolina, and I quit my job to travel a year and a half ago. I love spicy food, beaches, small plates, hot weather, and salty snacks between beers. I’m still trying to figure out what to do next! This is where I try to be funny.
Photo credits: Rachel Sasser