Art-Her From-Her
Big packet of knowledge, likes to guide people around

Culinarily, Nepal is located between spicy vegetarian North Indian cuisine and soupy meaty Tibetan cuisine.

Just like every other aspect in Nepal, there is so much variety in food in Nepal, that it is absolutely impossible for a new visitor to keep track of who eats what here. For example the Newars and Gurungs are big on the buffalo but usually do not eat pork, the Khas Brahmins do not touch meat at all, the Khas Chhetris prefer goat and the Rais prefer pork. But as the country is becoming more and more mixed and homogenous, the current state of affairs is that almost everybody eats everything these days. The de facto national food is Dal Bhat while the most favored snack is Momo. The fact that Dal Bhat is closely related to Indian cuisine while the Momo is of Tibetan origin goes to show the overarching influence of these cuisines is shaping the Nepali gastronomical experience.

Despite the variety and seeming randomness, there are some overarching trends here. First, the amount of spice used is inversely proportional to the altitude of the place. So in the southern lowlands bordering India, the amount of spice used isn’t exactly different from northern India. The usual suspects are turmeric (Nepali: Besar), cumin (Jeera), garlic (Lasun), fenugreek (Methi) and chili (Khursani). And the food is generally very spicy and very oily. Given the hot and humid climate of the area, the antimicrobial properties of the spices are very important. For the same reason, onion is almost always used in just about every other dish especially non-vegetarian items. 

spices in the shop of ason 

As you get to the mid-hills the spice used are generally the same, but the amount keep falling and other spices start to come more prominent, most notably the Sichuan pepper (Timur) and wild onions (Jimboo). Chili however remains a favorite right up to the slopes of Mount Everest. For people coming from lands where jokes like the following are okay, the food you will find here will be much more than a salt and pepper affair:

The second trend one sees is that the amount of meat consumption and the size of the animal consumed is directly proportional to the altitude of the place. Again, it has got to with the amount of microbial activity. At the lowlands where the microbial activity is the highest, vegetarian food is more popular. As far as non-vegetarian item, they are mostly chicken or fish. As you go higher up goat and pigs make an appearance; goat in the western region and pork in the east. In the Kathmandu Valley and Gurung settlement around Pokhara, buffalo is the norm. Higher up, large beasts like yak too are fair game.
In addition to these overarching trends, there are certain foods that stand out as uniquely Nepali: Gundruk , Hog Plum powder (Nepali: Lapsi ), Beaten Rice (Chiura) and Dhindo being the most prominent examples.

Only in Nepal

  1. Hog Plum Pickle or more lovingly called Lapsi here in Nepal is a quintessentially a Nepali delicacy. It is used to make pickles, as a spice for curries and digestive soups (pau kwa). See Lapsi: Nepal's Best Kept Secret for more information.
  2. Gundruk and Beaten Rice (Chiura) are also unique to Nepal. Gundruk is basically fermented acidic dried vegetables made from leaves of mustard, rayo (Brassicae apa) and cauliflower. Chiura on the other hand is made by drying pounded soaked uncooked rice. While fermented vegetables similar to gundruk are also found in other cultures, chiura is very Nepali. The fact that both are light to carry,  high on nutrients and hardy against microorganisms, perhaps points to a war ridden and/or trading past of the Nepali people.
  3. Nepal is perhaps one of the few places in which liquor holds the central place in the cultural life of a large number of ethnic groups. For example, among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, during a rice-feeding ceremony called pasni, a six month old is given food items (sagun) which have to be sprinkled with rice liquor!! The only ethnic groups in Nepal who do not have an important place for the alcohol are the Khas Brahmins, Khas Chhetris and Muslims. Chyaang Rice liquor
  4.    2.Along the Tibetan influenced northern frontier of Nepal, butter tea can be enjoyed. It is perhaps one of the few ways to make tea in which salt is used rather than sugar. The obvious reason for this is that sugar comes from the lowlands while salt can be found in plenty along the great lakes of Tibet. It is also interesting to note that there are at least three different kinds of salt found along the Himalayas. Kinds of salt

 

What does this mean for you

  1. If you wish to eat burgers or enchiladas while you are in Nepal, you will have to bring it from wherever it is you eat those things. Why the long face? We are just kidding!! Kathmandu has restaurants to cater to all kinds of palates and pockets. Whether you are in mood for Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian or French cuisine, you will not be disappointed. Also, even along the trekking routes, there will be a western food available for those who want it.
  2. The carb high diet of Dal Bhat is ideal for the physically demanding terrain of the Himalayas. So, while you are trekking, Dal Bhat will make for a great meal. Also, western dishes requires the lodges to bring in supplies from the capital which in turn gets it from some other far away land. By ordering food that is grown in the region itself, you are directly helping the local economy.
  3. Local food sure sounds great and all, but you have to be a bit careful. Sanitary level in Nepal isn’t exactly like in the west. It is advisable to skip on the local fare at least for the first few days while you are here. Actually even with this precaution, chances are you will experience some stomach upsets. Also, it pays to avoid a truly ‘authentic’ experience and skip on the roadside vendors and other similar shops.
  4. If you shop for spices in Nepal and want to take those home, make sure each one is labelled appropriately as this helps avoid problems at airports. This is easier said than done as most vendors in Nepal who sell spice do not have labelled packets.
  5. If you have some time to spare, Ason is one of the best places to breathe in the culinary constituents of Nepal. It is a small cross road not far from the tourist district of Thamel and is one of the busiest thoroughfares in Kathmandu. There you will see the spice market, the vegetable market and what else and what not. If you ask us, it is one of the must visit places in the Kathmandu valley. As Ason is at walking distance from the Kathmandu Durbar Square, it is possible to visit both the places in a single day.

Little Secret no one will tell you

  1. While it might sound a bit unfamiliar to most, rats are actually a delicacy for at least one ethnic group in Nepal: the Tharus from the western lowlands of Nepal. However, it is not any rat that they eat. They mostly catch field rats during the annual rice harvesting season. Actually sometimes it might happen that a whole bunch of harvesters start to chase a rat effectively bringing the harvest to a standstill.
  2. It is common knowledge that beef is taboo in Nepal. What very few people know however is that this fact has resulted in a word that most Nepali think is English, but isn’t: Buff. Buff for most Nepali means buffalo meat and is usually acceptable unlike the meat from cows/bull. Actually it is so acceptable to the Newars of the Kathmandu valley that not a single part is wasted. The inner skin is eaten as Khago, the stomach lining and bone marrow is eaten as Sapu-mhicha, the brain is eaten as Nhyapu, steamed blood as Chohi, tongue as Me and so on and so forth. If any part is not eaten, it is used in one or the other way. For example buffalo ribs are used by the sweepers to collect garbage!! Sapu- mhicha