Susin enjoys trekking & exploring authentic cultural & heritage experiences through travelling. Hopes to resume doing so post pandemic.
I was fortunate to have an opportunity to trek and travel through some parts of the Annapurna region of Nepal some a few years ago. I had done the Ghorepani Poonhill and Jomsom Muktinath Trek. Though on the trek, some meals and dishes are often repeated, I still miss some of these foods once in a while back in my home country.
Being a landlocked country, Nepalese cuisine is heavily influenced by the bordering countries. While most common Nepalese folk go for plenty of rice and tummy filling food for practical reasons, many of the dishes actually have unique features and tastes. Other than Dal Baht, which can be termed Nepal's National Dish, there are plenty of foods and drinks to try, as recommended below, not in order of preference.
1. Dal Bhat
Being a "power food" and recognized as the National Dish of Nepal, dal bhat of course has to be featured here.
Generally, dal bhat is a set of rice, lentils and curry commonly served on a big round metal dish. It has a few versions, some simple, some more luxurious. "Dal" means lentil (soup) and "bhat" means rice. It is served with a variety of side dishes. Most items on the platter such as rice and vegetables are refillable. Traditional dal bhat is vegetarian, however, variations include it being served with meat as well.
Common folks love dal bhat as it is practical and filling, offering them energy to last for most parts of the day to work.
Ingredients of dal bhat could be seasonal. Something to look out for is the papadums, which are thin, fragrant fried lentil chips served in the set.
Momos are the Nepalese version of dumplings.
There are a few types of momos. Usually steamed, momos can also be pan or deep fried. Fillings include vegetables and meat, even that of yaks, the highland buffaloes. There are also spicy versions of the dish.
Momos can be eaten as a main meal, or as a side to be shared by a few diners.
3. Chow Mien
Having its origins in China, chow mien, when literally translated to Chinese means "fried noodles." It is an economical and easy-to-eat meal. Like the aforementioned food items, the ingredients in chow mien can vary as well. Streetside chow miens are much simpler (and definitely cheaper) and may lack that aesthetic appeal. Nevertheless, they're still as tasty.
Thukpa is a Tibetan noodle soup dish. It comes in different forms and presentations, and tastes may differ according to traditions and cultures of influences.
I had the most delicious egg thukpa served in a Muktinath guesthouse on one cold, five-degrees Celsius evening some 3,500 meters above sea level! An unforgettable experience.
While pancakes do not sound like a Nepalese dish, the Nepalese-made pancake is simple, homely and locally flavoured. Pancakes are usually served as a breakfast item. Different from the fluffy and almost perfectly round pancakes we commonly know, Nepalese pancakes have got a homely, down-to-earth yet delicious taste. Again the flavours differ from place to place. I had very good chocolate pancakes, lemon sugar pancakes, as well as apple pancakes, paired with coffee along my trekking stops in Nepal.
6. Apple Cider
A must-try if you travel to Marpha. Famous for their local apples, many apple based food products such as apple pies, apple pancakes, dehydrated apples, as well as apple cider are created.
It is a highly recommended alcoholic beverage. "Strong, flavourful, rich and fresh," are words that came to my mind upon my first sip. It really warms you up on a cold mountainous evening. A good rest and sleep in a medieval guesthouse, along the cobblestoned street thereafter is guaranteed!
7. Sea Buckthorn Juice
Another beverage that is nonalcoholic but still as good. Sea buckthorns are a kind of berries that can only be found at certain elevations. It is touted as a super fruit with health benefits ranging from being anti-aging to having medical properties.
Sea buckthorn juice has a tart yet sweet taste. It is a refreshing drink that can be served warm or chilled. You can also buy concentrated bottles of sea buckthorn juice. Directions on how to prepare it are provided on the bottle.
8. Tsampa Soup
Having its origins yet again in Tibet, tsampa is usually made from barley flour.
I tried out this dish as I was healing an upset stomach and wanted something light and soupy in Pokhara after my eight days trek.
Tsampa pieces are served in warm, mildly salty soup with vegetables and other ingredients. The tsampa tastes mild. Tsampa is the staple food of Tibetans and it is worth a try if you would like to be exposed to the different culinary cultures in Nepal.
9. Nepalese Cultural Dance and Dinner
A good cultural experience in Kathmandu to try would be the Nepalese Cultural Dance and Dinner Program. Your guide or travel agency would usually arrange this as a welcome or farewell activity.
While most food items served here have been mentioned and described earlier, this dining experience is recommended as you enjoy a three-course meal in a relaxed atmosphere with lovely performances going on. While the dishes are being dished out in order from appetizer to dessert, songs and dances are rolled out to accompany your gastronomy enjoyment. The main meal here is of course the national dish, but you also get to try the Nepalese version of sake.
It is rather bitter, personally for my preference. Still, it was an enjoyable experience to immerse in. The traditional songs and dances are performed by the same group of artists throughout the course of the meal!
Yet again, a dish that sounds Western. However, the spaghetti served at guesthouses along trekking routes exuberates the taste of homely simple fare. Though not fanciful, the ingredients are fresh and the cheese toppings are wonderfully flavourful. You get a sense of blissful satisfaction even with just vegetarian spaghetti in tomato paste.
11. Masala Chai
"Masala" means spices, and "chai" means tea.
So you may have guessed it, masala chai is spiced tea. Indian roots, spices such as ginger, cloves and cinnamon (and more) are added to milk tea; the base tea usually being a black tea.
It is a refreshing take from the normal milk tea that we drink and it is especially so when travelling and walking in the cold mountains, as it will surely warm you up.
The combination of spices in the tea is also known to have great antioxidant properties, helping to ward off colds and coughs.
12. Special Mention: Homemade Buffalo Milk Tea!
Another tea, but drunk at a local Nepali family home!
I had the honour to be made and served tea at the family home of my Nepali trekking guide. His mom had freshly brewed tea, with milk obtained from the family buffalo, for my husband and me. I must say that it had the most fragrance and freshness, though served in simple metal mugs. It was especially blissful to sip homemade tea in their family yard, admire beautiful mountainous scenery, and breathe in fresh mountain air!
If you have the chance to visit a local Nepali family for a cup of tea, make sure you seize the opportunity to not just take in the authentic flavours, but to appreciate the genuinely warm and unique experience!
My unique trekking and tour experience in Nepal was made possible by Trekking Guide, Mr Bhakti Devkota from Big Sky Treks and Expeditions. You can find out more about his services and contact information here.
If you would like to enjoy some great food—both Nepali and other wider varieties of food—and unwind in a picturesque setting, it is recommended that you try out dining at Utopia Garden and Snacks Bar, which serves not only great food but oversees the lake in Pokhara. You can find the contact of the restaurant here.
I look forward to seek out new sights, adventures and cultural tastes in Nepal again!
Bon Voyage & Bon Appétit!
© 2022 Susin Lim