Located between India, Tibet and China Himalayas, Nepal is a land of many ethnicities and cultural influences. This bright diversity is easily tasted in Nepalese cuisine, which features dishes comprised of lean meats, pickled specialties and chunky vegetables. Its unique geographical setting against the backdrop of the Himalayas means that most meals are made with locally grown produce.
In tourist areas of Nepal, you’ll encounter plenty of Indian curries, Chinese noodles and Western foods, including Italian pizza made with yak cheese. But the local Nepalese cuisine is a dazzling, multicultural affair experience that tells the story of the country in every bite. Here are a few of the dishes you’ll taste when you visit Nepal.
1. Dal Bhat – Arguably, Dal Bhat is Nepal’s national dish. There are endless variations of Dal Bhat, which is often served in brass dishes in many restaurants. Centered around a pile of rice, this popular restaurant meal features savory, soupy, spicy lentils along with a constellation of side dishes (dal means lentils, and bhat means rice). Also likely to make an appearance are pickled vegetables, yogurt, chutney and curries made from vegetables, fish, buffalo, chicken or wild boar. Since 80 percent of Nepal is Hindu, you won’t encounter much beef on local menus – but you will find buff, aka buffalo. Dal Bhat is also usually served with roti, Nepal’s version of unleavened bread, which sometimes replaces the rice entirely.
2. Momo – If Dal Bhat is Nepal’s national dish, then momo are its unofficial street food. Also served in just about every restaurant in the country, this popular dumpling is stuffed with steamed vegetables or meat. Momo are then steamed or fried to finish them off, and served with a dipping sauce made from tomatoes, chilis, garlic or fermented vegetables. Eaten most often as a snack, momo are similar to Japanese gyoza, Chinese baozi, Korean mandu and Mongolian buuz.
3. Sel Roti – Made of rice dough and shaped like a ring, this traditional homemade sweet is most often served during Tihar, a Hindu festival. Rice flour is customized according to personal taste with flavors like cloves, banana, and cardamom – and then deep-fried until golden brown. It’s crispy and sweet on the outside, soft and puffy in the middle. Sel roti is best served fresh from the fryer. Eat it by itself, dipped in yogurt, or with vegetables.
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4. Thukpa – When it gets cold in the Himalayas, which is often, this hot noodle soup is the perfect comfort food. Hailing from the Tibet (thukpa means noodle in Tibetan), this soup is made Nepal-style with chili powder, masala, noodles and peas. A seasoned meat stock is filled with pieces of vegetables and meats: goat, lamb, chicken or yak. You’ll also find vegetarian Thukpa, particularly in the Kathmandu Valley, where numerous Buddhist Tibetans have settled after fleeing their own country. Thukpa is often eaten with momo.
5. Popcorn – Popcorn is also a popular treat in Nepal, served as an afternoon snack or as an appetizer before the evening meal. Many Nepalese eat popcorn almost every day.
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Nepalese food image (top) via Shutterstock, Dal Bhat image Shilo Urban