One doesn’t travel to far-off exotic lands often. And when they do, to get the best of their journey they must live and eat like the locals, to experience and appreciate ones culture. Food is the core of one’s travel, it is like an adventure. It definitely makes for a good story to share later.
Just as Anthony Bourdain says “Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria's mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”
Every country has a different flavour to offer, and if you are travelling to this Himalayan country, there are certain things you ‘must try’ on your trip. Just so you don’t miss out on any, here are some to add to your list.
The first on this list has to be Momo. It is almost like a national dish of Nepal. Even if I don’t mention it, nobody can miss out on momo’s. You will find several roadside stalls selling momo and on menus in most restaurant.
They look like dumplings, but the flavour is far better. With an outer layer of flour, they are stuffed with minced chicken, mutton, buff (buffalo meat) and veggies. Some places also sell momo with paneer (cottage cheese) and potato stuffing, to create variety for those non-meat eaters. The most popular are the buff momo’s. Buff meat is widely eaten in Nepal. In fact, the first time I tried buff meat, was in Nepal.
Momo is either steamed or fried and is served with a special tomato sauce, which has the perfect amount of spice, commonly called achar in Nepal. Momo is incomplete without this achar.
Other than Nepal, momo is also consumed in Tibet, certain parts of Bhutan and India.
They say some of the best alcoholic drinks are brewed at home. Raksi is a traditional homemade distilled alcoholic drink in Nepal and Tibet, usually made from millet, rice or maize.
It is a must on various social and religious events in Nepal. Nepalese drink Raksi profusely, just as the Russians drink Vodka. In fact, drinking Raksi is an occasion itself. It is a strong, clear drink with over 45 percent of alcohol content.
It was also placed in ‘World's 50 most delicious drinks’ by CNN. Now you know why Raksi is a must try on your trip to Nepal. But, from my personal and unforgettable experience, let me inform you that it is very important to hydrate yourself after this drink to avoid hangover the next morning.
(Here is an image of a woman storing up freshly made Raksi on a dark night in Dhulikhel)
Just as the English drink Mulled Vine in winters, Tongba is the perfect drink for Himalayan winters. They call it Nepalese beer.
This drink is made from fermented millet called Jaand. Tongba is actually the vessel it is served in. Traditionally it is made out of bamboo along with a bamboo straw. But, at most places you will find an aluminum container with an aluminum straw. Jaand is filled in the vessel and hot water is poured up to the brim, which must settle for a few minutes before drinking. Tongba is served with a kettle of hot water with unlimited refills.
I had my first Tongba on a chilly night in Nagarkot, in those quirky looking aluminum vessels. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and it definitely kept me warm.
Yes, this is another local alcoholic beverage, consumed in Nepal, Tibet and the Ladakh region of India. Made from barley, rice or millet, white in colour, it almost tastes like ale. The alcohol content in this drink is quite low, but it keeps the body warm in winters.
It is served at a room temperature in summers and boiling hot in the winters in a big brass bowl.
Within Nepal, the food varies in every region, but one thing that stays common is Daal Bhat Tarkari. Daal is a curry of lentils, cooked in many different ways. Nepalese prepare their daal slightly more soupy compared to its other South Asian neighbours. Bhat is steamed rice and Tarkari is an assorted mix of vegetables (most commonly cauliflower and potatoes) cooked with different spices. Daal Bhat Tarkari is served with salad (fresh cucumber and carrots) and some pickle, also called aachar, on the side.
During your travel in Nepal, you will definitely eat a lot of Daal Bhat Tarkari, especially if you are trekking in the Himalayas, it will be your regular meal. The best thing about Daal Bhat Tarkari is, no matter how often you eat, you will never get sick of it. It is full of flavor, very satisfying and not to forget, it is also very healthy.
Thupka means noodles in Tibetan, which explains that it is a Tibetan dish.
The first time I had Thupka was in Bangalore, India. Due to a large Tibetan population in India, Thupka is very popular in many parts of this country.
It is also extremely popular in Nepal, almost like a part of Nepali cuisine. In fact the Nepali version of thupka is slightly spicier. Served hot in a huge bowl, it is a noodle soup with plenty of vegetables and a flavorsome blend of spice. On the menu, you will find veg, chicken, pork, buff and mix thupka.
One bowl of hot thupka is extremely filling and very soothing in the winters.
Also, popularly known as Butter Tea, is a staple drink of the Tibetans. As the name suggests, its buttery, it is salty and it really fills you up. It is made from tea leaves, salt and yak butter and involves a lot of shaking. This tea is consumed in Tibet, Nepal and the Ladakh region in India.
Last year, on my trip to Ladakh, I was not familiar with this drink and I completely missed out on it. This surprised my friends in Nepal, and they made sure I tried my first ‘Su Chia’ (as they call it) in Nepal. The Tibetans call it ‘Po Cha’ and the Ladakhi’s ‘Goor Goor’. I especially put it on this list, so that you don’t miss out on it.
Boil the tea leaves in water and then add more boiling water to it. Later add salt, yak butter and milk. Fill the content in a pot called ‘Dhomu’ and shake the tea for several minutes to mix it well. Now the tea is ready to serve.
Normally, butter tea is served in Tibetan restaurants as a welcome drink.
Since we spoke about Yak butter, let me throw some light on Yak cheese, which is also a must try, while in Nepal. Nepal is the land of Yaks; hence dairy products made from Yak are plenty.
This cheese is available is every possible dairy in Nepal. Not only is this cheese exotic, but also healthy. Many expats also choose to eat yak cheese with their vine. The first time I had had my Yak cheese, was with some chilled Everest Beer.
The first time I tried Bara, was in a small, dingy, very interesting looking place near Patan Durbar Square. Apparently it is a very famous place, but an outsider may pass by and not know about it. These places are called Bhattis and there are many such Bhatti’s found in Kathmandu.
Coming back to Bara, it is a delicious Newari appetizer, made from a mixture of black lentils. They look like deep fried patties. The ones I had were egg bara, which had a layer of omelette over the patty. They also prepare meat bara, mostly from buff meat, which is commonly called ‘maas ko bara’.
What make this food experience interesting is to find one of these bhattis and try their bara.
We covered everything from appetizers to main course to alcohol, so now it is time for dessert. Juju Dhau means ‘king of yogurts’ in Newari. It is basically sweetened yogurt, originated from Bhaktapur, now available everywhere in Nepal. Even then, the best Juju Dhau is still available only in Bhaktapur.
I have had sweetened yogurt several times, before I tried my first Juju Dhau in Bhakatapur. And it is not just like any other sweet yogurt, it is creamy with extremely rich texture and taste. I could not stop eating it. One bowl is never enough.
I highly recommend everybody who is traveling to Nepal, to try juju dhau, especially in Bhaktapur. A visit to Bhaktapur is incomplete without trying juju dhau. It is a must.
Text & Images: Mithila Jariwala