“Food is a sure way to a man’s heart,” is a popular saying. Let’s change it a little. Food is a way to people’s hearts. We, Nepalese, have big hearts and also great, many dishes.
Food is a byproduct of culture and tradition. The culture has a strong impact on cooking styles and recipes. As a result, it is quite justifiable to state that food is the finest approach to understand people, their culture, lifestyle, and eating habits. There is a saying that “If you want to learn about people, start with their cuisine.”
Nepal is well-known not just for its renowned trekking destinations, but also for its exquisite culturally diverse dishes. Nepal is a culturally and naturally diverse country, and the fooding culture and local cuisines reflect this. Nepalese food is deeply rooted in Nepalese culture and sentiments, with centuries old recipes passed down from generation to generation. Nepalese cuisines are somewhat inspired by neighbouring nations like India, and China, yet it is distinct in its own right, having its own flavours and cooking methods. Nepalese cuisines are a mashup of flavours, customs, and gastronomical history. It seems like the Nepalese have delicacies for every occasion. The Nepali food consists of more than Dal Bhat, Momo, and Thukpa. There’s much more than that.
If you visit different parts of Nepal, you will miss out on a lot, if you do not try the native Nepalese food. Each dish entices you to consume more and more.
Let us begin with one of Nepali cuisine’s oldest, most delicious, most distinctive dish:
Gundruk is a meal that is frequently served with Dhido. Gundruk is fermented or pickled green and leafy vegetables. It is prepared by keeping mustard, radish, or cauliflower leaves in an earthen pot and allowing them to ferment until the veggies within release acidic juices. It can be cooked as a curry or a side dish. It is rich in minerals and vitamins.
Dhido is a thick porridge made by boiling ground cornmeal, buckwheat flour, or millet flour in water with salt. It is a staple food in rural regions and can be consumed with butter, vegetable curries, pickles, buttermilk, and yoghurt. It also has many health benefits. Therefore, Dhindo is extensively consumed not just as a traditional food, but also as a better and healthier substitute for rice.
Ghongi are snails found in the Terai’s paddy fields and waterways. It is the Tharu community’s favourite dish. There is a notion that this meat provides the indigenous people with the ability to combat malaria as they inhabit the Terai plains, and is also thought to help them with bone issues.
Although the appearance of this dish turns many people off, it has long been a favourite of Tharu people and others. Despite its resemblance to the French escargot, there are significant differences between the two. While the French cuisine is fantastic without requiring you to suck the meat out of its shell, this Terai cuisine demands you to do some hard work on your part. Nonetheless, regardless of how it appears or how it is eaten, it is nothing less than escargot to the people of Terai.
These snails are boiled and cooked in the same way as other curries, but the most important element is adding ground linseed, which gives the sauce consistency and enriches the flavour. The Ghongi is eaten with rice, and this combination has been a staple diet for indigenous people in Terai for centuries.
Sekuwa is skewered grilled chicken, pork, lamb or goat meat. The meat is marinated in spices before being cooked on a grill pan. It is then accompanied by chutney or pickles. It can be served as a side dish with the main course such as rice. It goes well with Bhuja (puffed rice), salad, pickles, and other crunchy snacks. When grilled, the meat has the most wonderful flavour because of the rich marination, and the juice oozing out of the tender meat makes it more appealing and tempting. It is also the most widely consumed cuisine in Nepal. Sekuwa is commonly found in restaurants, street eateries and stalls in Nepal.
Tongba is one of the dishes that will round off your gastronomic experience in Nepal. Better known as “Tibetan Hot Drink”, this is a popular local beer that is sipped from cast-iron pots with bamboo straws. The alcoholic beverage made from millet is a traditional and indigenous drink of the Limbu people of eastern Nepal. It is a hot beverage that is typically drunk in huge quantities. Tongba has a sweet, mild and slightly sour flavour.
Pour hot water over the fermented millet in a vase called Tongba. Fill it up as much as you like. It is easily obtained at hotels at high elevations while trekking in Nepal, and it is now available in various sections of towns so that everyone can taste it.
Tongba is a must try Nepalese drink in Nepal if you are a culinary adventurer looking to explore Nepali indigenous taste.
Juju Dhau is a sweet treat prepared from curd in Nepal. It translates as “the King Curd''. It is the finest yoghurt available in Nepal and is prepared only by the Newars. It is made by heating milk in a clay pot and letting it ferment. It is a thick and creamy curd prepared from buffalo milk, which gives it a far richer flavour and texture than regular cow curd.
You may take Juju Dhau as a side dish with Dal Bhat, as a snack or as a dessert to leave you with a sweet and creamy aftertaste.
The Bhaktapur Durbar Square area is the most popular destination in Nepal to taste Juju Dhau. However, because of its popularity, it can, nowadays, be found in almost every location in the Kathmandu Valley.
Make sure to try Juju Dhau when in Nepal. You might not be able to resist the temptation of purchasing more.
These are only the most basic cuisines available in Nepal. When in Nepal, surround yourself with locals and dine at local restaurants to get a true sense of Nepalese cuisines. Also, don’t forget the delicacies we’ve mentioned here.
Enjoy your meal!
Compiled By: Rebika Bishokarma
Photos By: Nepal Travel Guide, The Gundruk, Notes Nepal, Sajan Rajbahak