Food of Nepal: What is the food like + 12 Traditional Nepali Dishes You need to try
The beautiful country of Nepal, famous for its towering mountains peaks and home to eight of the 10 highest peaks in the world, also has a burgeoning culinary scene. The geographic and cultural diversity of this landlocked country produces an abundance of dishes that are just as unique and rich in taste and flavour. Read on to find out what the food of Nepal is like. You will also discover the most traditional and popular Nepalese dishes you have to try.
Nepali cuisine, while having its own distinct flavour profile, has also been influenced by its neighbours India, China, and Tibet. The food in Nepal is a combination of culinary influencers, ingredients, cooking methods, and unique flavours of these bordering countries.
In this post, you will learn about the main aspects and features of Nepalese cuisine.
Hungry? Keen to know more? Let’s get into it…. 😋
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Have you ever heard the phrase “Dal Bhat Power 24 hour?”
This is a popular Nepali saying often shared between locals and those trekking in Nepal, humorously acknowledging the importance of this Nepali national dish.
Well, Dal Bhat is undoubtedly the symbol of Nepali cuisine (more on this popular food below). However… there’s more to the food in Nepal than just rice and dal when it comes to the variety of food in this beautiful Himalayan country.
Food of Nepal In The Past
Geographically, Nepal can be divided into 3 types of terrains:
- the lowland region known as Terai
- adjacent to it is the hilly region, and
- the Himalayan mountain ranges.
Terai is the major producer of rice and other agricultural products in the country. As a result, Dal Bhat is the staple food in this Nepalese region as well as the hilly area next to it.
What is the most famous food for Nepal?
For those of you that are not familiar with the dish, Dal Bhat is a set of dish consisting of steamed rice, a bowl of lentil soup, and a portion of assorted vegetables (tarkari) and some pickles. This quintessential Nepali dish is sometimes accompanied with a few pieces of meat, such as mutton or chicken, if it’s a non-vegetarian Dal Bhat.
Meanwhile, harsh conditions in the mountainous regions of the country, like Upper Mustang, make it is impossible to grow rice there.
The people who call this part of the world home eat a different type of dish that is made from millet flour called Dhindo. This is the equivalent of Dal Bhat up in the mountains.
Another thing, the availability of fresh meat is limited here, so people generally omit that from their everyday meal or consume dried (yak) meat instead.
While eating Dal Bhat or Dhindo is an everyday occurrence (sometimes twice a day) for the people of Nepal, it is a unique culinary experience.
I would highly recommend to those visiting Nepal to seek out this traditional staple food as much as possible.
There is no shortage of popular restaurants in Kathmandu and beyond, where you can try these local Nepali foods in true authentic style.
What are Nepalese spices?
In preparation of meal, the most commonly used spices include turmeric, garlic, ginger, fenugreek seeds, cumin, coriander, asafoetida, ajowan seeds, cloves, and green chillies.
Is Nepali food spicy?
The food found here is, for the most part, light in spices that complements the main ingredients and not aggressively hot.
Is the Food in Nepal Safe?
Nepal has a variety of street food or snacks as well. And while you can find appealing options from the food cart vendors, I do recommend trying them with caution and particularly if you have a strong stomach.
Nepal is not unlike other developing countries where the pollution is a problem. Food hygiene is also a questionable topic.
The street food is vibrant and tasty, so if you’re like me you probably won’t want to miss out on the opportunity. However, to be on the safe side, you can try these foods in restaurants instead, the prices may be higher but so is the hygiene standard.
Always go for freshly prepared meals. Local foods are, in general, safer than foreign foods as the ingredients and preparation are daily way of life. Dishes such dal bhat are cooked at high temperatures, thus killing any bacteria.
Also as a visitor, remember not to drink unboiled water and juice that has been mixed with this.
What meat do they eat in Nepal?
Nepal, being the only Hindu Kingdom in the world, is strongly influenced both socially and politically as a result. Most of the Hindu Nepalis are vegetarians, whether out of choice or necessity. Cows are sacred in the Hindu religion and so beef is never eaten. Often, buffalo and yak meat are considered as too similar to cows. Chicken and fish are usually consumed by those who are non-vegetarian.
However, the Newars of Nepal are meat eaters, where both goat and water buffalo are commonly consumed.
Nepal Meal Time Do’s and Don’ts
There are quite a few rules to keep in mind when it comes to table manners and eating in Nepal.
First of all, for the most part, the people of Nepal eat with their hands.
Tourists might find it uncomfortable and can opt for spoons and forks instead. But if you want to eat the local way, remember to use your right hand. The reason is, as with some other cultures in the world, the left hand is considered “dirty” and it would be extremely rude to touch food with it.
Another mealtime etiquette, is to avoid sharing eating utensils and drinking glasses.
In a different scenario, you might, as a nice gesture, feel like offering another person a taste of your food. However, that would come across as strange in Nepali culture, so please, add it to your list of things to avoid.
Another aspect to bear in mind is that in Nepali society, the elderly are highly respected. This can be clearly observed during meal times, when people hold off eating until the elderly start. You are also expected to wait for them to finish their meals before leaving your table. It may sound constricting, but when in Nepal, do as the Nepalese do.
Please remember not to eat beef in front of a Hindu or Buddhist when visiting the country.
Last but not least, try to finish everything on your plate. Any food left untouched or uneaten is taken as a message conveyer that it is not good enough.
Well, you don’t want to be rude to your host, now do you?
Let’s take a look at:
Nepali Dishes: 12 Traditional foods from Nepal You must try
Nepal has a number of delicious dishes to tempt the palate.
Here is a list of 12 foods, which are recommend to have an authentic Nepali cuisine experience. Well worth trying for their nutritional value, delicious taste, and unique flavour profile.
1| Dal Bhat
The famous national food of Nepal.
The popular staple food of each Nepali household, Dal Bhat, as mentioned above, is a meal that comprises of mainly steamed rice served along with a cooked lentil soup. This tasty and filling dish is often served with a set of vegetable curries called tarkari. Daal bhat tarkari (दाल भात तरकारी) is regularly accompanied with pickles and chutney. Meat, such as mutton or chicken, can be included too, but this is not the norm.
Meals like this Nepalese lentil curry are generally consumed twice a day on large metal platters called thalis. The ingredients of a dal bhat thali, such as the different vegetables and condiments and whether meat is included, vary by region.
Dal bhat is a well balanced meal. It is high in protein and fibre, low in fat, and nutritious.
This traditional Nepalese meal is the most beloved one amongst the local people as it’s wholesome, affordable, and provides all of the required nutrition and sustenance. It is also the food of choice consumed on the many treks throughout the country.
2| Nepalese Momo
Next up on this list of best foods in Nepal is the world famous momo. Momo is the cute little name for the Nepali bite-sized steamed dumplings.
While the wrapper is made of 2 simple ingredients – flour and water dough, the filling can vary from ground meat (chicken/mutton/buffalo) and vegetables, to tofu, paneer cheese or even chocolate. They are usually wrapped up skillfully in a crescent or round shape.
The history of this popular finger-bite dates back to the fourteenth century. Originally a Newari food of Kathmandu valley, it was later introduced to Tibet, China, India, and even as far away as Japan in the latter part of the fifteenth century. It is now a traditional delicacy loved and enjoyed around the world.
This is the type of food you can easily find anywhere throughout the country, either at a local eatery or in a fancy restaurant, but my recommendation is Momo Hut in Thamel. As suggested by the name itself, this place specializes in different kinds of momo and it is a perfect choice to start your momo tasting experience.
3| Samaya Baji
The existence of multiple ethnic groups in the country is a contributing factor to the diversity of Nepali cuisine, with one of the dominant groups being the Newars.
While there is a lot that Newari cuisine can offer, their most typical dish and a must-try is Samaya Baji, often referred to as a Khaja set.
A traditional meal-set would include beaten rice, smoked buffalo meat, a pancake made of lentils, a boiled egg, some pickles, and other vegetable side dishes.
There is no better place to try this than Kirtipur, a city 5km south-west of Kathmandu, known as the centre of Newari culture.
Another Newari delight on the list is Chatamari, which is the Nepali version of pizza.
This food is not only eaten during Newari festivals but also widely consumed as a popular snack among other cultures.
A batter mixture of rice flour and water will be cooked on an oiled flat skillet, then topped with a mixture that includes eggs, minced meat, vegetables, and Nepali spices. The pizza should come out nice and crunchy after approximately 10 minutes and is served with fresh tomato pickle.
While in Nepal, you cannot miss out on trying Thukpa. This noodle soup is a signature dish of the Sherpa people, one of the ethnic groups native to the Himalayas. This Nepali dish actually has its origins in Tibet and is widely known in Central Asia as well.
In the Himalayas, it is no doubt a staple food and a winter delicacy. The noodle dish comes with eggs, vegetables, and chicken, buffalo or mutton meat, which is substituted with dried yak meat in the mountains.
There is another Sherpa dish that shares certain similarities with Thukpa and it is called Thenduk.
Known as Nepali styled meat barbecue, this is one of the very popular foods in Nepal that tourists simply have to indulge in.
The grilled meat can either be pork, chicken, mutton, or a mixture of those. The meat is marinated with a combination of unique Nepali spices and herbs before being skewered on a stick and roasted in wood charcoal. You can enjoy the meat sticks as they are or they can be served with puffed rice and some pickles.
Sekuwa can easily be found in a typical street food stall. However, one authentic place to try this tasty treat is at “Bajeko Sekuwa,” a famous food-chain designated for this particular food only and can be found in major cities in Nepal.
7| Juju Dhau
Literally translates as King of Yoghurt, Juju Dhau is a Nepali dessert that truly lives up to its name.
The sweetened custard-like creamy yoghurt will simply and heavenly melt in your mouth, and it will keep you coming back for more. The secret is believed to lie in the fact that they are made in clay pots, which are covered by jute cloths and rice husks. This entire process helps the excess moisture evaporate and ultimately turn the yoghurt creamy.
Juju Dhau makes up an important component of all feasts and festivals in the Newar community. To taste the king of yoghurt, there is no better place than where it originates from – the city of Bhaktapur.
Another highlighted candidate on our top Nepali foods list is Yomari, a culinary delicacy.
This Newar dumpling is made of rice flour covering and stuffed with sugar cane jaggery, known as chaku, in the middle.
Traditionally, the sweet snack is prepared on the December full moon in preparation for the winter crop harvest celebration among Newar communities.
Yomari is more than just a festive sweet as it is inextricably linked with Newari identity. There’s a place in Patan city, called The Village Cafe, where you can get a taste of this delicacy.
Next up on this list of delicious foods to try when in Nepal is the samosa. This fried pastry snack, along with momos, is arguably the most popular appetiser at every eatery or restaurant throughout Nepal. However, its origin surprisingly traces back to the Middle East and Central Asia.
A samosa can be filled with a variety of ingredients including potatoes, peas, onions, and cheese, to name a few. There could be meat as well if it’s a non-veg samosa. They come in various shapes, but the most common and typical is a triangular one. Samosas are served hot, alongside a number of complementary sauces.
There’s an interesting variant of samosa called samosa chat. The samosa is smashed and mixed with a good sprinkle of curd as well as a variety of Nepali spices, resulting in a delicious combination.
A traditional Nepalese dish, kwāti is a thick stew comprising nine different varieties of sprouted beans. It literally translates to “hot soup,” with ‘kwa’ meaning hot and ‘ti’ meaning soup. The nine varieties include mung bean, black gram, field bean, rice bean, chickpea, soybean, cowpea, field bean, and garden pea.
Sprouted beans are known for their enhanced levels of protein among many other great nutrients. Imagine how much of a protein boost you’ll get from a combination of 9 types of sprouted beans – well, that’s kwāti. High in nutrients, this dish can be eaten with rice or roti.
This is one of the most typical dishes of the Brahmin and Newar tribe. It is often prepared as a ritual significance during the monsoon season in Nepal and enjoyed during the festival of Guni Punhi and Rakshya Bandhan.
In addition to its ritual significance, Kwāti is eaten as a delicacy and for its health benefits. No wonder it is dubbed ‘the healthiest food of all’ and believed to cure a cold and cough instantly. A must try dish from Nepal.
A particularly popular food in Nepal and often considered a national dish, Gundruk is a fermented leafy green vegetable. The main ingredients for this spicy condiment include rayo sag, radish, cauliflower, spinach and other similar type of green vegetables.
The preparation is super simple. Green vegetables are collected, washed and left to wilt under sunny weather conditions for a few days. This is then chopped and stored in tight jars and stored in a warm and dry places for the natural fermentation process due to lactic acid and bacteria. Once the fermentation is done, the vegetables are again dried under the sun before being packaged for storage.
Within the fermented category of Nepalese food, gundruk is the winner. It can be kept for months and cooked with fried soybean or served as a staple side dish to Nepali’s everyday meal.
Last up on this list of favourite and traditional Nepalese food is chatpate. This popular street food is the perfect snack particularly favoured by students during the exam period.
This spicy snack is quick and really easy to prepare, made with sev (dried noodles), puffed rice, chickpeas, tomato, cucumber, potato, onion, lemon juice, cilantro, chilli and other Nepali spices.
Don’t miss the opportunity to ty this addictive savoury snack when in Nepal.
Common Drinks In Nepal
What do they drink in Nepal?
Instead of coffee or beer like in some other cultures, hot tea is the most popular and staple drink of Nepal. The two most common types being black and milk tea.
You’ll find tea shops everywhere you go, from the heart of Kathmandu to the local villages on the mountains.
Nepali people offer tea as a hospitable drink to guests, or enjoy it over a casual catch-up with friends and family.
If you are trekking through the Himalayan mountains that has a Tibetan influence, chances are that you’ll get offered their special butter tea. It’s a unique kind of milk tea where yak butter and salt are added.
While some visitors may feel ambivalent about this particular drink, I would totally recommend giving it a try. In Kathmandu, you can find this tasty treat in the Bouddhanath Stupa area.
Another drink from Nepal that you shouldn’t miss is Lassi. This is a yoghurt-based, creamy smoothie made with sweetened curt and a touch of spices and fruit. The drink traces its origin back to Southern Nepal where the climate is tropical.
In Kathmandu, the best lassi shops can be found in Indrachowk, near Basantapur Durbar Square.
Do the Nepalese drink alcohol?
As in any other culture, Nepal has its fair share of alcoholic beverages too.
Typically, they are divided into 3 categories, namely Chyang, Raksi and Tongba.
Chyang is the Nepali version of the rice wine widely known across Asia. Brewed from fermented rice, it is slightly sour in taste and mild in alcohol levels. The wine generally comes in a thick, cloudy color.
Raksi, on the other hand, is mostly brewed from millet. It is translucent and stronger in alcohol content. You can try this bona fide Newari traditional distilled alcoholic beverage in the most authentic way, which is from a clay pot. Mind you that a few sips can make you lose control quicker than you think.
Another type of alcohol of Nepal is called Tongba. The brewing process of this drink is slightly different, where it is brewed from millet without water being added. The fermented millet is then soaked in hot water, producing the final product. This typical beverage from the mountainous region of Eastern Nepal is popular among the Rai, Limbu and Sherpa tribes.
I hope this post has left you smiling and given you a better idea of the type of food and the most popular + traditional dishes consumed throughout this beautiful country.
I’m willing to bet you’re pretty hungry for some tasty Nepalese food right about now.
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Written by: Yen Nguyen
Yen’s roots are in Central Vietnam, although she studied in Ho Chi Minh and worked in Hanoi covering both ends of the country. Working with the Animal Asia Foundation, Yen turned vegetarian and has her pulse on what vegetarian travelers want. She backpacked around Europe while based in Ireland and is currently living in Nepal with her two dogs. “My dogs are part of my life now and I take them trekking throughout Nepal.”