Written By: Shreeya Basnyat
Edited By: Meredith Blevins and Sean McCarthy
During the summer of 2011 my father and I traveled to Nepal to visit family and experience the food and travel that Nepal has to offer. The expression “being a tourist in my own city” was probably used over a 100 times during my last trip to Nepal. Nothing is more exciting than discovering endless amounts of sites to visit in a place you call home. Out of all the things I did in Nepal, trekking was by far my favorite. Crossing over suspensions bridges that are suspended over 400 feet in the air over the rushing waters of the valley gives a sense of exhilaration and fear. Roads tend to be one of the most treacherous roads you will probably ever cross; made out of mud and gravel the pathways tend to be very vague, you never know what hidden ditches your feet will find. These roads often flood with water during the heavy rain season during the summer, posing a threat to the people who reside in the valley. When I reached my hotel room at the very top of the valley, I was overcome by the breathtaking view. You see the rice paddy fields that go on for miles, and look closely enough you see small villages that reside at the top of the hills. The feeling of accomplishment overtakes every part of your body as you complete the trek. Trekkers from all over the world come to Nepal to go on treks, placing their marks on the resort I visited with a sticker stating what organization led the trek. One of the most famous treks is the Himalayan trek where you trek to the base camp that’s established on the Himalayas. Located between the super countries of China and India, Nepalese food combines traditional Indian and Chinese food with an added twist to make it unique and “Nepalese.”
Momo is a unique twist to the everyday Chinese dumpling. The filling for the momo consists of ground chicken mixed with bits of garlic, cilantro, and onions. Sounds like every other chicken dumping you’ve ever eaten right? What makes momo different is that the meat is marinated with a spicy masala mix, giving you a kick of flavor when you take a bite. Over thanksgiving break my Aunt made my best friend try it for the first time and she was very hesitant to eat it since spicy food isn’t her favorite. “I thought it was going to be really spicy because that’s how most your food is, but it was very flavorful and different. It had a kick of spiciness and it wasn’t overwhelming.” She ended up bringing some home for her family to try.
One of the most easily identified tourist favorite on any Newari or Nepalese menu is pizza. Nepalese people have created their own version of pizza. Being a pizza fanatic myself when I first experienced a Nepalese “pizza” I was in for a surprise. Basically a Nepalese pizza is placing melted cheese and ketchup on top of a naan type of bread. As bizarre as it sounds, depending on which restaurant or who makes it, it can be pretty delicious. However, I must add, it depends on the type of cheese used. The typical type of cheese used on a Nepalese pizza is yak cheese, and most people who haven’t acquired the taste of yak cheese don’t find it very tasty. Yak cheese is definitely not your typical mozzarella cheese used on pizza. It has a thick, intense flavor leaving a peculiar after taste.
In the US, certain regions have a reputation for the type of food consumed, particularly the south. Similarly, in Nepal people from different regions carry a reputation for their food. Traditionally from the Kathmandu Valley, the Newari people are known around the country for their food.What makes Newari food distinct from the rest of Nepali food is that their food is extremely spicy compared traditional Nepalese food. Choyalla is the most renowned Newari food, made with buffalo meat or chicken it is boiled with spices and served with rice. Chataamari is another authentic Newari dish made from rice flour and water with a variation of toppings from chickpeas, tomatos, onions and meat. When this is first served to you, it looks like an odd concoction, however, upon the first bite you are instantly hooked from the intensity of flavor and spices.
Growing up in the US, my family and I do our best to preserve our Nepalese culture by partaking in certain holidays celebrated in Nepal. My father used to tell me stories about how back in the day growing up in Nepal in the 1970s, and still to this day, the most exciting time of the year is a holiday called Dashain. Dashain is the equivalent to Christmas celebrations in America. Similar to the US, children are excused from school, shops would close down and everyone would be focused on family time. Nothing beats the joy of opening presents on Christmas day, but I’d have to argue that nothing feels as great as having family bonding time while you receive money from accepting blessings from your Aunts, Uncles, Grandmas, and Grandpas for a day. Although I’ve never actually experienced Dashain in Nepal because it falls in the end of October and interferes with school, my family and I have always tried to mimic what it would be like if we were back in Nepal. Everyone dresses in their best clothes, the men in a nice shirt and jeans and the women in their traditional kurta surwal. Decorative mats are placed on the ground; as we use this to sit on to receive our blessings. A silver tray that holds the red tika is set in the middle between the mats. Tika is usually made with rice mixed with a red paste, is placed in the middle of your forehead as you begin accepting blessings. The eldest begin the blessings by giving tika and money to the youngest and so on. Following the several rounds of receiving tika, blessings and money comes the best part of Dashain, the feast.
Just as during the holiday season here where turkey and eggnog are the specialty, the type of food eaten during the holidays in Nepal has its own specialty. The sweet smell of kheer fills our home as it is prepared early in the morning before everyone arrives. Kheer is a sweet rice pudding made through simmering the rice in the milk for over an hour. The end of any meal brings in excitement as you prepare extra room in your stomach for dessert. A commonly eaten dessert during any holiday is Jalebi, a sweet sticky version of a pretzel. The pretzel is deep fried, and it oozes with sticky syrup that wraps around the entire Jalebi, giving it the pop of orange color. The kitchen still has the stench of oil in the air from the sel rhoti being deep fried in the morning. Sel rhoti has the similar shape and intensity of sweetness as a doughnut but it doesn’t have the same soft bread-like texture. Each bite fills your mouth with the coarse texture of the sel and your tongue becomes overwhelmed with its sugary goodness. Unlike the US, where turkey and ham are the choices of meat during the holidays, in Nepal mass amounts of mutton is consumed specifically to this holiday. Prepared in a soupy mixture, the meat is tender to the touch and its greasy deliciousness fills each bite with its kick of spices.
If you’re looking to try Nepalese food, you’re in luck! In Washington D.C., Himalayan Heritage is a restaurant that serves traditional Nepalese food. Their menu includes the famous momo as well as Indian food such as butter chicken. If you’re enticed to make your own nepali food this blog features a great momo recipe.
Binita Adhikari. Bon Appetit in Dashian: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry. 2012
Dave. Food from Nepal: Pizza made the Nepalese Way. 2012
Dave. Jalebi-sweet Pretzels: Food in Nepal. 2012
Dave. Food from Nepal: Newari Chataamari. 2012
Explore Himalya. Website.
Himalayan Heritage. Website.
I Am No Food Critic. Website.
Nepal Vista. Website.