Dal Bhat: A Staple of Nepalese Cuisine
Widely regarded as the national food of Nepal, Dal Bhat is more than a meal—it’s a cultural tradition that captures the heart of Nepalese cuisine. This hearty, nourishing dish primarily comprises lentil soup (dal) served with rice (bhat), presenting a flavorful, well-balanced meal packed with protein and essential nutrients.
In many Nepalese households, Dal Bhat is consumed twice daily. It is typically accompanied by a variety of curried vegetables, further enriching its taste and nutritional profile. Whether enjoyed as part of a family dinner or savored in a quaint mountain teahouse, Dal Bhat offers a true taste of Nepal.
Delving into Delights: Momo, the Iconic Dumplings of Nepal
Renowned globally for its imposing Himalayan peaks, Nepal offers a culinary peak of its own – the beloved Momo.
According to Wikipedia, Momo, being deeply ingrained in the culinary cultures of Tibet, Bhutan, and India, has found a special place in the hearts of Nepalese people, so much so that it is often considered the national food of Nepal.cTiny yet teeming with flavour, Momos are a type of dumpling that form a staple of Nepalese cuisine.
Made from a simple dough of white flour and water, these parcels of delights are typically filled with finely chopped vegetables or ground meat, often chicken, goat meat, or buffalo. The filled dough is then sealed and steamed until it reaches the perfect consistency – soft, with a hint of chewiness that lends an addictive quality.
From Dough to Delight: How is Momo Made?
The creation of Momo is almost as delightful as its taste. It starts with preparing a smooth dough, which is then rolled into small circular shapes.
The filling, usually consisting of minced meat or vegetables, onions, cilantro, and a blend of spices, is spooned onto these dough circles. The filled dough is then carefully folded and sealed, often with beautiful pleating that showcases the craftsmanship of the Momo makers. Once shaped, the Momos are steamed, transforming into tender, flavorful morsels ready to savour.
A Taste of Variety: Variations of Momo in the Nepalese Market
The Nepalese market is dotted with numerous Momo variations, each catering to different palates and preferences. The classic Steamed Momo is loved for its soft, juicy fillings.
For those craving a crunch, Fried Momos, golden and crisp, are the perfect choice. The adventurous can go for Chili Momos or C-Momo, tossed in a fiery, tangy sauce. There’s also Jhol Momo, served in a bowl of flavorful, comforting soup. These diverse renditions of Momo echo the eclectic tastes of Nepal and its people.
Gundruk, The actual National Dish of Nepal?
Beyond the steamed delight of Momos, another dish holds a profound significance in the culinary landscape of Nepal.
Gundruk, translating to fermented spinach or pickled leafy vegetables, is an infamous dish in Nepal and the neighbouring regions of Sikkim, Darjeeling, and Assam. Revered for its distinctive taste and nutritional benefits, Gundruk has been claimed as the national dish of Nepal.
The Tale of Gundruk’s Origin
The origins of Gundruk are steeped in history and showcase the ingenuity of Nepalese people in times of crisis. A popular theory traces the birth of Gundruk back to the era of King Prithvi Narayan Shah’s conquest to unify Nepal. His initial attacks on the fortress of Kirtipur met with stiff resistance, making the stronghold seemingly impenetrable. As a strategic move, the King initiated a blockade, cutting off the food and water supply to the Kingdom. Faced with this grave shortage, the resilient people of Kirtipur turned to an age-old preservation method – fermentation.
They began storing green vegetables in the soil, an approach that extended their food supply and gave birth to a new culinary invention. Amidst starvation and desperation, Gundruk was born. The fermented vegetables developed a unique acidic flavour over time, creating a dish that was not only sustaining but also delicious. This humble foodstuff played a crucial role in helping the people of Kirtipur withstand the siege, and in the process, Gundruk found a permanent place in Nepalese cuisine.
Types of Gundruk in Nepal
With their peppery tang, turnip leaves to create a Gundruk variant that’s both flavorful and nutritionally rich. When fermented, these leaves develop a distinctive, slightly bitter taste that works exceptionally well when used in soups or stews.
For those who enjoy a bit of a spicy kick, Gundruk, made from mustard leaves, is an ideal choice. The pungency of mustard leaves mellows down during fermentation, resulting in a Gundruk variant that’s subtly spicy, pleasantly tangy, and packed with flavour.
Cauliflower leaves are often overlooked in many cuisines but not in Nepal. When transformed into Gundruk, these leaves take on an earthy taste that harmoniously blends with the characteristic sourness of the dish.
Radish leaves lend a pleasantly bitter flavour to Gundruk. The natural bitterness of these leaves complements the acidity of fermentation, resulting in a well-balanced, tangy, and slightly bitter Gundruk that pairs well with many Nepalese dishes.
Delacicies Made from Gundruk
Though Gundruk in its basic form is a delight, it also serves as a versatile ingredient in a multitude of Nepalese dishes. From soups to salads, curries to pickles, the applications of Gundruk are seemingly endless.
Here, we explore a few of the delicacies made from Gundruk that make the gastronomic scene of Nepal so captivating.
Known as Gundruk Ko Jhol, this warm, comforting soup is an embodiment of home cooking in Nepal. The acidity of the Gundruk combined with local spices creates a robust flavour profile that’s both soothing and invigorating.
Gundruk Achar, or Gundruk pickle, is a tangy and spicy delicacy often served as a side dish with meals. The fermentation of Gundruk adds a unique sourness that pairs wonderfully with the heat from the spices, making this pickle a delightful accompaniment to a variety of dishes.
The salad variant, called Gundruk Sadeko, is a healthful and flavorful choice. Fresh ingredients like tomatoes, onions, and chillies are mixed with Gundruk, resulting in a refreshingly tangy, mildly spicy dish, and packed with nutrients.
Gundruk Aloo Curry
When paired with potatoes in the Gundruk Aloo Curry, Gundruk adds a sour dimension that contrasts beautifully with the earthy taste of potatoes. This hearty curry is an everyday staple in Nepalese households, loved for its comforting warmth and rich flavours.
And then, there’s the raw Gundruk, consumed as it is, uncooked. The intense, sour flavour of raw Gundruk is enjoyed by many and is often eaten with boiled rice.
Is Gundruk Healthy?
Gundruk isn’t just a culinary delight and a nutritional powerhouse. The fermentation process enhances the bioavailability of nutrients, making Gundruk a healthful addition to the diet.
Gundruk is rich in Vitamin C, which is known for its immunity-boosting properties. Gundruk can protect against colds, inflammation, and flu, fortifying the body’s natural defence mechanisms.
Additionally, the Vitamin C in Gundruk may aid in fighting chronic diseases such as diabetes, infections, heart disease, and even certain types of cancer.
Furthermore, Gundruk is a potent source of iron, with a staggering 94.3mg per 100 grams. Iron is crucial for maintaining healthy blood and preventing conditions like anaemia.
As such, Gundruk goes beyond being just a flavorful ingredient; it contributes significantly to maintaining overall health and wellbeing, genuinely embodying the concept of ‘food as medicine’.
Is Gundruk and Sinki the Same?
Gundruk and Sinki are renowned dishes in Nepal, each lending a unique flavour profile and texture to the words they use. Although they share similarities in fermented vegetables, the process of their preparation and usage slightly differ, thus distinguishing them from each other.
The Preparation of Gundruk
Gundruk is prepared from fresh green leafy vegetables, typically sourced from a local garden. These leaves are sun-dried for a day or two and then packed tightly in an air-tight container.
The container is left undisturbed for a week or more, during which the leaves undergo natural fermentation due to lactic acid bacteria. After thorough fermentation, the contents are spread out on a thin plastic sheet and sun-dried for several days before being stored in containers for future use.
The Making of Sinki
Sinki, on the other hand, is made primarily from radish (Mula) or cauliflower (Kauli). The vegetables are broken or cut into small pieces and spread out in the sun for several days.
Like Gundruk, these sun-dried vegetables are stored in an air-tight container to initiate fermentation. Once the fermentation is complete, they are taken out, spread in the sun again for drying, and then stored for later use.
Gundruk and Sinki: Acknowledging Difference
Despite their similar preparation methods, Gundruk and Sinki have distinct features. Gundruk is revered for its anti-cold properties and is seen as a healthful preservative. It’s also believed to have various medicinal benefits thanks to its rich nutrient profile.
Sinki, however, is believed to alleviate flu and the common cold. Interestingly, because of this property, its usage is often avoided during winter or when one suffers from a cough and cold to prevent excess cold-reducing ingredients.
Is Dhindo Regarded as the National food of Nepal?
While the likes of Momo and Gundruk often steal the limelight when it comes to the national food of Nepal, another dish, Dhindo, holds a special place in the hearts and plates of Nepalese people, especially those from the rural hilly and mountainous regions of the country.
The Making of Dhindo
Dhindo is a traditional Nepalese dish, essentially a type of porridge made from finely grounded cornmeal, millet or buckwheat flour. Making Dhindo involves continuously stirring the flour in hot water until it attains a dough-like consistency.
The Origins and Preparation of Dhindo
Dhindo’s roots are deeply embedded in rural Nepal, reigning from the elevated regions of Nepal, where it has been a staple diet for centuries.
Dhindo has a rich, earthy flavour despite its humble origins, typically served with a side of Gundruk soup or homemade pickle. It is a mild-tasting dish eaten with hands.
The hot Dhindo is pinched into small lumps using the fingers, dipped into the soup or pickle, and swallowed without chewing.
Dhido in Urban Restaurants
Dhindo has been finding its way into the urban culinary scene in recent years. Several restaurants in Kathmandu offer delicious Dhindo on their menus, serving it as a healthy and authentic alternative to the more common rice and bread dishes. Some well-known places with good reviews recommended by Google include:
- Dalo Restaurant
- Hungers Den – Battisputali Road beside Dwarika Hotel
- Paru Thakali Kitchen
- TimurThakali Kitchen – Bhakta Marg, Kathmandu
- DalBhat Kitchen – Lazimpat, Near National Life Insurance
Which food is Nepal’s favourite?
While Nepal’s culinary repertoire is diverse and impressive, certain dishes have a particular plant in Nepalese people’s hearts (and plates). Here, we look closely at some of the country’s most beloved foods.
Staple Comfort: Dal Bhat
Perhaps the quintessential Nepalese dish is Dal Bhat. This comforting meal, consisting of lentil soup (dal) and rice (bhat), is a staple in most Nepalese households. Often accompanied by a serving of vegetables or meat, pickles, and sometimes yoghurt, Dal Bhat is a complete, balanced meal cherished across Nepal.
Traditional Delights: Maasko Bara, Yomari, and Bhakka
Maasko Bara, Yomari, and Bhakka are traditional delicacies deeply intertwined with Nepalese culture and festivals. Maasko Bara is a savoury doughnut made from black lentils, enjoyed for its crispy exterior and soft, fluffy interior.
Yomari, a sweet dumpling made of rice flour and filled with a molasses-like sweet, is a speciality of the Newar community and a must-have during the Yomari Punhi festival. Bhakka is another beloved treat, a steamed rice cake from the Terai region.
Fermented Delicacies of Nepal: Mula ko Achar, Khalpi and Dahi
Nepalese cuisine showcases an array of fermented foods that are loved for their unique flavours.
Mula Ko Achar (radish pickle) and Khalpi (fermented cucumber) are two such favourites that add a tangy kick to meals.
Dahi (yoghurt), often homemade, is a cherished part of the Nepalese diet, loved for its creamy texture and mildly sour taste.
Protein-Rich Snacks: Chhurpi, Sidra, Sukuti, and Sukako Machha
When it comes to snacks, Chhurpi (hardened yak cheese), Sidra (dried fish), and Sukuti (smoked meat) are popular choices. They’re enjoyed for their robust flavours and are an excellent source of protein.
Traditional Drinks: Jand and Masyaura
Rounding off this list are Jand and Masyaura. Jand, a traditional beer made from fermented rice, is a popular homemade alcoholic beverage. Conversely, Mascara is a unique creation made from balls of black lentils and radish or cauliflower, which are sun-dried and used in curries or soups.
Traditional Nepali Dishes to Try at least once
Every region has unique flavours and culinary delights, from the flatlands of Terai to the high hills and valleys. Here’s a selection of traditional Nepalese dishes that everyone should try at least once.
Sel Roti: A Sweet Delight
Sel Roti is a unique Nepalese delicacy resembling a cross between a doughnut and a bagel. This sweet, crispy treat is typically prepared during Tihar, the festival of lights, and carries religious significance.
The ring-shaped bread, made from rice flour and sugar, is deep-fried to golden perfection and is an absolute must-try.
Tongba: The Warming Beverage
Tongba is a traditional Nepalese hot beverage that’s particularly enjoyed during the cold winter months. It’s made from fermented millet, served in a wooden container, and drunk through a bamboo straw. The warm, slightly alcoholic brew is a taste adventure and an integral part of the local culture.
Samay Baji: The Newari Feast
Samay Baji, a traditional Newari dish, is a testament to Nepal’s meticulous culinary practices. This delicacy is a gourmet assortment of barbecued buffalo meat, beaten rice, boiled egg, and a fiery spicy potato salad.
Usually served during auspicious occasions, it’s a dish that beautifully encapsulates the authentic flavours of Nepal.
Newari Pancakes: Wo
Wo is another Newari delight. Essentially a savoury pancake made from lentils, it’s traditionally cooked during the Newari festival of Sithi Nakha.
The pancake’s soft, fluffy texture and subtly tangy flavour make it a favourite among locals and tourists.
Chataamari: The Nepalese Pizza
Chataamari, often called ‘Nepali Pizza’, is one of Nepal’s most well-known dishes. Made from a thick batter of rice flour and adorned with toppings like vegetables and meatballs, Chataamari is a delightful tango of tastes that can easily be found in Nepalese markets.
Chatpate: A Tangy Affair
Lastly, no list of Nepalese dishes would be complete without mentioning Chatpate. Although not originally from Nepal, this tangy and spicy dish, akin to Indian street food, has become a favourite among Nepalese people.
Its blend of puffed rice, chopped onions, tomatoes, coriander, and a medley of spices delivers a punch of genuinely unforgettable flavour.
The National Soup of Nepal
Nepal’s culinary landscape offers a plethora of flavorful and nourishing soups. Let’s take a closer look at some of the country’s beloved soups that provide warmth and comfort and are deeply interwoven with Nepal’s culture and traditions.
Thukpa: The Himalayan Comfort
Thukpa, also known as Sherpa Noodle Soup, is a popular noodle soup dish from Tibet. This hearty, warming dish is a staple among the Sherpa community of Nepal. Loaded with vegetables, meat, and noodles, Thukpa is a balanced meal especially relished during cold winter.
Kwati Soup: The Festival Delight
Kwati, a traditional stew of Nepal, is prepared with various types of beans. This protein-rich soup is a unique feature of the festival of Gun Punhi, the full moon day in the month of Gunlā, the tenth month in the Nepal Era lunar calendar.
Kwati is believed to provide warmth and vitality and is a must-try for anyone seeking to experience authentic Nepalese cuisine.
Jwano ko Jhol: The Healing Broth
Jwano ko Jhol, or Nepali Carom Seed Soup, is a nourishing soup known for its medicinal benefits. Made primarily with carom seeds (known as Jwano in Nepali), this soup is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and aids digestion.
It’s a great comfort food when under the weather or during postpartum healing. Its soothing flavour and healing properties make it a popular choice among Nepalese people. Many even enjoy it as a tea by mixing the broth with hot water.
Each of these soups, with unique flavours and health benefits, is a testament to Nepal’s rich and diverse culinary heritage. They provide sustenance and comforting familiarity, making them an integral part of the Nepalese food culture.
Dal Bhat, a lentil soup served with rice and curried vegetables, is considered the national food of Nepal.
Dal Bhat typically includes lentils, rice, vegetables, and spices like turmeric, cumin, and coriander.
Dal Bhat can be vegetarian or non-vegetarian. The base dish is vegetarian, but it’s often served with meat curries on the side.
In many Nepalese households, Dal Bhat is consumed twice a day – for lunch and dinner.
Dal Bhat is often eaten with the right hand, as per Nepalese tradition. Also, it’s customarily served all-you-can-eat style.
In addition to Dal Bhat, dishes like Momo (dumplings), Gundruk (fermented leafy greens), and Sel Roti (a sweet ring-shaped bread) are popular.
Yes, Dal Bhat is a staple menu item in most Nepalese restaurants, both within the country and at Nepalese eateries worldwide.