Nepali Food Guide: the best food in Nepal
This post is all about the best food in Nepal. Every visitor to Nepal will get to know dahl bath. Rice with lentils is the national dish of the country. However, if it comes to food in Nepal there is much more to taste than dahl bath alone.
The food in Nepal with its lowland jungles and snow capped mountain peaks is extremely varied. It’s cuisine is influenced by both India and China, but it is also very unique.
The food in Nepal distinguishes itself by the use of fresh vegetables, herbs and spices. Some only known to certain areas of the country. Jimbu, for example, is A herb that only grows in the higher himalayan mountains of Nepal and gives flavor to many Nepali recipes.
Nepal is also home to many different ethnic groups that each have their own foods. The Newari people in particular have a unique and rich cuisine featuring spicy meats. Other ethnic groups favor a more vegetarian diet.
I lived in Nepal for more than 2 years and had a chance to try many different foods in Nepal.
The best food in Nepal
Dal bhat literally translates as rice with lentils. Most Nepali people eat dahl baath twice a day and it is the national dish of the country. It might sound boring, but Dal bhat is so much more than just rice with lentils.
Every dal bhat you have in Nepal will be different. The rice and the lentils are just the base. It is the curries and condiments that come along that really bring flavor and variety to this dish.
Nepali people often use fresh vegetables from the garden and some curries depend on the season. Common are potato, cauliflower or pumpkin curries. Most dal bath plates include a green leafy vegetable curry called saag. This could be either spinach or mustard leaves.
The regional varieties of Dal bhat are immense and therefore I never really got bored with it. In fact, if there is one food that I miss the most from Nepal it is a good plate of dal bath with fresh saag and a full spoon of tomato achaar on top. In most cases it is vegetarian, but on special occasions it will be served with chicken.
No dal baath is complete without a little bit of achaar. A spicy condiment that brings lots of heat and flavor to the dish. The most popular is a fierce tomato chutney like paste, but there is a huge variety of achaar pickles in Nepal.
From pickled radishes to pickled potatoes and hemp seed chutneys. They are often so spicy and full of flavor that you don’t need more than a teaspoon through your food.
Vegetarian food in Nepal
Gundruk is one of my favorite foods in Nepal. I only discovered it after being in the country already for over a year.
Gundruk are fermented leafy green vegetables. People make it from the leaves of mustard greens, cauliflowers and radishes. They then bury them in an earthenware pot for several days and dry it in the sun.
Gundruk may not sound or look very nice, but the first time I ate it with my dal bhat it tasted very good. Since then, whenever there was gundruk available I was a happy person. Gundruk is unique to Nepal and unfortunately impossible to find in the Netherlands.
Karela or bitter lemon is basically the name of a vegetable. Nepali’s prefer them fried with spices and then eat it as part of a Dahl bath meal. However, Karela curry’s or Karela soup are also common. Karela is very healthy and Nepali’s believes it lowers blood pressure and helps with stomach problems.
It is a very bitter vegetable and definitely an acquired taste. I avoided Karela until I had a fried version at a homestay that was absolutely delicious.
Another healthy vegetable common in Nepal is the iskus. A gourd that is also known as chayote in the Americas where it originally comes from. Iskus curry was one of my favourites currys alongside my dahl bath.
Dhindo is a mixture of millet or buckwheat flour with water. It is a staple food in mountainous areas where people could not afford to eat rice every day.
Although considered the food of the poor it is nowadays getting more popular. Dhindo is very healthy and has lots of nutritional value.
Dhindo does not look very nice. A grayish thick porridge when it is made from millet and yellow when made from cornmeal. It does taste surprisingly good though.
I had Dhindo in a mountain village. I very much liked to eat something other than rice for a change and I also really liked the taste. It’s best to eat with your hands as you tear off bite sized pieces and dip them in the curries and chutneys that come along.
Chiura or beaten rice is a popular mid day snack in Nepal. It is a bit dry on its own, but delicious with a nice Nepali potato curry like Aloo Tareko and some pickled vegetables.
The Newari people from the Kathmandu valley serve chiura as part of a Samay Bhaji. A full plate of different condiments that you can eat with the beaten rice. I would definitely recommend trying a Samay bhaji in one of the Newari restaurants of Kathmandu or Bhaktapur.
Aloo tareko is a fried potato dish where the potatoes are soaked in spices and lemon juice and then fried. I probably liked Aloo tareko even more than Aloo chilly, but it was less often on the menu.
One of my favorite choices in a typical Nepali budget restaurant besides dahl bath is Aloo chilly. The potatoes are marinated and fried in a sweet and sour spicy tomato based sauce. They are actually not as spicy as the name suggests although this also depends on the restaurant. A small plate of Aloo chilly makes a great snack or lunch.
One of the few unique Nepali curries is Aloo Tama. At the same time it was one of the few curries that I didn’t really like.
Aloo tama is a curry of potato and fermented bamboo shoots. The latter gives the soup a slightly sour taste. Personally I disliked the texture and taste of the bamboo shots. This curry is great if you are vegan as it does not contain meat or dairy
By now you might have guessed that aloo means potato and that the humble potato is very popular in Nepali cuisine. A paratha is a layered flatbread that is fried in a stone pan. You have the simple paratha version and one with potatoes, herbs and spices.
Aloo Paratha makes a great breakfast or lunch. They are also perfect to take a long if you are planning a day hike in the mountains or a day trip from Kathmandu into the Kathmandu valley.
Street food in Nepal
Known as Sambusa in the Persian cuisine and samsa in Central Asia, these stuffed pastries are famous all over the Asian continent. The Samosa traveled from the Middle East to Central Asia, India and eventually Nepal where they became a hugely popular street food.
India and Nepal did much to add vegetarian varieties to the Samosa stuffings. Rather than the traditional minced meat Samsa’s in Central Asia, Nepal often has a delicious mix of spiced potatoes with green peas or chickpeas inside. They are the best when they are fried in front of you and eaten when still warm.
Another popular fried snack are pakora’s. These vegetable beignets are a beloved snack in South Asia. In Nepal too you can buy them on the streets and they are best eaten when they are just fried in front of you.
Aloo chop or fried potato patties with herbs and spices are a nice snack. They are a very popular street food in both India and Nepal.
Sekuwa can be translated as roasted meat. The meat is marinated overnight with Nepali herbs and spices and then grilled or roasted. My favorite is mutton sekuwa, but you can also find chicken, buffalo and lamb.
Sukuti translates as dried. Basically it is pieces of dried meat. However, as they are marinated in Nepali spices they have lots of flavor.
The Newars in particular make their sukuti very spicy. Sukuti is often made from buffalo meat or in the higher mountains from yak meat. The Red Lodge in Kagbeni on the Annapurna Circuit trek has great yak sukuti.
Festival food in Nepal
Kheer is a sweet rice pudding that is a common dessert in South Asia. It is also used as an offering to the gods. Giving out Kheer is an important part of celebrating Buddha’s birthday on buddha jayanti. There is even a special Kheer khane din, or kheer eating day when families get together.
Sherpa food in Nepal
One of my favorite breakfasts when I was trekking through Sherpa country was Tibetan bread. This fried bread made from the local tsampa flour is surprisingly tasty. It is already great with just a little bit of butter, but even more delicious with melted cheese on top.
Momo’s are hugely popular throughout Nepal. These dumplings come from the Tibetan people, but everyone in Nepal loves them. First you have to choose whether you want them fried or steamed. Then you can choose your filling. Veg, buff or chicken.
Thukpa is a Tibetan noodle soup that found its way into the Nepali cuisine. A great and healthy lunch that is full with vegetables. The Nepali version is slightly more spicy than the original one.
Thukpa is widely available in Kathmandu and trekking lodges in the Everest region.
The most popular Chinese food in Nepal is Chow Mein. It’s a simple dish of noodles with chicken or vegetables. You can find Chow mein in almost every restaurant in Nepal.
Yak butter tea
Yak butter tea from Tibet is an acquired taste. Unlike the very sweet nepali tea, yak butter tea is salty. You will find this tea only in the mountainous regions.
Another yak product is yak cheese. Tibetans make churpi. A tangy and hard cheese made from yak milk. A Swiss development organization came to the Langtang valley to make Churpi more palatable for the western tourists visiting the mountains.
A cheese factory was built in Kyanjin Gompa and a new tradition of cheese making was born. The yak cheese from Langtang is now quite popular. If you are on the Langtang trek don’t miss a chance to try it.
Newari food in Nepal
The Newars are the historical inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley and have kept a unique identity with their own culture, language and cuisine. First of all, Newari food is more spicy. Second of all it features way more meat.
Samay bhaji is like the Newari version of Dahl baath. There are different small dishes on a single plate. With a newari plate it is not rice and lentils that is the center of the dish, but beaten rice and barbecued meat along with different vegetarian condiments.
You can find Newari food in the Kathmandu valley, especially in Bhaktapur, Patan and Kirtipur. If you are adventurous you can also try liver (senla mu), lungs (swanpuka), intestines (bhuttan), tongue (mainh), brains (nhyapu), steamed blood (chohi) and bone marrow (sapumhicha). Newars eat every part of the animal.
Buffalo is the most popular meat among the Newari community. The meat is marinated and grilled and incredibly spicy. Bhaktapur and Patan has basic Newari eateries serving the best choyla.
Kwati is a Nepali soup with 9 different types of beans. This vegetarian soup is very high in proteins. It is mostly eaten during janai purnima. A big festival for hindus in Nepal.
Kwati needs a long time to cook and is therefore not on every menu. When it is you should definitely grab your chance to try it.
Chatamari is known as Nepali pizza, although it is very different from the Italian version. The base is a pancake made from rice flour. The pancake is topped with minced meat, vegetables and an egg. The Newari eateries in Bhaktapur or Chatamari Chen in Kathmandu serve the best.
Bara are spiced lentil patties that make a nice snack along with some tomato chutney or minced meat. Newari’s believe Bara’s bring good luck and therefore it is often served on weddings and birthdays.
Desserts are not very common in Nepali cuisine, except among the Newars. Yomari are a type of sweet dumplings from rice flour filled with jaggery sugar and nuts.
Yomari have their own festival. At the end of November, when the Newars celebrate the end of the rice harvest it is Yomarhi Punhi.
juju dhau translates as the king’s curd and is considered the best yogurt of Nepal. It comes from the Newar community in Bhaktapur where it is served in small clay pots. It is very thick and sweet and it is indeed one of the best yogurts I have had in my life. For me a visit to Bhaktapur is not complete without trying juju dhau.
Nepali Food Books
The best Nepali food cookbook is the comprehensive Taste of Nepal by Jyothi Pathak. A full range of authentic recipies.
Ayla by Santosh Shah has a more beautiful design with great pictures and classic recipies like momo and thukpa.
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